“To thine own self be true.”This oft-heard piece of advice originating from Shakespeare’s Hamlet is easy to give, but perhaps harder to follow. From my own experience, these are words of wisdom that are best to observe and, in turn, be inspired by.
This is what brings us to Kimberley, BC, in the heart of the east Kootenays. Once a thriving mining town, it was branded as the Bavarian City of the Rockies back in its heyday, and the childhood memories of ski trips here are still strong in my mind. However, once the Sullivan Mine was shuttered in 2001, the town hit a serious slump. The once-vibrant downtown Platzl saw shops closed up and many of the annual festivals that brought so much colour to the area ran out of steam. But it was in Kimberley’s darkest days that it seemed to realize its simplest solution.
As the town was undergoing its own reinvention, the journey of a close friend and personal source of inspiration was following a similar trajectory. A born and raised “Kootenay Kid,” Kara Brissette left Kimberley to pursue higher education, finding herself at the University of Lethbridge. While pursuing graduate studies in the Neuroscience department, her mother became ill with cancer and Kara opted to leave behind her master’s degree and return to her roots, a difficult decision during a painful emotional time. But just like the town itself, it was during her hardest moments that she realized what mattered most.
Kara’s personal journey of renewal and adventure has unfolded in parallel to Kimberley’s revitalization as a recreation destination. By realizing what was most core to its character, the town has left behind the kitschy Bavarian identity and embraced its true strengths as a beautiful natural environment, full of incredible adventure opportunities.
During our repeated visits to the Kootenays over the years, we’ve been lucky to have such an excellent and enthusiastic tour guide - both for outdoor experiences and showing us how to appreciate life in deeper, more meaningful ways. It’s a balmy autumn weekend when we decide to roll into town and ring her up and, as always, she is keen to provide a long list of suggestions for new adventures.
Friday afternoon we decide to ride down the Rails to Trails pathway, which converted the old Kimberley-Cranbrook rail line into a 26 km paved route connecting the two towns. Breathtaking views of the St Mary’s River valley greet us through the many twists and turns as we roll peacefully along, passing families of deer and soaring birds of prey. We hit town and cruise to the Heidout - also the home of Fisher Peak Brewing Company - one of many trendy new hot spots in the local food scene that have flourished alongside new recreation opportunities.
Waking up Saturday morning to rainy weather doesn’t deter us from hiking up the ski hill to enjoy the beautiful fall colours, passing a family of grouse along the way. The clouds part as we reach the top of the chairlift, and a burst of applause erupts from the platform at tower 18 for a wedding couple just completing their nuptials. We wind our way back down the hill and take in the view, savouring the good vibes and feeling grateful for the peace, quiet and sunshine. As we descend back to the car, we discuss some of the things in life that scare us the most. When Kara tells us that her greatest fear is not being able to see and do all the amazing things around the world - I know that she’s on the right track.
From backpacking across South America to climbing Mount Kilimanjaro, to countless adventures in her own backyard, we’ve learned from Kara the importance of relishing every day and taking advantage of your surroundings - wherever you might be. Even in the toughest of times, there is always a trail that can bring you back to the sunshine.
On our last day in the Kootenays, we hit the mountain bike trails in Cranbrook, climbing our way up through the forest, then turning around and speeding back downhill, splashing our way through puddles and tight turns all the way. As we roll into the parking lot at the end of the trail, it hits me that happiness is where you find it, and Kara’s realized how to find it wherever she goes. Nothing says happiness like hugging goodbye, splattered in mud and grinning from ear to ear.
On our last day in the Kootenays, we hit the mountain bike trails in Cranbrook, climbing our way up through the forest, then tun around and speed back downhill, splashing our way through puddles and tight turns all the way. As we roll into the parking lot at the end of the trail, it hits me that happiness is where you find it, and Kara’s realized how to find it wherever she goes. And nothing says happiness like hugging goodbye, splattered in mud and grinning from ear to ear.
Kootenay must-do adventures:
- strap on the skis: Kimberley Alpine Resort not only has great family-friendly downhill skiing, but one of the best nordic centres in Western Canada, for those who prefer the skinny skis.
- Take a soak: A short drive up towards Whiteswan Provincial Park leads to Lussier Hot Springs, a free natural soaking spot in a beautiful easy-to-access location
- Peruse the Platzl: This pedestrian-only plaza in the heart of downtown Kimberley features many independent businesses, great pubs and the local craft brewery Overtime Beer Works.
- Swing away: with 8 golf courses between Cranbrook and Kimberley, the area is a golfer’s paradise with many top-rated courses