In the winter, Kamloops feels like a Scandinavian town with outdoor campfires and car racks loaded up with skis and fat bikes. Add to the hundreds of ski trails, snowshoeing and fat biking, you also have an innovative European-feel beer culture, whose philosophy reflects an unpretentious and funky town.
It all began with a mountain.
When Max Daburger walked throughout the Kamloops’ mountains in the late ’50s searching for the perfect ski hill, he settled on a mountain that faced the sun. Today, still family-run, Harper Mountain’s 1,400 metres of vertical is one of the few places in the province to offer night skiing. Operating since 1973, the resort is cozy personified — imagine warming up in front of a wood-burning fireplace with a mug of 48-year-old secret hot wine.
“Harper Mountain is traditional winter fun,” says manager Lisa Daburger.
The resort has everything: skiing, snowboarding, Nordic skiing, and snowshoeing. There is also a network of classic trails through the trees that can be accessed with a chairlift ride to the top. The kids will especially love the Snow Town Tube Park.
The mountain serves local beer, and the breweries downtown are a short drive into town. Located on the north shore of the city, Bright Eye Brewing helped launch a neighbourhood revitalization, something akin to Gastown in Vancouver. Shortly after they moved in, an influx of young families and innovative businesses emerged.
Bright Eye does not have flagship beers on the menu; instead, the line-up is a rotating tap list of creations. Imagine Trey, a milk stout with flavours of coconut and vanilla; or a beer that is the best of both worlds — Everything’s Vine is a saison with a taste of Harper’s Trail Cab Franc wine.
“It’s both exciting and nerve-wracking experimenting and creating new beer recipes weekly,” says Richard Marken, director of the brewery. “There’s always a risk that some of the crazy ideas won’t pan out as hoped in the final product, but luckily so far we’ve gotten great feedback on most of our experiments!”
A visit here is also a culinary experience—the expansive dining area is buzzing—not to mention they serve the beer directly from the tanks where it ferments! The food is just as surprising with fun dishes like Brussels sprouts with aioli and a dill pickle pizza.
If you want a solitary experience, Stake Lake is acres of forest with expansive views and 60 km of expertly groomed Nordic trails through a pine forest. The blue trails are a place for solace — and bonus: heated washrooms and warming huts! For snowshoers, I recommend hiking to the top of the Bushwacker trail for an expansive view of the surroundings. And feel free to bring the pooch on the 5 km dog-friendly trail. For a magical experience, try night skiing on lit trails.
An excellent snowshoe spot is Kenna Cartwright Park. The largest municipal park in the province with 800 acres of undulating climbs, which makes for some challenging terrain and beautiful views. Another favourite is the Peterson Creek Nature Park, and the connected Tom Moore trail is a challenging 4.8-km snowshoe hike to a lookout of the city.
And since Kamloops is the home of freeride mountain biking, locals are keen to keep riding year round; at Kenna Cartwright Park, fat biking trails are glorious — albeit not groomed. For volunteer-groomed trails, Isobel Lake Winter Recreational Trails, just northwest of Kamloops, has 30 km of trails with some trail names that reveal their love of cycling and beer: Beers ‘n Tears, Beers a Waiting or the popular, What Ales You. Check the site for updated grooming conditions and how to donate towards volunteers keeping the trails in riding condition.
For a scrumptious post-ski meal, I recommend Iron Road Brewing’s Mexican street corn nachos or a trio of tacos, their specialty. Two former geologists started this funky brewery that overlooks the city near the university. The brewery’s philosophy is all about variety. My flight included a popular trio: Red Bridge Pale Ale has notes of biscuits, while the Loopline IPA has been called a “hop bomb” and the Czech-style Locomotive Lager is also on the hoppy side. But, as a sour lover, I adored the Juice Train series, which changes fruit often. Apricot is delicious!
“We love to brew traditional, clean styles that appeal to a wide demographic,” says co-owner Richard Phillips. “We love German style beers, mainly as that is the kind of beer that we like to drink.”
If you’re looking for a romantic post-ski place, the Noble Pig Brewhouse, the first microbrewery in Kamloops, is a cozy brewpub. I loved sitting at the long wooden bar sampling a flight. From a Belgian pepper ale (Stick House) to a mocha porter (Stone House), the beers are innovative and surprising—and so is the food. Executive chef, Jared Summers, has created a menu that is made up of local market-fresh ingredients prepared with classic techniques such as poutine made with mocha porter gravy or truffle mac and cheese. To finish it off, grab two forks and a slice of Granny’s rich chocolate cake.
For my final beer stop, Red Collar Brewing (they make gin, too!) pays homage to dogs everywhere and is steeped in local culture — for example, their apricot sour uses fruit that Lara Beardsell, Director of Marketing, picked from across the city. Lara’s family also began the brewery.
“We also collaborate with our community whenever possible,” she elaborated. “We do an annual collaboration with Western Canada Theatre for one of their productions.”’
And when Sun Peaks Resort recently celebrated their 60th anniversary, Red Collar created Altitude Adjustment, a White IPA. They have traditional beers, but they also go outside the comfort zone—Squash Gourdon (a squash ale) is dreamy.
And the nicest part of visiting these places: they’re all within a 30-minute drive if you base yourself at a hotel downtown.
The Sandman Signature feels like a boutique-style hotel — you get a bag of snacks in your room and coffee in the main lobby in the morning. Not to mention, if you want to swim or work out, the fitness area is superb. I watched an episode of Pink Panther while working out! And the true beauty is that it’s a short five-minute walk to downtown.
My final word is breakfast. The Art We Are is a café and an artists’ hub. The space is wide open and full of paintings and local crafts. You’d also be hard pressed to find something on the menu not from a local producer—everything from the cheese to the farmer’s sausage is sourced nearby.
Dipping my breakfast egg wrap into the homemade ketchup before heading home, it’s easy to see why one would return to Kamloops. For a small town, it’s got a big sense of self.