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BC’s Best Mountain Towns

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Mountains? That’s British Columbia. Straddling the Canadian Rockies, much of BC’s nearly 400,000 square miles is wilderness—including lush rainforest, mountain ranges, and glacial peaks. It’s also dotted with delightful, laid-back mountain towns. Some are ski villages or outdoor adventure basecamps; others are reinvented mining and logging towns. But all are big on charm, quirky characters, and local color. Get to know the very best.

Fernie: Big mountains, big adventure   

Fernie Alpine Resort | Dave Heath

Low-key Fernie feels a bit frozen in time. There’s downtown’s turn-of-the-century 2nd Avenue, lined with historic brick storefronts that resemble a Wild West outpost. Then there’s the setting: Towering mountains on four sides cut by the Elk River, accented with handsome log cabins and alpine chalets. No wonder movie producers like to use it as a film set. A former coal mining and logging camp, today Fernie is a youthful, unpolished, unpretentious ski town for adventurous powderhounds. Though it gets hammered with 29 feet of light, fluffy snow each year, the place somehow manages never to be too crowded, attracting avid downhillers, boarders, and cat skiiers to Fernie Alpine Resort just three miles away. There’s hiking, biking, rafting, and fly fishing, too, and autumn is nothing short of spectacular with the trees below the Lizard Range all ablaze. Don’t leave town without sampling a honeycomb milk chocolate bar at Beanpod.

Nelson: Culture meets nature

Downtown Nelson | Keri Medig

Artsy Nelson is an appealing mix of hearty locals, salt of the earth characters, and urban escapees. Often called one of Canada’s prettiest, it’s set on the West Arm of sapphire-blue Kootenay Lake in southeastern BC’s Selkirk Mountains—an ex logging/mining town that’s culturally-minded and outdoorsy, friendly and bohemian. People-watch at a funky café, dine or overnight at the historic Hume Hotel & Spa, and peruse the eclectic collection of  shops set in Gold Rush-era buildings lining the forested hillside.  Nearby, Whitewater Ski Resort is renowned for not only it’s soft snow but also it’s delicious on-mountain menu of fresh housemade ingredients.

Whistler: Energy and excitement

Whistler Mountain

Whistler Mountain | Andrew Strain

The world knows Whistler Blackcomb, just north of Vancouver, as a top global ski destination. It’s stylish, glam, and high-end with a youthful, high-energy vibe. It’s also a year-round playground, famed for its ski-in-the-morning-golf-in-the-afternoon proposition. The Euro-style pedestrian Village boasts critically acclaimed dining and designer shopping, and is party central once the sun goes down. Get your adrenaline pumping outside all day—skiing vertical, riding gravity-fed mountain bike trails, hiking among glaciers, and ziplining across canyons—then dine out and dance the night away.

Smithers: Backcountry blast

Warming hut at Hudson Bay Mountain Resort | Andrew Strain

Alpine-style Smithers is where you go to get away from it all, get into outdoor adventure. In northwestern BC off the Yellowhead Highway, it’s tucked into a scenic valley next to towering Hudson Bay Mountain, home to the local ski hill. The area also features the Hankin-Eveylyn Backcountry Recreation Area, popular with backcountry skiers for its extensive trails and terrain, above and below treeline. This northern community, a former railway hub, is authentic, fun-loving, and rough around the edges. Enviro-minded “Smithereens” adore their festivals and fishing (steelhead), hiking and skiing. There’s a surprising amount of cultural activity, too: Jazz and folk music showcases, field-to-table feasts, theatre, and quality restaurants. Take up residence in a rustic cabin and plan your getaway.

Rossland: Old-school vibe with a modern twist

Winter in Rossland | Steve Ogle

The southern BC town is high up in the Monashee Mountains at 3,400 feet, just over the U.S. border, an 1800s mining boomtown turned outdoor hub. Fans go to downhill through powder at Red Mountain Ski Resort in winter and ride mountain bike trails summer, lured by the hardcore sports and low-key free time mix. Refreshingly old-style with no traffic lights or malls, the town has an impressive number of cute, idiosyncratic indie boutiques. Sample the local craft brew and stick around for the Rossland Winter Carnival, with events like snowman competition, learn to luge, and the Carnival Parade through town.

Read more about other top towns in BC.

Featured image: Downtown Fernie  | Dave Heath