Inland Northwest winter sports enthusiasts take two different paths to vacation bliss during the annual frosty, dark time. One features endless rounds of golf in the warm Mexican sun. The other is characterized by several thousand vertical feet of unmolested powder. If you find yourself a seeker on this second path, you couldn't be better positioned to enjoy one of the region's best vacation values. That's right, I'm talking Canada -- specifically, skiing Canada. With many a prime mountain resort within a mere handful of hours from your Spokane/Coeur d'Alene base, and an exchange rate overwhelmingly favorable to Yanks (the current rate is $1.60 Canadian for every American dollar -- where else can you hand over a $20 for two beers and get more than that back in change?), a snowy escape to the Great White North should be practically a no-brainer.
And lucky for you, southeastern British Columbia harbors some of the best runs in North America. Close to home are the small-resort-but-large-terrain areas of Red Mountain in Rossland, B.C., and Whitewater in Nelson, B.C. Both have well-deserved reputations as true skiers' mountains, rippling with rugged charm and plenty of secluded, challenging runs. Whitewater has the added benefit of being located near the wonderfully eclectic community of Nelson, a historical and cultural jewel. Also in the area is Kimberly, where intermediate runs, ample family-friendly amenities (in the lodge as well as in the quaint, Bavarian-themed town of Kimberly itself) make it a popular destination for sporting and non-sporting types alike.
To the west, in B.C.'s Okanagan Valley, is a cluster of snow-topped peaks lightly tamed for easy accessibility. Silver Star in Vernon, Apex in Penticton and Big White in Kelowna are all blessed with plenty of light, dry snow and sunshine. All three also sport big, fat resorts and enough runs to satisfy and challenge everyone from beginners to thrill-seeking experts.
To the northeast, Banff and Lake Louise, Alberta, harbor three downhill areas (Lake Louise, Sunshine Village and Mt. Norquay), notable for vast expanses of terrain, great amenities, exciting nightlife and European flair. Lake Louise, in particular, radiates an international light, drawing Brits and Europeans turned off by the crowds, attitudes and insane costs associated with the fancy Swiss resorts.
Nestled in the southeast corner of B.C., Fernie Snow Valley is known for its affordability, easily accessed, challenging runs and "oh my gawd" amounts of snow (an average of 350 inches, or 29 feet, annually). Add to that spectacular alpine vistas featuring the sawtooth ranges of the Canadian Rockies, and you've got one of the most-- if not the most beautiful and user-friendly ski areas on the continent.