Roadtrip: Take A Snow Vacation North Of the Border

Winter is the perfect time to take in the town of Nelson, B.C., and the boundless outdoor offerings of the Selkirk Mountains.

The Whitewater Ski and Winter Resort is 20 minutes south of Nelson, opening for the season in early December. The vertical drop and lift ticket prices are comparable to Schweitzer, but Whitewater has more than one and a half times the snow in an average year.

Celebrate the season at the mountain with the Winter Carnival and Snow Ball Apres on January 21 or watch all levels of backcountry skiers and boarders compete at the sixth annual Coldsmoke Powder Fest, February 24-27.

For the flatlanders, Whitewater has 15 miles of nordic trails for cross country skiers and snowshoers. Nearby, the local nordic ski club maintains another 15 miles of wooded trail.

The lure of local organic fare at the Pepperbox Bistro just down the road in Salmo (talked up in Derrick Knowles’s June OTM Roadtrip article), was reason enough to plan a trip across the border. Much to my dismay, the place was recently closed. Friendly locals pointed us to a nearby golf club with good grub. The burger topped with sautéed mushrooms was the perfect fill-up for the last leg of the trip.

Coming into Nelson, the highway drops you off on the charming Baker Street.

If the adventure you want involves less snow and more window shopping, hiking through the streets of Nelson is enough of a getaway. Enjoy a chai tea prepared with spices ground in mortar and pestle while you wait at what is perhaps the tiniest coffee shop around, located in the box office of The Royal music venue.

Nelson sits on the shores of Kootenay Lake with the pine-covered Selkirks cozied around the town of 9,000 people. The view is best from the overlook at Pulpit Rock, an hour’s climb from the trailhead. Gaining nearly 1,000 feet in elevation in only a mile of trail makes for a nice morning hike to get the blood moving. The trailhead is just across the Big Orange Bridge (BOB), on the opposite shore from Nelson. For a less rigorous climb, there is a great view from the in-town Gyro Park. The park has beautiful gardens in the summer, and you might just catch a cross dressing brass band parading through.

A few hostels in town offer a casual comfort that you don’t find in the long lonely halls of a commercial hotel. Their rates are easier on the wallet, and the in-house kitchens provide a place to cook some of your own meals to keep your food costs down as well. Some hostels offer ski and stay packages if you plan to hit the Whitewater slopes. The Whitehouse Backpackers Lodge is within walking distance of all the town’s main sites.

Hostels can be great for all ages. Don’t think you’ll be stuck sharing a bunk with a ripe-smelling traveler who’s up at all hours. The lodges offer private rooms where all you’ll need to share is a kitchen and a restroom—and at the Whitehouse anyway, they were well kept and clean.

It’s encouraging how environmentally aware and locally conscious people and businesses are all around town. And it’s not something new that’s just now catching on. The Kootenay Co-op grocery store has been around since 1975; the Kootenay Carshare Cooperative celebrated its 10th anniversary this summer; Whitewater uses snowcats powered by French fry oil to groom its trails; and the Nelson Brewing Company went all organic in 2006.

Speaking of beer, Nelson Brewing offers some quality seasonal selections to refresh you after a winter workout. Try the Nelson After Dark British Ale for a fine roasty brew with hints of chocolate flavors. The Blackheart Oatmeal Stout is also a hearty winter warm-up.

A good way to sample the brews is along with some superb Thai food at the Busaba Thai Cafe, just a block off the main drag on Victoria and Josephine streets. Judging by the crowded tables, it’s a popular spot on a Saturday night, and the food did not disappoint.

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Nelson is 150 miles—about 3 ? hours—due north of Spokane. Once you leave town on Highway 2, it’s almost a straight shot—a mere four turns away: on to Highway 211 once you cross to Pend Oreille County; on to Highway 20 at Cusick; Highway 3 just after the border crossing; and then a last turn at Highway 6 at Salmo. You could do it with one eye open. Just don’t do it any less than sober. Canada’s DUI laws are strict—so much that they might deny you entry if you have one on your record. Passports are needed to re-enter the states, and prepare for a barrage of questions about everything from what kind of groceries you’re bringing back to your occupation.

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