Ainsworth Hotsprings, CAT Skiing, and Illegal Contraband in the Kootenays: B.C. Canada

Have you ever dreamed of heli-skiing or CAT skiing? Well maybe not, since it seems like quite a few people looked at me with a blank stare when I told them we want to go CAT skiing in British Columbia. If you are an avid downhill skier, or perhaps even less than one, you know quite well what CAT skiing is. I have dreamed of this moment! I want to be one of those cool people who effortlessly glide through deep fresh powder! And so it is that after we get back from the Methow Valley to Spokane, we decide to head up to Canada for a couple days to find us some CAT skiing!

We do have a few choices for where to go skiing, since there are several resorts within driving distance of Spokane. We opt for Red Mountain for a couple reasons. First, it is the closest Canadian resort to Spokane. Second, the weather forecast calls for rainy conditions at all resorts in the area so why drive farther. And third, because they have CAT skiing.

Now I should tell you there are two options for CAT skiing at Red Mountain. For about $500 you can go for a full day of CAT skiing with a company called Big Red Cats. Sounds like they take pretty good care of you. The other option is through Red Mountain ski resort. There is an area on Grey Mountain that the lift doesn’t quite reach, and the resort provides CAT service to bring skiers to fresh powder up there. This costs $10 per lift, which really is a pretty reasonable deal if you want to get to some fresh powder and experience the thrill of riding in one of these glorious machines up the mountain.

Before we go skiing we decide to drive over to the Ainsworth Hotsprings. Now, you may or may not know that I love hot springs. Somehow to me it is really awesome that this hot water is magically pouring out of the earth. I remember my very first hot spring excursion as a teenager. My dear friend and I had gone to Calgary to stay for a week at her sister’s house, and from there we had gone to Banff. It was really cold out (-20 degrees Celsius) and it was so incredible to be swimming in this warm pool with the gentle snow falling down upon us. I remember my hair getting wet, and before long it froze into a hard matted icy clump.

Now here we are at this awesome Ainsworth Hotspring pool, but the bummer is that it is raining and gray when we arrive, so we miss out on the views. Ainsworth Hotsprings is located on the banks of the Kootenay Lake in the heart of the Kootenay mountain range in Beautiful British Columbia.

I stole this much nicer photo from the web so that you can see how really beautiful it is here.

Are these hotspring creepers?

Never mind the weather, once we are in the water we are glad we came this far out of our way. The unique feature about this hot spring is that there is a cave that you can enter into.

The hot water seems to be entering the pool from the back of the dimly lit tunnels. When we get to the back of the tunnel we find the water source.

Of course the water is warmer back here as we approach the source, and I decide to sit up on the rock ledge to cool off a bit.

I sit up on the rock ledge on the left and David perches himself on the right side of the stream. It’s so peaceful. Just me and my husband way back here underground with hot water pouring down from the rocks behind us in this dark cave……the sound of rushing water soothes our souls…’s such a romantic place! The air is warm and thick with humidity. I start feeling a little light headed. I need to get my feet out of the hot water. I raise my legs to prop them up on a nearby rock…..suddenly I hear a man’s angry voice…..”What are you doing? That’s my head! Stop kicking me!”

Oh my word! What I thought was a rock to the right of me is in fact this man’s bald head! I had propped my feet up right on top of his head! Talk about embarrassing!! Here we thought we were all alone back in this cave… I am wondering if we had been on our best behavior in what we thought was a private moment in a dimly lit steamy cavern… embarrassing! I apologize profusely. Can’t you see it? The rock is about the same color as a bald head? Maybe he won’t know who we are since the cave is so dark so he won’t recognize us when we get out of this tunnel……who knows? He’s probably one of those hotspring creepers that hangs out here all the time…..he’s probably been here so often that his eyesight has evolved so that he can see in the dark… know what hotspring creepers are, don’t you?

Oh well, we’d best be going. Let’s leave the creepers behind. On second thought, maybe everyone else thinks we are the creepers. Now, am I going to say it “ains’ worth” it to go to Ainsworth? Nah! The facility is a bit dated, but the location is beautiful. Personally I kind of like a more natural hot spring rather than a pool, but this place is nice. There is a hotel and restaurant, too, which we didn’t have a chance to try.

