You’re familiar with the skiers’ ultimate dream: a solid day on the mountain followed with relaxing with your ski buds in hot water.
In the Kootenays, we’ve obviously got the skiing portion covered. For the latter part, you just need to 'pick your fav': Do you want hot water in the form of hot tubs or hot springs?
We’ve got both here, too.
The following are hot tubs that have a unique twist to them as well as hot springs that invite a winter adventure.
"Hans Gmoser broke trail into an opening with a spectacular view oft he Houndstooth and Bugaboo Spires piercing both the sky above and the steep Bugaboo glacier below. Old-growth forest framed the peaks and completed an alpine vista of rarely matched artistic balance and natural spendour. He turned to Thompson and said solemnly, 'I could buy this piece of Crown Land and build a lodge for helicopter ski touring. What to you think?'".
~ from Bugaboo Dreams: A Story of Skiers, Helicopters and Mountains
When asked what her favourite hot tub out of all of the Kootenay-area Canadian Mountain Holiday (CMH) lodges were, Tanya Otis, Public Relations Manager at CMH Heli-Skiing and Summer Adventures, responded "I'd recommend CMH Bugaboos Lodge (north of Radium Hot Springs and south of Golden), the outdoor hot tub with views of the Bugaboo spires are gorgeous and incredibly unique."
CMH Bugaboo Lodge; Photo by Tammy Hanratty
That's saying something. CMH operators 12 heli-skiing lodges, with 8 of those being located in the Kootenay Rockies, region famed for its wild-mountain views.
And it might be appropriate that the best hot-tub views of CMH are here: the Bugaboo Lodge is where the CMH family of heli-ski lodges - and arguably, heliskiing as a commercial venture - began. Thanks to Gmoser, operations began in the Bugaboos in 1965; the lodge remains the most established of CMH's twelve.
"It sits smack dab und the Elk Chair, which provides access to the famed Lizard Bowl, one of the 5 alpine bowls at the Fernie Alpine Resort", says Matt Mosteller, Senior Vice President of Marketing & Resort Experiences at Resorts of the Canadian Rockies.
Mosteller's talking about a hot tub. Not just any ol' hot tube, though; this one was featured in the movie 'Hot Tub Time Machine', a 2010 comedy starring John Cusask, and is a point of pride at the resort when it comes to soaking options.
The hot tub, which belongs to the 4,600-square-foot Timbers Chalet, Mosteller says, "It's probably the most famous hot tub, it's right under the lift and hidden in the cedars at Fernie.".
When you've got over 106,000 hectares of ski tenure, you better have a relaxation plan for your guest at the end of the day.
Luckily, Mica Helskiing delivers.
Sitting atop their nearly 16,000-square foot lodge - itself a 2013 'Excellence in Building' award-winner - are rooftop hot tubs. With less than two dozen guests to share the waters with, skiers can easily secure a muscle-therapy session with a view.
Photo courtesy of Mica Heliskiing
The lodge, located about an hour north of Revelstoke, sits at the confluence of the Selkirks and the Monashees; the Columbia River flows at the base. With skiers getting this kind of bird's-eye-view from the rooftop hot tub, the mind get as much relaxation as the muscles.
"There's nothing like skiing into your accommodations, changing into a swimsuit, sliding into the hot pool and relaxing while you watch the snow-cats prepare the slopes for the next day", says Jamie Hurschler, Marketing Manager at Panorama Mountain Resort.
Hurschler descibes a scenic experience: snowflakes falling atop your head, while sitting in steaming waters, lights from the snow-cats lighting up the ski trails in front of you. "It's literally right on the edge of the slopes", he says of the hot pools, which are accompanied by hot tubs and a sauna.
Panorama Hot Pools; Photo by Kari Medig
And not only are there views of the mountain, but there are views of the mountain village, which includes shopping and dining opportunities. "The pools are in the heard of the village", Hurschler says. "And since the pools are open late, you can get dinner before or after soaking".
Last fall, I headed to Retallack, a West Kootenay hot spot for cat-skiing and heli-mountain biking. We were there to visit Phil Pinfold, Retallack's manager and majority owner. I shuttled with Phil and my boyfriend as they biked. The terrain was incredible, and I imaged the descent in the winter season would have the same smile-plastering effect on skiers.
But it sure made muscles sour. Pinfold had an answer for that.
Showing us what they were working on in preparation for cat-skiing season, Pinfold led us to a small clearing adjacent to the lodge. It was here that they were working on their latest: a hot tube under the stars.
Photo courtesy of Retallack Lodge
"Our 12-person hot tub is great for a number of reasons", says Pinfold of now-finished project. "Having a hot tub as a healing tool after a big day of cat-skiing or heli-biking is a tremendous asset to our clients. The fact that it is situated under the sky, surrounded by mature forest growth, overlooking a bumbling river just adds to the allure of the produce we offer."
Spend your day skiing the steeps and trees at Whitewater Ski Resort? Just finishing week of hard-charing deeps via the cat (Baldface Lodge, Selkirk Snowcat Skiing, White Grizzly Cat-Skiing) or heli-ski (Snowwater Heliskiing, Stellar Heli Skiing) venues bordering Kootenay Lake?
