Hot Air Ballooning Over the Okanagan in Winter
Cappadocia, Leon, Albuquerque – these are just a few of the picturesque (and warm!) places one most often associates with hot air ballooning. But if this exciting activity has been on your bucket list for some time and you find yourself in British Columbia, Canada in the wintertime, then a snowy hot air balloon flight above the Okanagan Valley might just be the most unique way of ticking this must-do off your list.
These balloon rides, however, don’t happen all winter long. The opportunity pops up each year during the Vernon Winter Carnival, a cold-weather extravaganza already in operation for over 50 years (it's quite a big deal - even Canada's Prime Minister Justin Trudeau had something to say about it). The festival has a whole bunch of activities spread out over the course of a week and a half, including parades, ice carvings, and hot air balloon rides.
And so, after signing up for a ride with local family-owned company Okanagan Ballooning, on one particularly cold winter morning, it was my turn to take to the skies. Here are some of my favorite photos from the experience and at the end of this post you'll find some helpful information if you'd like to enjoy a hot air balloon ride for yourself in the future.
What you need to know
Hot air ballooning in the winter isn’t all that different than in the summer, save for one thing: the cold. On the morning that I took off into the snowy skies, the temperatures were hovering at a chilly -12°C. Since the balloon was set up on and departed from a frozen lake, the ice below our feet made the whole experience before and after the ride even colder. If you’re going ballooning in the winter it’s important to dress extra warm. This means, snow pants over woollen tights, a ski jacket with several layers underneath, a warm toque to cover your head, thick gloves, and some good winter boots. And, the most important thing I can recommend: hot shots (those little packets you bend until they warm) to stick in your gloves and shoes. Also, don’t forget to bring along your camera to document the experience!
There are a few companies in the Okanagan that offer balloon rides, and while I can’t say that there is one that is better than all the rest, I can highly recommend Okanagan Ballooning, which has been in business for over 20 years. Their team is professional yet down-to-earth, and it was a pleasure to join them in the skies (and for a glass of champagne after the ride, a ballooning custom).
The Vernon Winter Carnival takes place each year in the town of Vernon, British Columbia, which lies at the northern tip of Okanagan Lake. Events take place all over the city, as well as in nearby ski resort Silver Star. Some events and activities are free of charge, while others require a small admission fee or donation. It’s best to check out the carnival website for a full listing of all the events taking place.
If you plan to check out the Vernon Winter Carnival and are looking for accommodation in the area, I can hands down say that Sparkling Hill Resort, a luxury spa and wellness hotel located about a 15-minute drive outside of Vernon, is your best option. There's absolutely nothing better than warming up in one of the resort's elegant and relaxing saunas after spending a day outside soaring above a winter wonderland.