7 ski towns in British Columbia to lift your old school heart

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Rossland. Photo by Steve Ogle.

In a world of mega ski resorts, crowded slopes and tech overload, everyone’s looking for authenticity – and we’ve found it. British Columbia is the Canadian province that keeps it old-school with some of the coolest ski towns to be found around every corner.

Whether you want a big, bold party with hundreds of new best friends, or a genuine locals vibe in historical main streets filled with cool baristas and craft breweries, you’ll find it in BC.

Here are seven of the best.

1. Rossland – laid back and under the radar

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Rossland. Photo by Steve Ogle

Ask any Canadian local about Rossland, and they’ll tell you the same thing; this homegrown ski town in the Kootenay Rockies Monashee Mountains is cool, calm and adventure-loving to the core. It helps that Rossland is on the doorstep of one of British Columbia’s best winter playgrounds, RED Mountain Resort, known for steep, deep and no lift lines.

You won’t find a traffic light in sight and no mega malls, just local owned businesses big on Canuck hospitality and home grown fare with everything from sushi to artisan chocolate made in town. Then there’s that cute-as-a-button Main Street from the 1800s that you can fill your Instagram with. 

Our tips: Check out The Josie for slopeside accommodation, Rossland Beer Company for a local brew at five, Seven Summits for house roasted coffee, Mountain Nugget Chocolate Company for the best hot chocolate in the region and the Purist Pantry for all things gluten-free.

2. Revelstoke – mountain town cool

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Revelstoke. Photo by Nolan Gale.

You’ll fall in love with the town of Revelstoke on the banks of the mighty Columbia River, and not just because it accesses the big mountain terrain of Revelstoke Mountain Resort. This sweet mountain community in South East British Columbia has a mining and railway history from the 1880s with many locals still proudly working the Canadian Pacific Railway today.

Expect old world streets filled with cute refurbed mining cabins from back in the day and a sophisticated dining scene that surprises the most urban skiers. Locals are mountain loving and laid back, no need for designer handbags here, just a love of good coffee, mountain distilled spirits, backcountry skiing, community and hot springs. 

Our tips: Try axe throwing at Peak Axe with the hilarious Dustin, head to Dose Coffee for Aussie coffee, dine out at Quartermaster in uber-cool The Explorers Society hotel, try the beer flight at Mt Begbie Brewing and the Vulcan’s Fire at Monashee Spirits. Ask a local to show you the way to the Halfway Hot Springs.

3. Fernie – big vistas big love

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Fernie. Photo by Dave Heath.

The tug-at-your-heartstrings town of Fernie sits in the Elk Valley of the East Kootenays and has officially been around since 1898. It’s where Canadian coal mining history meets artsy ski town vibes to create one really cool town. 

The Main Street (known as 2nd Avenue) is lined with historic rose and gold brick buildings framing one of the most beautiful mountain vistas going. Fernie Alpine Resort is 10 minutes up the road, serving up a similar old school charm amongst the steep and deep tree skiing the region is known for. 

The best news is no crowds. Ever. Just locals and guests that blend as one, bonded by the love of the great outdoors and a town grid pattern that makes it super easy to get around.

Our tips: Head to the Fernie Museum and lose yourself in the region’s history, try Fernie Distillers for local made gin, Nevados for South American inspired cuisine and fusion margaritas, the Ice Bar at Cirque and Big Bang Bagels for fuel before you head up the hill.

4. Nelson – the ‘big smoke’ of BC

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Nelson. Photo by Kari Medig.

Nelson is where all your hippie Canadian dreams come to life in one gorgeous town on the shores of the glacier fed Kootenay Lake. Founded by miners in the 1800s in search of gold, who then discovered copper and silver, today’s Nelson is an eclectic mix of gentrification and organic mountain living midway between Calgary and Vancouver.

If you’re skiing hidden gem Whitewater Ski Resort, then you’ll stay in the service town of Nelson. Be warned, you may not want to leave. The established streets boast 350 heritage buildings, independent retailers, local beans and holistic restaurants with seasonal produce filled with brightly attired locals who don’t mind a chat.

Our tips: Head straight to No6 coffee for a macchiato, piccolo, flat white or espresso worthy of home, fuel up at Marzano for smashed avocado and fresh eggs, wind down with cocktails at Cantina del Centro and walk the lakeshore at dusk. Make sure you pick up a copy of the famed Kootenay Mountain Culture magazine and the famed Whitewater Cooks recipe books filled with recipes for the house made menu that the resort is known for. 

5. Kaslo – good things come in small packages

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Ainsworth Hot Springs. Photo by Kari Medig.

Aaah Kaslo, blink and you’ll miss it. So keep your eyes wide open on the west shores of Kootenay Lake, an hour from Nelson, because this vintage town is a must-see. You’d be forgiven for thinking the Main Street was plucked from a movie set, with its striped awnings and old-town facades that line the local pubs, stores and cafes.

Like most BC mountain towns, it was founded on mining, and is now the gateway town for heli skiers flying with Stellar Heliskiing, and cat skiers with Selkirk Snowcat Skiing. And after a few days on the slopes, the beautiful Ainsworth Hot Springs is the perfect place to rest those weary thighs. Long used as a healing place for the Ktunaxa First Nations peoples, it’s been open to the general public since the 1930s and offers a pool and natural cave, along with accommodation on-site.

Our tips: Check out the world’s oldest intact passenger sternwheeler, the S.S. Moyie. Get a selfie in front of the Langham Cultural Centre (it won The BC Architecture Foundation’s “Best Building Award”), try Angry Hen Brewing for local beer and Treehouse Restaurant for eggs benny. 

6. Penticton – the twin lake town

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Penticton. Photo courtesy of Travel Penticton.

Penticton is easily one of British Columbia’s best-kept secrets and found in the southern interior region of the province on the shores of not one but two lakes – Okanagan Lake on one side and Skaha Lake on the other.

With stunning water views and rolling peaks at every turn, Penticton is a must-stop for those skiing and riding Apex Mountain Resort‘s uber groomed steep corduroy. Expect 80 wineries, six breweries and three distilleries in Penticton alone, so you may want to put some days aside to explore all that’s on offer (pack the Berocca). 

Our tips: Checkout the weekly curling league or cheer on an ice hockey game, hit up Cascades Casino, fat bike along the Kettle Valley Rail Trail or opt for a full day of wine touring.

7. Whistler – the big Kahuna

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Whistler Village. Photo by Leanna Rathkelly.

At the heart of Whistler Blackcomb, North America’s biggest ski resort, is the ski town of Whistler. Whistler is nestled at the base of both Whistler and Blackcomb mountains and offering up a whole lot to do – and all within walking distance.

Whether you want to shop the big-name brands, try every Caesar in town, get a photo with the Olympic rings, snack on the most delicious baked goods, hunt down a unique souvenir, go for a fancy dinner or simply people-watch the day away, it’s all here, and it’s all possible. And when it’s time to ski, of course, you have over 8000 acres of terrain and 200 runs to choose from, plus a whole world of après to discover.

Our tips: Soak in the hot pools at Scandinave Spa, sip on fresh juices at Green Moustache, warm up with flat whites at Mount Currie Coffee Company and learn to saber Champagne  at Bearfoot Bistro.

For more information on the best ski towns in British Columbia, along with more on skiing and snowboarding  – click here.

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