10 Fun Things to do in Vernon in the Winter
1. Ski Silver Star
The #1 winter activity in the Okanagan and many other mountain terrain cities, is skiing. In Vernon the ski hill of choice is Silver Star Mountain Resort, which is one of Canada’s 5 Star ski resorts. At Silver Star, you can downhill ski on the front side and the backside of the mountain, you can snowboard and you can also go cross country skiing. With over 3200 acres, the ski hill is the third-largest in Canada. The resort’s village has ski-in, ski-out access with its cool coloured buildings, hotels, restaurants, and shops.
And Silver Star isn’t just for skiing or boarding, and Although skiing is a major attraction, there are a ton of other winter activities up there such as Tubing at Tube Town which is super fun, Skating on the skating rink, and Snow Shoeing all over. And if it’s too cold outside or you’re done skiing for the day, there’s also a bunch of inside recreation such as bowling (there’s a bowling alley), shopping, eating at fabulous restaurants, and maybe having a drink or two at one of the pubs. Or hop into a hot tub, well, if you’re staying up there, you shouldn’t jump into anyone else’s hot tub.
2. Winter Carnival
Vernon Winter Carnival Society is a Non-profit organization that was formed in 1961 and it has been in operation for over 6 decades. Over 60 years! 2021 is the Carnival’s 62nd year. It’s the largest winter carnival in Western Canada, it’s a 10-day winter festival that is held at the beginning of February when people are going stark raving mad because of the cold and the inversion in Vernon.
In 2021 there are over 150 events happening so there's no shortage of things to do for all ages, there’s Live music, skiing, snowshoeing, curling, beer and wine tastings and amazing food are all just some of the features of the Festival. Some of the really special events are the Hot Air Balloon Festival, the BC Championship Snow Sculpture Competition up at Silver Star, and of course, Jopo House (Jopo is the winter carnival kind of mascot I guess) and the Winter Carnival Parade, which is the Okanagan’s only winter parade happening in downtown Vernon.
3. Caravan Farm Theatre Sleigh Ride
A fun winter event in the snow is the Caravan Farm Theatre. The Caravan is a not-for-profit professional outdoor theatre company that was set up in 1978 on an 80-acre farm just outside of Armstrong.
These theatre productions they hold are always outside in site-specific locations and in the winter they always have a horse-drawn sleigh ride production where the audience rides in the sleigh to different scenes of the production, which is professionally produced, it’s very cool, you ride in the sleigh pulled behind a team of these huge horses, Clydesdales or Belgians and they pull you around all over the place. If you’re in Vernon during when the production is, that’s a great way to spend an evening bundled up behind some beautiful horses seeing some live theatre way out in the middle of nowhere.
And on the subject of sleigh rides, there are other companies around providing sleigh rides around the holidays such as Horse Drawn Okanagan in Armstrong where you can visit the farm, visit the goats and have hot chocolate, cookies by the fire, and some Christmas carols. Part of the proceeds from their ticket sales goes to a local charity each year.
Also, Silver Star Mountain hosts sleigh rides as well, where you hop on the sleigh and head up to
Wild Horseman's Cabin through the wilderness trails. When you get there you can warm up with a mug of hot cocoa or hot apple cider, or a dinner.
Still, one more option is again at Bundle up for a beautiful 15-minute tour through the village at Historic O'Keefe Ranch in Vernon. You head up to the hilltop where you can see the Christmas lights and then enjoy some hot chocolate in the warm General Store, or you can roast some s'mores over the open fire.
4. Go to Junior A Hockey game!
You could take an afternoon or an evening and go watch a local hockey game. These guys were called the Vernon Lakers when I was growing up, and now they’re the Vernon Vipers. They are a junior "A" ice hockey team based in Vernon and They play their home games at Kal Tire Place. They are 6-time national champions and going to a game is a lot of fun when they are in season.
5. Attend Victorian Christmas at O'Keefe Ranch!
O’Keefe Ranch always does a fabulous job at Christmas time and makes a huge effort to involve the community. On all the weekend in December right up until before Christmas you can attend Victorian Christmas where you can enjoy roasted chestnuts and live music while you have a little stroll through the decorated Christmas lights. There is a Gingerbread contest, chestnuts roasting on an open fire, high tea, sleigh rides like we already talked about, live music and of course, you get a chance to meet Santa. AND – you can bring your pet which is pretty cool. Admission is by donation.
