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Explore the Columbia Valley this Winter with Your Family

The village of Radium Hot Springs can be easily reached in a three-hour drive from the west end of Calgary via Banff and Kootenay National Parks across the border into British Columbia. It’s a distance quite doable for a short weekend jaunt after work on a Friday. For a more relaxed stay, plan for a longer trip over the Family Day long weekend or Spring Break. Once you’ve reached Radium Hot Springs, you’ve officially entered into the sunny Columbia Valley and options for family fun are endless as you travel farther south toward Invermere or Fairmont Hot Springs.

Every winter, my family spends several weekends in the Columbia Valley.

Here are my family’s top five favorite places to explore between the communities of Radium and Fairmont Hot Springs:


1. Try fat biking, cross-country skiing, or snowshoeing at Nipika Mountain Resort. Nipika Mountain Resort is located off Settler’s Road as you drive along Highway 93 through Kootenay National Park. It is approximately 35 kilometres outside Radium Hot Springs, making it an easy destination to visit either from Radium or en route to/from Radium.

For many years, my family has been visiting Nipika to enjoy cross-country skiing on 50+ kilometres of groomed ski trails. Recently, we’ve also discovered their groomed fat bike trails and I’ve fallen in love with winter biking at this gorgeous wilderness resort!

Trail fees are affordable, and you’ll find a well-equipped rental shop with everything you need to hit the trails (including fat bikes for the whole family with two youth- sized bikes for the kids). Finally, my family loves the warming huts spread around the property when skiing or biking on cold days.

If Nipika sounds like the kind of place you’d like to stay for a couple of days, there are also nine cabins located on the property that can be rented during your stay. Each cabin has indoor plumbing and includes a small kitchen, so you won’t be roughing it at this resort.

Spend a few days here and you can also explore the resort’s snowshoe trails, or your kids will love using the ice-skating rink and sledding hill located on the property. Nipika is truly a winter wonderland with something for every member of the family, young and old.

2. Sleep in a backcountry yurt at Radius Retreat outside Radium Hot Springs. You don’t have to sleep on the ground in a tent to enjoy this kind of winter camping. Radius Retreat is located five minutes north of Radium Hot Springs and you have a choice of seven yurts that you can hike to for a two-night stay. Choose the ‘Den’ if you want to explore the Columbia Valley during your stay because this yurt is a short 50 metres from the parking lot. Spend your nights in a cozy yurt and spend your days soaking in the hot springs and hiking the trails around the village. 

For families with a solid spirit of adventure, hike up to the ‘Perch’ or the ‘Nest’ for a real backcountry experience staying in one of the two most remote yurts on the property. These yurts are approached via a 2.5-kilometre hike (you’ll want to bring snowshoes if there’s a lot of snow). Last March, my family stayed at the Perch and felt like we were camping on top of our own private mountain with views across the valley - with no neighbors anywhere in sight!

Each yurt comes equipped with beds and comfortable mattresses (bring your own sleeping bags), an indoor wood burning fireplace (complete with chopped wood for your stay), a two-burner propane stove (bring your own propane), an attached composting toilet, an outdoor fire pit, and picnic table and chairs.

A minimum two-night stay is required, so I recommend booking one of the closer yurts in winter, so you can warm up at the hot springs during the day or enjoy a few meals in town.

3. Skate the Lake Windermere Whiteway, the world’s longest ice-skating trail. In 2014, the Lake Windermere Whiteway was named the world’s longest skating trail by Guinness World Records. The Whiteway connects the communities of Invermere and Windermere and is 30 kilometres in length when all four loops have been cleared for ice-skating.

The Whiteway is a multi-use area with groomed skate and classic cross-country ski trails circling the lake along with space for snowmobiles in the middle. Winter cyclists also enjoy using fat tire bikes on the lake and ice fishing is a popular activity, as well.

The Whiteway is maintained by Toby Creek Nordic Ski Club and they request a donation of $5 per use (per person). There are donation boxes at various points along the lake.

Most families wanting to spend time on the Whiteway will start at the Kinsmen Beach parking lot in Invermere where you can ski or skate around the 12-kilometre Windermere Loop. This is always the first loop to open for the season.

4. Enjoy downhill skiing at Panorama Mountain Resort. The village of Panorama Mountain Resort is located 20 minutes west of Invermere and there is no shortage of activities for the whole family to enjoy. Rent a condo on the ski hill and enjoy downhill skiing or snowboarding during the day (access to the Panorama Springs Hot Pools included with all stays!). There are several amazing restaurants in the village that will have you savoring an authentic ‘alpine village’ experience.

My family also visits Panorama to make use of their fabulous Nordic Trails for cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, or fat biking (with rentals on-site for all three sports). Your family will love skiing or hiking up to the Hale Warming Hut where you can eat your lunch inside the small heated cabin.

Either visit Panorama for the day from Invermere or stay in the village if you want a more relaxed start to your ski days.

5. Ski and soak at Fairmont Hot Springs Resort. Last winter, my family spent a couple of nights at Fairmont Hot Springs in one of their new deluxe cabins near the hot pools. Our cabin was a far cry from camping, equipped with two bedrooms, a full kitchen, and a comfortable living room with television. We appreciated having our own space (it was quite different from staying in a hotel room), and it was a short run in bathrobes to the hot springs!

We also visited the ski hill for a day and were quite impressed with this affordable family-friendly resort. There was a wide assortment of runs for all abilities, and we even got to try some tubing at the end of the day at the ski hill’s tube park.

You can purchase ski-and-stay packages at the resort with hot springs included with all bookings. Or if you want to drop in for the day, you’ll receive a complimentary voucher to use the hot pools with every ski pass purchased.

Tanya is a freelance writer and mom to a spunky boy. She loves hiking, camping, skiing, and all things mountain-related. She is the author of the blog, Family Adventures in the Canadian Rockies, rockiesfamilyadventures.com.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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