We gotta hurry, as we are off to Red Mountain at Roswell. We need to find a hotel there, grab dinner, and settle in for the night. The roads are treacherous. The last stretch into Rossland has me biting my nails. We keep going up and up and up, the roads are snowy and our rental car isn’t equipped with proper winter tires.

Finally we arrive in Rossland. It’s a super cute town, seemingly unspoiled by ski town standards.

We decide to stay at the Prestige Mountain Resort. It’s really not that prestigious, but it has a sauna and hot tub. I won’t tell you what we end up doing to the sauna, or maybe I will. There is a camera monitoring the sauna and hot tub area, so there’s not a lot of bad things that you can do there. Since I am Finnish I believe in dumping water on the sauna stove to get some good steam rolling off of it, but suffice it to say that the sauna stove probably wasn’t wired right……but I digress…..

Now to find a place to eat without driving down off the mountain. Everyone we ask tells us that there’s a great new Thai restaurant in town called Mook Thai, so we have got to try it! I don’t know what I ordered, but it’s great! My mouth is watering just thinking about Thai food.

David ordered a dish so spicy that before long he has beads of sweat pouring off his forehead. The restaurant owner is a little Thai woman who hustles and bustles back and forth. Her husband is a Caucasian dude from South Africa, and he stops by our table to ask how the food is – perhaps he has noticed that David is mildly in distress over the spicyness of the food. Somehow we get into a long conversation with him about food and culture and travel and life and all things meaningful. He tells us his dream is to travel to Myanmar some day, which brings us back to our trip there last summer….the ridiculous rattle trap train ride that lasted 18 hours, and how the train rocked and swayed on the ancient tracks so ferociously it seemed sure to jump the tracks… the people worked the rice fields by hand and oxen, and how they ran to watch the train rattle by and waved excitedly at us as we passed by….and the Bagan temples in all their magnificence, and the bats therein….and how in Mandalay we were nothing short of celebrities. In my mind’s eye I am reliving every moment of our trip to Myanmar. (See my stories at and

I am brought back to reality when I see that my husband is truly suffering. He keeps eating, as the food is delicious, but the spice is beginning to overpower him. The owner’s husband takes pity and brings him a soda free of charge, which he claims will put out the flames. Maybe, maybe not. The fizz seems to accelerate the burn. Nonetheless, if you were to ask David how his Thai meal at Mook’s was, he would tell you it was delicious! The owner’s husband tells us a bit about Red Mountain, tells us that this very day had been the best of the season so far, and makes us promise to come back tomorrow to chat some more and tell him how the CAT skiing goes. We should pinkie promise…..or should we?

The next morning we decide to take the free shuttle up to the mountain rather than skate up with our rental car. It’s raining. Actually, no…’s pouring. This is stupid! Who goes skiing in the rain? This makes no sense. To add to the dank mood the shuttle bus didn’t start this morning, so they come with a 12 passenger van, which fills up very quickly and starts to bulge at the seams with ski punks and their gear. Then I discover that the Big Red Cats company can’t take us CAT skiing, as they are fully booked. Well, duh, silly me! Who would think that you need reservations?

When we get to the main lodge we hmmmmm and hawwww……shall we or shan’t we rent skis and do a few runs? They have a part on Grey Mountain where you can grab a CAT operated by the ski resort for $10 per run, but they aren’t running today due to the wind, and the lifts to Grey Mountain are not working. Seems stupid to ski in the rain. Just as we are about to head back to our hotel the rain seems to thicken and fluff……and it’s snowing!!!!! It’s a very wet and heavy snow, no doubt, but on up at the top of the mountain it’s got to be better! And so it is that we gear up.

Once we are geared up we head to the top. Ok, so admittedly I am no ski pro, I will be the first to admit, but something isn’t right. I have virtually no confidence on these skis. They feel heavy, and awkward. They don’t turn unless I put in an immense amount of effort, which in turn makes my knees ache. My ankles are burning. When we get back to the lodge after our first run I go to change out my boots. They have no more skis, so I am stuck with the ones I have.

We head back to the top. This time when we get up there it is super windy. It’s snowing, and it’s freezing cold! Bitterly cold! It’s beautiful, but we can hardly see anything. The wind is blowing right through me. My goggles fog up and I can hardly see where I am going. We overhear some people talking. Rumor has it that they are giving free CAT rides up to the top of Grey Mountain today because the lift is not operating!