There are tons of snowmobiling trails around the North Okanagan and in fact, the Vernon Snowmobile Association is the oldest snowmobile club in British Columbia, it was formed in 1967. This VSA is a non-profit club that maintains the snowmobile trails and cabins at Silver Star Provincial Park. The trails are groomed on a regular basis and the cabins are maintained for emergency and warm-up shelters, it’s a safe, family-friendly place to go as The area is well signed and provides a mix of riding ranging from trails to open meadows and bowls suited for snowmobiles, snow bikes, and tracked ATVs.You can also rent snowmobiles up at Silver Star as well. You can also book tours that are 1 - 3 hours long. British Columbia's Thompson Okanagan region features some real snowmobiling hot spots, like Valemount, Kamloops, Kelowna, Sicamous, and the Shuswap. Friendly residents and passionate sledders make this region a popular choice for snowmobilers of all ages and skill levels.
Then in the backyard of Enderby is Hunter's Range there with over 90 km of marked groomed trails which give easy access to a number of riding areas and cozy warm-up cabins. You can find meadows and alpine vistas plus challenging hills and bowls, there’s pretty much every kind of snowmobiling you could hope for at Hunter’s Range which is out Mabel Lake Road, plus on the Lumby side of Mabel Lake Road, there are more trails such as the Pinnacles, the Monashees, Park Mountain and Nelson Mountain. All really awesome places to go riding.
The organization manages two trailheads, both located off of the Mable Lake Road east of Enderby. The Ashton Brash trailhead is located about 7 km up the Mable Lake Road, turning left onto Watershed Road, while the LaForge trailhead is 30 km past Enderby, turning Left onto Noise Creek - Three Valley Gap Forestry Service Road.
8. Play on a frozen lake: Icefish, skate, play hockey
Where there is ice, there are people who want to play on that ice and with 3 lakes around Vernon, you’re definitely going to find some ice. Of these lakes, only one that freezes over on a regular basis and that is Swan Lake where you will find all sorts of people ice fishing which is actually a popular winter sport in the Okanagan.
Now if you want to go ice skating you have a couple of options for skating on naturally frozen water which is Swan Lake as well which has no formal facilities or maintenance or anything like that, or Brewers Pond up at Silver Star that has skating for the public. Brewers Pond is 2.5 acres and it’s a natural skating surface as well however it’s maintained by Silver Star and it has music playing and a bonfire, plus you have food and washrooms and civilized things like that. That one you have to pay for though, Swan Lake is free.
If there is an exceptionally cold year, and I remember pretty much every year when I grew up, Okanagan and Kalamalka Lake would freeze. I remember people skating right across Okanagan Lake which probably wasn’t very wise in retrospect, however it used to happen! Now though on a cold year, you might only find skating and hockey on cleared areas on Swan Lake of course, but also at the head of Okanagan Lake at Kin Beach and Kalmalka Lake at Kal Beach as well. It does happen sometimes, if it’s cold enough and if the wind doesn’t freeze the lake in annoying ripples.
And if skating on a frozen lake or pond isn’t for you, there is also the Centennial Outdoor Rink for skating in Vernon itself, which is free from December to the end of February, or you can skate indoors at Kal Tire Place for a small fee according to their schedule and then Enderby and Armstrong also have arenas for skating. If there is an exceptionally cold year, and I remember pretty much every year when I grew up, Okanagan and Kalamalka Lake would freeze. I remember people skating right across Okanagan Lake which probably wasn’t very wise in retrospect, however it used to happen! Now though on a cold year, you might only find skating and hockey on cleared areas on Swan Lake of course, but also at the head of Okanagan Lake at Kin Beach and Kalmalka Lake at Kal Beach as well. It does happen sometimes, if it’s cold enough and if the wind doesn’t freeze the lake in annoying ripples.
I think also when you live somewhere where there are frozen lakes and you skate on it, also if you see a hill with snow on it you want to sled down it. And of course, you can spy a hill and grab your crazy carpet – do they still make crazy carpets? I don’t know, but whatever you have – and you can slide down that hill, however, if you don’t want to you’re your crazy carpet or your sled up the hill with you, you can also just pay Tube Town at Silver Star to haul the tube up the hill and you just have to haul yourself up to the top, meet a tube and give’ er. I’m not sure if that’s cheating kids just a bit out of the life experience of dragging your ride up to the top, but anyhow, that’s an option too!
9. Indoor Farmer’s Market
Fridays at 11 AM to 3 PM is Vernon’s indoor Farmer’s Market at Kal Tire Place. You see many of the same vendors as you do at the Farmer’s Market during the rest of the year except it’s inside so you don’t have to freeze your tush off when you buy stuff. There’s everything from produce, meats, cheeses, treats, arts, crafts, entertainment – the whole deal! It’s a nice way to support locals during the winter as well.
10. Sit by the fire or hang in the hot tub
Lastly, if you aren’t into anything that involves getting anywhere near the cold – then you can always stay inside and stay warm enjoying a nice cup of hot chocolate or java by the fire or jump in the hot tub and enjoy the snow-covered view. Personally, this would be my favorite winter activity.