Ice Tower at Big White

Beth Climbing

Photo: Beth scaling the Ice Tower at Big White

I've had a grudge against winter for over a decade: It's too cold, too long and too snowy. But what I hate most is how much I've grown to hate it.

So, when an email popped into my inbox a few months ago, inviting me to spend a few, fun-filled days at Big White (bigwhite.ca) ski resort in Kelowna, BC, I took it as a sign for change.

It was time to reconnect with my winter girl. You probably remember her, too - she's the one who can't wait for the first snowfall and all the promise its fragile flakes hold.

Quicker than you can say Jack Frost, I dug my snow pants out of storage, traded in my heels for a rugged pair of Cougars and packed my bags with, dare I say it, a skip in my step.

I picked the right mountain to reintroduce myself to the glory of winter. Everybody at Big White loves this season: The longer, the colder, the snowier, the better.

I have to admit, as soon as I arrived, I started feeling the love. Yeah, they're serious about skiing here, and with 16 lifts and 118 designated trails (the longest clocking in at 7.2 km), they can accommodate any downhill diva for days on end.

But they also know that sometimes girls just wanna have fun.

Enter the ski bunny. Ah, that'd be me, whooping it up on the bunny hill. Well, not exactly whooping. More, like slowly and seriously making my way down the slope (that's a generous use of the word), practicing wedge turns and stops.

After just a few hours of lessons, though, I find my ski legs and my confidence, which set the scene for one of those great Canadian moments I remember from childhood. I'm standing at the top of the run, appreciating the warmth of the sun and the way it plays off the snow and catches the crystals so they sparkle and dance on the hill. Nostalgia stirs: Winter has become a wonderland again.

It inspires me to sign up for more activities. The options menu promises something for even the fussiest of winter phobes. Skating, tubing, snowmobiling or dogsledding all available, all within walking distance.

But the newest and most thrilling off-hill offering has to be the Ice Tower. It's a four-sided, 60-foot high ice structure, and the only one in North America that's situated in a ski resort.

After signing a few waivers (gulp) and being fitted with the necessary equipment - helmet, crampons and climbing picks, I head over to the tower to meet my guide. For as long as it takes me to reach the summit, we will be tethered together: He on earth, me heading toward the heavens. His instructions are brief, but helpful. "Your instinct will be to use your arms to climb, but remember the real power is in your legs. Let those muscles do the work for you."

I begin, ambitiously. This isn't too hard, I think as my feet leave the security of the ground. But, just a few minutes in, my muscles rebel. I've forgotten everything my guide told me and am vigorously picking away at the ice, looking for those sweet spots that will hold the tool and pull me up. It's only when my arms begin to shake with the responsibility of lugging my entire body up the icy incline that I remember to use my legs more.

Everything changes from that moment. I'm more than halfway now and can see the bell at the top of the tower that I will ring to mark my arrival.

I'm huffing like a three-pack a day smoker and sweating profusely despite the -4C temperatures. This is definitely a workout. But, oh, the reward when I make it the top. A cheer releases from the gathering crowd on the ground. It's a sublime moment and I savour it.

The adrenaline rush lasts for the rest of the day. I feel alive with possibility, venturing for a few more activities, not wanting the day to end. I can't believe how quickly my mindset has changed.

End the day must, but not without its own reward. Just as Big White lets you frolic like a kid under the sun, it also lets you play as an adult under the moon.

There are a host of restaurants and bars to choose from. Carvers does Indian fusion, The BullWheel makes a great burger and the Kettle Valley Steakhouse has an impressive regional wine list featuring many of the top producers in the Okanagan and Similkameen Valleys.

And you can't leave Big White without a stop at The Gunbarrel Grill for its signature drink, the Gunbarrel Coffee. This is a spectacle to behold, served by shot gun with flaming Grand Marnier that's poured down the barrel and into a glass prepared with brandy, cacao, coffee and whipped cream.

Like all great ski days, I've come to learn, the stories of mountains conquered grow larger with the number of nightcaps consumed but so do the laughs and the friendships. No one wants to be the first to leave.

It's with some reluctance that we call it a night. But as I head back to room I realize that tomorrow's another (winter) day. And for the first time in a long while, that feels like a good thing.


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