You'll want Ainsworth Hot Springs.
"The best and the hottest is, by far, Ainsworth", says Jeanne Desautels Dempster, a Kootenay Lake local, when asked which Kootenay-area hot springs she preferred. "We go in the winter all of the time - it's our favourite time to go".
Overlooking the 104-km Kootenay Lake with a view of the Purcell Mountains, Ainsworth Hot Springs is the only hot springs owned by the First Nations people: the Lower Kootenay Band of the Ktunaxa nation. Their culture permeates the resort, from the pools to the rooms - which can be booked for those wanting to extend their 'ski and soak' stay.
The biggest draw to the hot springs is the natural cave that bathers can relax in. "Those caves are experience by themselves," says Dempster who describes a recent visit to the springs with her grandkids. "After they got over the dark, 'spooky' cave they couldn't see in, they loved it."
If you've hot a sled or enjoy a long Nordic tour, consider this one. Just north of Nakusp BC are the backcountry Halfway River Hot Springs. Requiring a roughly 11-km travel up a logging road, this destination in winter, is best for those with either the motorized means to get there or want to try winter camping via a ski tour.
"I snowmobiled in in the winter, and it was really awesome," says Kenzie Wade, a Golden local. She described how the hot pools ran alongside the river, with a series of houses that siphoned the cold river water into the pools as a means of temperature regulations. "It's nice because you have a shelter to change in, too."
Halfway River Hot Springs; Photo by Kenzie Wade
And the winter vibe? "We passed people on our snowmobiles as they ski toured in. However, since it's a long way to get to the springs in winter, we were the only people there when we arrived."
Lussier Hot Springs
Located along an active logging road running east of Canal Flats is Whiteswan Lake Provincial Park, home to the wild-country Lussier Hot Springs. There's plenty to do her in the winter: Roads are plowed throughout the season, and within the park - along with the hot springs - winter camping and ice-fishing is available, most just a short walk from your vehicle.
Because of the ease of access, it's a regular hangout of locals. "While I was there, I met locals who visited every week, all year round," says Golden local, Guillaume Auger, of others he met during his visit. "It's really nice."
And it's a great place to, er... test the waters (sorry for that) if wilderness hot springs are new to you. "I actually want to go there with my parents because they've never experienced hot springs before," say Auger. "If it's your first experience getting into wilderness hot springs, this is a good one to start with because it's so clean and so naturally beautiful in the setting."
His winter-access tip? "Bring trail crampons; the path down to the springs gets icy in winter."
Right smack-dab between Revelstoke Mountain Resort and Whitewater Ski Resort, 30 minutes from Summit Lake Ski & Snowboard Area, right in the hear of some incredible backcountry and directly at the end of a multi-use all-seasons, old-growth trail is Nakusp Hot Springs.
If that last part intrigued you, get your backcountry-ready cross-country skis on: the Kuskanax-Hot Springs Trail is an easy to moderate trail that's suitable for skiing or snowshoeing. The nearly 9-km trail starts just outside of Nakusp and finishes at the hot springs. From there, you can book an overnight or two in a chalet, then spend the rest of the time hopping between snow play and hot water relaxation.
Nakusp Hot Springs; Photo by Lee Orr
"The Nakusp Hot Springs has offered one of the most pure and clean sources of healing thermal waters in North America for over 100 years," says Terry Welsh, Director of Recreation & Parks for the Village of Nakusp. "It truly is a hidden gem amongst the majestic of the Selkirk mountains".
Radium Hot Springs
Forty minutes from both Panorama Mountain Resort and Nipika Mountain Resort, alpine and cross-country enthusiasts will find their healing: Radium Hot Springs pool. Just up the road from the town of the same name and just within the entrance of Kootenay National Park, the hot springs have been a staple of the area's residents since time immemorial.
But Radium Hot Springs could only impart its healing to one person at a time - that is, until 1914. Through a donation of a grateful beneficiary of the spring's healing waters, a concrete pool was constructed to increase the capacity of the springs to more than one person at a time.
Today, you can multiply that single capacity to the tune of 550. Now one of the largest hot springs pools in Canada, 550 bathers can soak in Radium's fabled healing waters at once. So even if it's a busy day at the mountain, you'll still find plenty of room to soothe sore quads for your apres-ski.
Words by Gina Bégin and top/cover photo of Nakusp Hot Springs by Lee Orr.
Gina Bégin - Although she’s a Florida girl, exploration called her away after the final bell of her high school career. On a quest to reach the distant adventures of North America, she lived in her car, traveling to ski the backcountry of Alaska, sleep under the northern lights in the Yukon Territory, ice climb Colorado's frozen canyons, photograph Nova Scotia’s coves, backpack in southern US wildernesses and munch on sugared tamarindo in the jungles of Mexico. But after three years living on the road and seeing the many wonders this continent had to offer, she chose the place she knew would fit an explorer looking for a lifetime of wild wonder: British Columbia. Dual citizenship in hand, she settled along the Powder Highway in the Selkirks and is making her home between four walls and deeply wooded mountains.