By Lauren Kramer
I’m standing on the frozen expanse of Chute Lake, 4,000 feet above Penticton, staring at a hole in the lake beneath which the trout are supposedly large, hungry and just waiting for my bait. Warmed by the crackle of a firepit a few feet away, I’m realizing the middle of Chute Lake is not a bad place to reflect on life and the winter beauty of the Okanagan.
Behind me, the rustic Chute Lake Lodge is caked in snow, its 100-year-old facade framed by trees and shadowed by the sharp rise of steep mountain cliffs. A few Canadian geese fly overhead, but apart from their brief farewell cries there are no sounds but the crackle of the fire to punctuate the sweet stillness of a snowy morning.
By February, when I visited last year, the lake’s four feet of ice make a great surface for a meditative walk with snowshoe-clad feet, on a lake that feels literally lost in time. Situated smack bang on the historic Kettle Valley Railway trail, the lodge at Chute Lake has long been known as the place for a nostalgic family vacation or an afternoon tea of signature homemade apple pie.
Recently under new ownership, its eight cabins have been lovingly repaired and updated without erasing their historic charm. Look carefully and you’ll find log-hewn walls bearing graffiti dating back to the 1930s, and ancient, wood-fired stoves now used to heat the cabins.
Kids toboggan outside, guests sign up for yoga classes and a session in the sweat lodge, and families chat over home-cooked meals in the warm friendliness of the lodge’s communal dining room. It’s an intimate, recuperative experience that couldn’t be more different from today’s “resort style” accommodation.
After a less-than-successful fishing experience I warm up over a steaming bowl of nourishing beef stew. Then I tackle the mountain switchbacks to return to Penticton for an afternoon of wine tasting.
It’s low season in the Okanagan, a great time to enjoy the city, its breweries and wineries, without having to wait in lines or hunt for parking. In the off-season you have the place all to yourself, a great opportunity to fill your time with tasty libations, winter biking, breweries and ski resort options.
Sandwiched between lakes Skaha and Okanagan, Penticton is an unpretentious city where old and new collide, offering a heady mix of recreational offerings all year-round. Don’t let the colder temperatures deter you from visiting. There’s a good chance you’ll be swept away by the serene beauty of this Okanagan destination.
To gain a deeper appreciation of the complex flavours of the region, visit Great Estates Okanagan, a downtown wine experience centre and store that specializes in pairing the valley’s best wines with carefully selected local cheese and chocolate. This is a tempting one-stop-shop for those who want to sniff, swirl and sip their way through a portfolio of Okanagan wineries without visiting each one individually.
Some of the Kettle Valley Railroad Trail’s most popular terrain for cyclists lies between Penticton and Kelowna, a segment that includes the Myra Canyon trestles and the most spectacular scenery.
Don’t be deterred from venturing this way when there’s snow on the ground. With a fat-tire electric bike you have all the traction you need. With the aid of battery power, most of the work is done for you, giving you the freedom to enjoy the view and climb the hills without concern for breathless exhaustion. Freedom bike shop, on Penticton’s main drag, is a quick ride from the trailhead.
Apex Mountain Resort, a playground for downhill skiers since 1961, has more than its share of adrenaline-pumping mountain trails, but it also boasts a good selection of ski alternatives and softer winter adventures.
Rent skates and take to the Adventure Ice Loop, one kilometre of magical skating terrain surrounded by trees. For a faster ride, rent a tube and slip down a gentle slope at the tube park, or if the hiking trails are calling, strap snowshoes onto your feet and venture into the valley and down by the creek on a self-guided trail. There’s a good chance the only tracks will be yours.
Chute Lake Lodge, 30 kilometres from Penticton, is a picturesque lodge with a history dating back to the construction of the Kettle Valley Railroad in the early 1900s. Newly restored, its eight cabins are a great venue for a back-to-nature family retreat, with a plethora of recreational possibilities that include trout ice fishing, tobogganing, snowshoeing, a sweat lodge and yoga classes. Chute Lake delivers the kind of serenity that only comes from a remote mountain lodge steeped in snow, solitude and timeless charm.
IF YOU GO
General Info: travelpenticton.com
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