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Springing Northward 

by Darren Davidson & r & & r & & lt;span class= "dropcap " & B & lt;/span & eing the somewhat schizophrenic gal she's become, it's hard to tell which of Mother Nature's multiple personalities might turn out for the upcoming shoulder season, that oh-so-tricky time of year that leaves the weekend warriors of the Inland Northwest wondering which sports swag to pack for their latest big adventure, and where the heck to head -- the slopes, the trailheads or a tee box.


However, fair meteorological Freudians, fear not. There is a place for you and all your fun-appropriating gear, come snow, showers or shine.


Keeping said shoulder season in mind, consider a four-and-half-hour road trip from Spokane to British Columbia's Big White Resort and the nearby city of Kelowna. They're arguably the best multi-day holiday hotspots going in terms of bucks and selection.


With its mega-village located 5,700 feet above sea level and its cheaper Canadian currency, Big White is a spring skiing destination for families and partiers alike. What's more, springtime is when the resort offers up some of its best turns, while the lush Okanagan Valley -- a 45-minute drive away -- boasts some of the best early-spring fun in B.C.


Big White's deep 2005-06 snowpack has set the stage for what could be a stupendous season's end. As of mid February, the mountain already had over eight feet of snow. But the true tale of the tape rests with the resort's impressive stats: 15 lifts, 118 runs, a sprawling smorgasbord of friendly groomers, endless glades and big bowls, $5 night skiing and an 80-acre lighted terrain park, including a superpipe and boarder-cross course.


And whether it dumps or turns super-sunny, the mountain is an easy place to chill for a few days -- with the kids or the posse.


Big White was voted North America's Best Family Resort last winter. Wandering past the Happy Valley Village's enormous lit skating pond, a big bonfire burning amongst festively lit fir, you can't help but wish for your own Brady Bunch. You can hear the kids roaring over at the Mega Snow Coaster Tube Ride and mini-Ski Doo track. But a quick gondola ride back to the village plaza, studded with bars and bistros, and you're pining for the days of uninhibited single-dom. Big White has for 30 years boasted legendary raging at haunts like Snowshoe Sams and Raakels. (Reportedly, this year's Pimp N' Ho event at Snowshoes was R-rated. We couldn't find any photos....)


The resort's dining is diverse, from Chinese to Swiss to hearty pub grub and plenty of classy steak and vino fare at places like the Kettle Valley Steak House and Wine Bar.


The accommodation situation is all-star. The gorgeous Inn at Big White is the place to be if you want smack-dab-in-the-middle of the mountain; otherwise, there are dirt-bag rates at the Same Sun Hostel and reasonably priced roosts in the hundreds of for-rent family chalets and rock star suites that blanket the resort.


If the skiing, boarding and ample apr & eacute;s isn't enough to keep the thrill-o-meter pinned, there's a 10-trail system of Nordic and wilderness tracks, show-shoeing, snowmobile tours, horse-drawn sleigh rides and helicopter shuttles to and forth from Big White's sister resort to the north, Silver Star, which is an equally impressive spread.


For those into a little hands-on hedonism, there are two spas in the Big White Village, Beyond Wrapture and Escape, with nearby shopping at a cute collection of retail outlets.


But what makes this part of B.C. supernatural is the ultra-mild weather (more so this winter than past) and big drops in elevation. While Big White shredders could well be treated to boot-deep blowers in March or April, less than an hour away, folks could simultaneously be peddling world-caliber single track, golfing already green fairways, climbing bone-dry rock or living la vida loca in a city that doubles as Canada's very own Tahoe.


Laden with all the outdoor sport spoils and metropolitan pleasures of any great U.S. lakeside resort city, Kelowna is an upbeat burg with a cool cultural scene. Since it's wedged between 68-mile long Okanagan Lake and the best wine-and-orchard country north of Napa, it's no wonder why K-Town's shores sprawl with boardwalk bars, swanky hotels and multi-million dollar mansions. In addition to a decent arts district, a huge casino and new arena -- which hosts tons of big concerts and one of Canada's best WHL hockey teams, the Rockets -- the city is enveloped with golf courses and some of the best undiscovered mountain biking in B.C.


So, yes, shoulder-season skeptics, there is a Santa Claus. He's Big, he's White and he's ready to sashay Ma Nature into spring -- regardless of her state of mind.





For Big White info, call (800) 663-2772; for Kelowna, call (800) 663-4345.

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