We hurry as fast as my weary legs will go. I swear, I feel like a newborn calf. All I need to do is break my neck out here as I careen down the mountain trail. We find the pick up place for the free CAT rides, and 15 minutes later we are boarding! We got there none too soon, because this rig only holds 12 people and the line is getting long…..and it’s cold and windy and foggy, and a heavy snow is falling.

The ride up the mountain in this rig is ridiculous. We can hardly see out the frosty windows, but it seems to me like we are headed up a pretty steep slope. The seats are a slippery hard plastic, comfortable enough in their own right, but heck, with ski pants on the seats might as well be covered with butter or ice! With every bump and jolt as this gigantic machine lumbers up the mountainside my rear slides this way and that. I can scarcely stay in the seat! I find myself laughing out loud. I wonder is this rig can flip over and go careening down the mountain like a gigantic red snowball.

The machine stops as suddenly as it had started and it’s time to pile out. Up here it’s even more foggy. I don’t know if I can see more than 15 feet ahead of myself. I hear the familiar sounds of ski boots being clipped in over the roar of the CAT engine, and soon discover that all the other skiers have slipped off like ghosts into the misty abyss beyond. Obviously they know what they are doing and where they are going! As for me, I am still struggling to find my footing in the heavy deep powder.

Nearby the CAT drivers are messing with the wiper blades. It seems they are frozen, and I suppose given the conditions they can’t drive without wipers. Finally I manage to get my skis on, and I begin inching my way in some random direction. I see something through the fog that looks like a ski trail marker, but it is covered with ice and snow. I have a map in my pocket but I have no idea where we got dropped off. Okay, so how are we supposed to know where to go? Who knows if all the trails leading out of here are double black diamonds? Truthfully I don’t see any trails…..just maybe some breaks between some shadowy trees that are swaying fiercely in the wind.

The big CAT approaches us. Over the roaring engine we hear the driver yelling, “Are you guys okay? Do you want a ride back?”

No way! Miss out on fresh powder or slush or whatever? And then we hear, “Whatever you do don’t go to the left. That will put you really far from the lifts and you won’t make it back! Just stick towards the right! If you want to make it back you need to……” The last words were drowned out by the howling wind, or maybe swallowed up by the thick fog. And with that the CAT rumbles off into the distance, leaving deep tracks in the snow behind it. It doesn’t take long for those tracks to begin to fill in. Only in Canada……I am pretty sure that in our litigious society in the U.S. a ski resort would not dump skiers off in such conditions in a place where the signage is blanked out by heavily caked snow and ice.

My mind screams out, ” Wait! I want a ride…”, but it’s too late, and if we don’t hurry down the mountain we will turn into snowmen as sure as I am breathing.

I am a bit nervous. I can’t turn these horrid skis at all in this snow. They are so heavy I can hardly lift my feet, and they are so long that the tips get buried beneath the snow every few seconds. The powder is at least two feet deep. David has better skis, and he glides down 30 feet effortlessly and stops to wait for me, his big frame just a slight haze in the misty distance. I inch my way down to him, and we repeat this sequence again and again. At one point I have to give up. I manage to unclip my skis and I trudge down through the deep snow, silently praying I don’t set off an avalanche upon my husband who is waiting below. My legs are burning. I bemoan my weakness. I hate being weak! Why did I think CAT skiing was a good idea?

After several map reading and navigation attempts, and a considerable amount of time, we finally join into the groomed trails that we recognize from earlier runs. By now my leg muscles are so taxed that my knees are taking a beating. My thighs are on fire. I am done. Normally I might be rushing to take the last lift up for a final run, but not today. We turn in a bit early.

Now I am really wishing we would have driven our rental car up the mountain this morning, because now we are stuck waiting for the shuttle. I am very ready to take my aching hide to the hotel in Rossland. As we stand in the parking lot I scope out some cars, and take action. I approach a woman who is with what appears to be two ten year old boys. They are getting into a big pickup truck. I pop her the question……”Can we have a ride down to Rossland?” At first she looked at me kind of funny, but then she moved some stuff off the back seat to make room for us. She has probably always taught her son not to pick up hitchhikers. I motion to David to join me. He looks confused, but eagerly joins me when I tell him I got us a ride back to town. I dare say I am done with skiing. At least I can say, been there….done that. Next time I go CAT skiing I will have good equipment, perfect conditions and super fit legs…..

