Nov. 30, 2011 - Issue #841: Merry movie night
From my vantage point in the pool building at Fairmont Hot Springs Resort in BC, I watch a young group of hockey players take the hot vs cold idea and run with it. The boys, in their early teens, cheer each other on as one-by-one they leap from the steamy water to roll in the snow, shrieking and whooping, before plunging back in. "It makes your skin tingle," says Cathy de Guise, pool facility manager, with a smile. "It's pretty popular to roll in the snow and jump in—as long as everybody's being safe and it's not slippery out there."
With the Rockies to the east and the Purcell Mountains to the west, the 11 000 square feet of open-air pools enjoy an enviable view. Fairmont is one of six hot springs resorts in the Kootenay Rockies, each boasting a picture postcard backdrop and positioned within striking distance of several ski resorts. While the summer months see the pools approaching capacity with tourists, as winter arrives the locals thrive.
"You get this whole seasonal crowd of locals who you might not see for the whole summer," explains Andrei Korjus, guest services manager for Halcyon Hot Springs Village and Spa, in the West Kootenay region, "but once winter rolls around they're here snowmobiling, cross-country skiing, ski touring, visiting Revelstoke. It's so good to soak after a thigh-burning day on the slopes."
Although the ski industry in Canada continues its decade-long slide in visitor numbers, hot springs are still a big draw for places like Halcyon and Fairmont (the resort sees more than 200 000 pool visits each year). They form two of the seven easily reached stops on the Hot Springs Circle Route, named as one of the top 10 scenic drives in the Northern Rockies.
Passing through resorts and wilderness hot springs alike, the multi-day road trip can start just over the BC border, following roughly the same route as the famed Powder Highway. If hot springs aren't enough to whet your appetite, the eight full-service alpine resorts, 10 Nordic ski clubs, 25 snowcat and heli-ski operators and 21 backcountry lodges along the way might just do it for you.
"In a week's trip you can tie together two or three ski resorts with whichever hot springs are close," says Heidi Korven of Kootenay Rockies Tourism, which created the hot springs tour over 15 years ago. "The whole route needs a lot of time—there are so many activities on the way. We find most don't do the whole loop on winter roads, but you can drop by one or more of the stops."
Starting near the Alberta/BC border by Banff you can begin your hot springs exploration to the west or south, passing through Radium, Fairmont and Lussier Hot Springs in the East Kootenay region, Nakusp, Halcyon and Canyon Hot Springs (summer months only) in the West Kootenays and Ainsworth Hot Springs, with its unique hot spring cave, in the Central Kootenays. Along with the seven easy-to-reach spots, the more intrepid with a solid four-wheel drive system can hunt down the five or more remote stops along the way like St Leon and Halfway River Hot Springs.
It was my pursuit of a more remote location that found me cruising south from Fairmont down Highway 93/95, in search of locals' favourite, Lussier. Crazy characters just flock to this place; in previous visits my company varied from tipsy crowds of teeny boppers blasting dubstep to semi-fornicating couples basking by candlelight. This time, the natural setting is to be shared with some au naturale Austrians, who chorus a friendly greeting as I slide down the icy pathway to the trio of undeveloped wilderness pools.
"It is our third time we have come here," exclaims one of the larger naked women in broken English as I strip down and clamber Spiderman-like toward the hottest pool at the top.
The scalding water is almost too hot to bear, but soon I'm neck deep, skin throbbing with the sudden switch from cold to heat. It's a welcome chance to unwind after a slick 17-kilometre climb from the highway on summer tires.
The undeveloped title the sulphurous springs hold is a bit of misnomer. In actuality, three sizeable pools have been created from the rocks littering the side of the icy Lussier River, with the water entering the top pool at around 43 C and lower pool at around 34 C.
As I contemplate never leaving this spot again, the braver Austrians plunge from pool to river and back. Turns out the group members make the trip out to Lussier each time they're in the country.
"It's good for your health here, and here," they reply to my querying of the reason for their visits, pointing to their hearts and then heads.
"The water energizes and recuperates you," echoes Cathy de Guise's comment from earlier. "You can see the difference in people who come in with a frown and leave with a smile."
As my Austrian pals depart beaming, I bliss out, pondering the truth of the statement before making my own unwitnessed attempt at the river run. I reach knee depth before realizing it's a fucking stupid idea and scampering back up to the warmth. As big a smile as the hot springs can put on your face, an icy Canadian mountain stream will soon wipe it off again.
For more on the Hot Springs Circle Route visit hellobc.com/kr and click Driving Routes.
For opening hours, prices and more, contact each resort directly.
Radium Hot Springs
The Radium Hot Springs pools are operated by Parks Canada.
Fairmont Hot Springs Resort
Lussier Hot Springs
Take Whiteswan Lake Provincial Park turning from Highway 93/95 8 kilometres south of Canal Flats. Lussier is located 17 kilometres up the gravel logging road.
Four-wheel drive required during winter.
No opening hours or fees. No dogs, alcohol or nudity permitted.
Ainsworth Hot Springs
Nakusp Hot Springs
Canyon Hot Springs
(closed until May 2012)
Halcyon Hot Springs
More stories in Snow Zone »vueweekly.com comments: powered by Disqus
Vue respects your privacy. We will not forward your personal information to any other organization except as required by law, and will use your e-mail address only to respond to your comments. We reserve the right to edit and remove comments for length, clarity and/or if they are illegal or inappropriate. Your email address is never shown to visitors to vueweekly.com. Read the whole policy at: http://vueweekly.com/privacy