Between Radium Hot Springs and Canal Flats, the Columbia Valley is broad and green, flanked by the towering peaks of the Rockies to the east and the Purcell Mountains to the west. Nestled in the valley are two lovely lakes, Windermere Lake and Columbia Lake, the latter considered the birthplace of the Columbia River. It's a stunningly dramatic landscape, and the entire valley is undergoing extensive development as an upscale resort area, mostly in the form of golf courses and country-club communities. You'll find no fewer than nine 18-hole and six 9-hole courses within 25 miles of each other, and other outdoor recreational activities -- skiing, mountain biking, hiking, and rafting -- have also developed as a major focus (the following golf courses are dependably open from May-Sept). The main towns in this part of the Columbia Valley are Invermere and Windermere; though they are on opposite sides of Lake Windermere, they're only 7km (4 1/3 miles) apart.
Panorama Mountain Valley & Greywolf Golf Course
Panorama, 40km (25 miles) west of Invermere on Panorama Road (tel. 800/663-2929 or 250/342-6941; www.panoramaresort.com), is a major four-seasons resort and residential community. Besides golf and skiing, the recreation-oriented resort offers a host of other activities, including horseback riding, white-water rafting, ATV touring, tennis, hiking, and mountain biking.
The Panorama Ski Resort boasts one of the highest vertical drops in Canada, at 41,219m (3,999 ft.). There are over 120 named runs in 1,152 hectares (2,847 acres) of skiable terrain, with nine lifts including one high-speed quad. Fifty-five percent of the runs are intermediate or advanced, and a further 25% are rated expert. Adult day lift tickets are C$74. The resort is also home to the Bilodeau School of Skiing and Snowboarding and the Greywolf Nordic Ski Centre, with 20km (12 miles) of groomed trails.
The resort also offers heli-skiing packages in the Purcell Mountains behind the resort. A day-trip with three helicopter-assisted descents, including breakfast and lunch, is $690 per person.
In summer, the lifts open to mountain bikers, who find a real challenge in both the single-track trails with natural obstacles and the expert terrain with man-made stunts. The trails aren't for first-timers: 86% are rated intermediate to expert.
Greywolf Golf Course at Panorama (tel. 888/473-9965 or 250/341-4100; www.greywolfgolf.com) is considered one of B.C.'s top courses, and when it opened in 1999 Greywolf was named best new course of the year in Canada. The 6,529m (7,140-yd.) course has bent grass greens and fairways, and spectacular mountain vistas from every hole. Water comes into play on 14 of 18 holes. The "Cliffhanger" is the signature 16th hole -- it requires a drive across a steep-sided gorge. Greens fees are C$99 to C$149 for 18 holes, depending on season.
Panorama offers many lodging options ranging from traditional hotel rooms, hostel accommodations, condominiums, and town houses to private home rentals. Double room rates range from C$80 to C$200; for information and reservations call tel. 866/601-7383. The resort has 11 restaurants and bars in the village, with three more choices on the slopes.
Fairmont Hot Springs Resort
People have been visiting the hot water springs at Fairmont for millennia, but the early Native people who came here to cure their aches and pains wouldn't recognize it now. The springs are now the center of Fairmont Hot Springs Resort, 16km (10 miles) south of Windermere on Hwy. 93/95 (tel. 800/663-4979 or 250/345-6000; www.fairmonthotsprings.com). Fairmont is a four-season resort, with two famed golf courses, a number of large country-club developments, and a winter ski area, but for many families the big draw remains the hot springs. The mineral water here is rich in calcium, but contains no sulfur, the odiferous agent that fouls the air at most hot springs resorts.
The main attraction at the resort is the 297-sq.-m (3,200-sq.-ft.) lap pool filled with hot mineral water, plus a diving pool and several soaker pools. Amazingly, all the water in the pools is drained nightly and refilled with fresh water. At Fairmont, more than 5.7 million liters (1.5 million gal.) of 102°F (39°C) water flow out of the mountain and through the pools per day. Single entry to the pool complex is C$10 adults, C$9 seniors and youths aged 13 to 17, and C$8 for children 4 to 12. Massage, hydrotherapy, and other spa services are also available.
Fairmont boasts two 18-hole courses and a 9-hole course. Mountainside Golf Course, just below the hot springs off Fairway Drive (tel. 250/345-6514), is a par-72 course. Mountainside's most famous hole is its 549m (600-yd.) 4th hole. Riverside Golf Resort, off Riverview Road (tel. 250/345-6346), is a championship 18-hole course, with a driving range, full practice area, pro shop, and lessons available. The Riverside is unique in that it spans the Columbia River, and uses the mighty river as a natural water hazard. The Riverside course is 5,968m (6,527 yd.) in length and was named Canada's golf course of the year in 1998. Greens fees for both courses range from C$69 to C$80 for 18 holes. The par 3, 9-hole Creekside Golf Course (tel. 250/345-6660) is great for learners and families, with rates ranging from C$15 to C$18.
Fairmont Hot Springs Ski Resort offers a half pipe and snowboard park, triple chair lift, and 13 runs for a full day of skiing enjoyment. Fairmont is not as large a ski area as others in the Columbia Valley -- it has a vertical drop of 305m (1,000 ft.) -- but it's a good place for families or beginners. Adult day lift tickets are C$44.
Accommodations at Fairmont Hot Springs Resort are in the rambling 140-room lodge. Summer high-season rates range between C$184 and C$339 for a double room.
More Golf Resorts
The Radium Resort, 8100 Golf Course Rd., Radium Hot Springs (tel. 250/347-6266; www.radiumresort.com), is a year-round destination with a resort community and ample recreational activities, but the focus is on its two golf courses. The Resort Course is the oldest is the Columbia Valley, built in 1957. This par-69 course offers incredible vistas and some equally dramatic elevation changes that present challenges to golfers used to flatter courses. Greens fees range from C$32 to C$59. The newer Springs Course, designed by Les Furber, follows the rugged natural contours of the land and is often ranked among the top courses in Canada. This par-72 course features four tee boxes per hole to allow for play from 4,721 to 6,188m (5,163-6,767 yd.). Greens fees are C$79 to C$110. The resort offers accommodations in standard hotel-style rooms or in condos, starting at C$99 for a double in high season.
Eagle Ranch Golf Resort, 9581 Eagle Ranch Trail, Invermere (tel. 877/877-3889 or 250/342-0562; www.eagleranchresort.com), is located on the bluffs above Lake Windermere and the Columbia Wetlands, and the layout weaves in natural features such as deep ravines and hoodoos. This 18-hole, 6,077m (6,646-yd.), par-72 championship golf course is both scenic and very challenging. Greens fees range from C$85 to C$130. The clubhouse restaurant, Saliken, is a destination in its own right. Copper Point Golf Course, 651 Hwy. 93/95, Invermere (tel. 877/418-4653 or 250/341-3392; www.copperpointgolf.com), offers two courses for a total of 36 holes of golf. The original par-70 Copper Point Course, with a length of 6,224m (6,807 yd.), lets the natural terrain of the Rockies do the work, as the layout follows the rise and fall of the foothills, with several dramatic elevation changes built into the course. Greens fees are C$95 to C$125. The new-in-2008 Ridge at Copper Point Course is, as you might guess, on a series of bluffs above the original course. The rugged terrain is a major factor in the play at this innovative par-62 Masters-style course. With 4,638m (5,072 yd.), the course is faster to play than most area courses yet still very demanding. Greens fees are C$75 to C$85.