Rather than go skiing the next day we decided to take a late check out. We drive down to a town called Trail just to explore. Teck Metals has a huge smelter there that you can tour, but unfortunately it is not open this very day. We will have to come back to see that. We hit a bakery and order some butter tarts and other Canadian goodies, and then go for the obligatory poutine. What’s that, you ask? It’s fries covered with cheese curds and brown gravy! Mmmmmmm! Now that’s worth the calories!

We stop at the all Canadian superstore, Walmart, to buy some Canadian goodies to bring home to the kids, namely Coffee Crisp, McIntosh Toffee……and some Kinder Eggs……well, skip the eggs ….David won’t let me buy any…..more on that later.

We stop at the Rossland Museum. We learn all kinds of interesting things about Rossland, which I have already forgotten…but it is interesting, trust me!

Then we head to the U.S. border crossing. There are no other travelers at the border except us. Maybe the guards are bored, or maybe they really are just people who want to ruin your fun. I pull up to the station and shove our passports towards the booth from the car window, taking care not to drop my green card that is tucked in between the pages. The agent asks us if we have purchased anything in Canada to bring back. I had forgotten about the candy. He eyes the grocery store bag that is perched on the back seat with great suspicion, and with an air of great superiority asks the dreaded question…..”Do you have any Kinder Eggs in there?”

I am enormously relieved that David refused to allow me to buy Kinder Surprise Eggs at Walmart earlier. I had wanted to “test the system” and attempt to smuggle some Kinder Surpise Eggs over the border. Our kids LOVE them, and with Easter approaching it would be the most perfect treat! These delicious hollow white-on-black chocolate eggs contain a small toy inside, which kids love. They are made by Ferrero, and I can tell you that the chocolate is smooth and absolutely world class! You can buy them year round in any country except the US, where they are deemed a sure death trap as a choking hazard, and smugglers of these delicious chocolate eggs can get fines up to $2500 per egg. One unsuspecting German couple once got charged $12,000 for unknowingly attempting to bring 6 eggs into the U.S. for their relatives.

The agent glances over our documents and does not notice that my green card erroneously states I was born in the US, and furthermore, he seems quite unconcerned about the sack of field fresh marijuana I have in the back seat. He is focused on finding Kinder Surprise Eggs! A few of the unmistakable marijuana leaves had stubbornly refused to stay inside the bag, and they are poking out of the sack. I resist the urge to reach back and shove the wayward leaves back into the bag. Sure enough, the stern faced agent reaches in through the open rear window, past the overflowing sack of marijuana, and grabs the bag of Canadian candy. Once he is satisfied that we don’t have any illegal contraband in the form of Kinder Eggs on board, he waves us on. A sudden gust of wind blows into the car as I drive off, and a few stray marijuana leaves take flight. I see in my rearview mirror as one leaf drifts into the booth , and brushes across the agent’s face. I see great disappointment etched in the weary lines upon his face…..disappointment that he found no Kinder Eggs in my bag to seize…..he probably was looking forward to a treat….and believe me….it is truly a treat!

But seriously now! Of course you know I did not have a sack of marijuana in my back seat, but I bet you can get in worse trouble for Kinder Eggs than for marijuana. It’s ridiculous, if you ask me. I guess I am just trying to point out the absurdity of the situation by making up an even more absurd story about having a sack of fresh weed in my car. I guess you get the picture, though. Whatever you do, if you go abroad please make sure you don’t bring Kinder Eggs home! Please do, however, make sure to buy one to eat right away, and enjoy the perfect smooth rendition of divine chocolaty deliciousness! Whatever you do, make sure you don’t choke on the toy!

We make our way back towards Spokane to my sister’s house, where there is a delicious chili dinner waiting and a hot steam shower. We have a family reunion of sorts as my nieces and nephews arrive, some with their little ones in tow. We visit awhile. Pretty soon someone begins to pick out a tune on the piano, and soon we are all singing just like back in our childhood. It is a beautiful moment. It is late before we turn in for the night.

The next morning we head out early. We fly through Seattle and have the great fortune of catching a beautiful sunrise over top of Mount Baker! What an incredibly beautiful world we live in! Someday I need to come explore these beautiful mountains!

I settle in for the flight. I need to sleep because I have to go to work tonight, but sleep eludes me. I can only think of my beautiful munchkins…..soon we will get to see them, albeit they will have no Kinder Surprise Eggs……oh well… time……