Winter in the Shuswap

Skiing, snowshoeing, and cozy cabins around Salmon Arm, BC

What makes an ideal winter day? Snow-draped vistas, some skiing or snowshoeing, a hearty meal, maybe relaxing in a sauna, or warming up by a crackling fireplace? This March we experienced all this and more on a weekend getaway to the beautiful Shuswap. Long a popular summer destination, it was nice to take a few days and savour the area's cozy winter comforts.

Quaaout Lodge

Our first stop was the Quaaout Lodge & Spa. Across the lake from the town of Chase, Quaaout is owned and operated by the Little Shuswap Lake Indian Band and features design elements that recall traditional First Nation's architecture. Strolling the grounds offers a chance to learn something about their way of life through interpretive displays, and we ducked into the surprisingly spacious pithouse where they light a fire and tell stories when larger groups come through.

We had visited just a couple months earlier, and it was neat to return to see the lake frozen over, a sheet of gleaming brilliant white below the row of blue mountains. Among the winter highlights is a themed dinner called 'Taste!', where chef Chris Whittaker (previously executive chef at Vancouver's much-lauded farm-to-table restaurant Forage) and his team take guests on a culinary journey exploring the bounty of the Shuswap region. Each month offers a different experience, and during our stay the theme was 'Brewmaster Roadtrip' with various local ales paired with sumptuous dishes of locally-inspired food. We drank Mt Begbie's High Country Kolsch with Dungeness Crab and Lobster 'fancy devilled eggs,' Iron Road's Loop Line IPA with Lingcod Fritters, then Crannog's Haskap Ale with bison albondigas, and more. It was a lot of fun, and fantastically delicious.

Skmana Lake

Tucked into the hills behind Quaaout are the ski and snowshoe trails around little Skmana Lake. While nowhere near as big or diverse as the nearby Larch Hills, the trails can also be a lot quieter. Skmana offers visitors over 14km of routes to explore, including both easy and challenging trails, and a warming hut for lunch. On our hour-long ski we saw a family ice fishing on the lake, and lucky visitors may also catch a glimpse of the resident moose.

Tin Poppy Retreat

High up in the Larch Hills between Salmon Arm and Enderby waits the Tin Poppy vacation rentals. Located at the end of a long & winding backroad (keep an eye out for horses and moose!), they offer a variety of off-grid solar-powered lodgings in a truly quiet and relaxing atmosphere. Each of the buildings is unique, from classic log cabins to their signature 1952 aluminum trailer encased in a strikingly modern post-and-beam building. We stayed in the magnificent Lavender House, a stately timberframe house with sweeping views, a detached cedar sauna, and a cozy masonry fireplace. Completely off-grid, we soon settled in to the daily rituals of lighting the fireplace, preparing slow meals, and enjoying warm drinks out in the sun room.

Located on 160 acres in the hills above the Shuswap Valley, Tin Poppy has a fantastic little snowshoe trail of their own. With a couple scenic lookouts, it's a great way to get out and see the spectacular vistas of the meandering Shuswap River without having to venture too far.

Larch Hills

A few kilometres up the road from Tin Poppy waits the sprawling winter wonderland of the Larch Hills Nordic Trails. With over 170km of cross-country ski trails and 17km of dedicated snowshoe tracks, there's an almost boundless variety of terrain to explore. About a third of the ski trails are regularly groomed, and with a combination warming huts, beginner loops and lessons, and more challenging hills there's something for skiers of all skill levels.

Salmon Arm

During our visit we returned to Salmon Arm again and again, sometimes just for treats and warm drinks, and other times to explore and sightsee. The city has a cute little compact downtown with some great shops and restaurants, including sweet and savoury pies from The Shuswap Pie Company, salads and rice bowls from Smudge, authentic Mexican from the Cantina Vallarta, and tasty baked goods from the Blue Canoe. You can rent skis and bikes (including fat bikes for winter explorations!) from Skookum Cycle & Ski, or peruse the temporary exhibits at the Art Gallery. But no matter our excuse for coming into town we almost invariably found ourselves returning to the waterfront. We've stopped by the spectacular curving wharf a few times over the years, and each time it offers something new to discover. This was our first time visiting in winter and it was really neat to see the water all frozen over, with foot and ski tracks criss-crossing the vast bay.

Located just outside of town is the RJ Haney Historical Village. Offering a fascinating glimpse into the area's history, in the summer you can explore all the buildings and displays and catch some events and activities. It's decidedly more shut down in the winter months, but the archives remain open year round and it was neat to wander among the deserted and snowy streets.

Before leaving town, make sure to take a walk down Salmon Arm's Foreshore Trail. A birdwatcher's paradise in the warmer months, it's a nice quiet stroll at any time of the year with striking views of the scenic landscape, and relaxing sounds of burbling creeks and distant ducks softly quacking.

Big thank you to Shuswap Tourism for inviting us! Check out their website for more great trip ideas