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Harrison Hot Springs, British Columbia

Tulips grow in British Columbia in Spring

Kid-friendly amenities at elegant resort  

Looking to celebrate our 15th wedding anniversary in January, my husband and I had three criteria: a place that would be relaxing and "away from it all," but would be a reasonable drive for a three-day weekend; somewhere we'd never been before, and a place our 7- and 9-year-old would enjoy, since they were coming with us.

Harrison Hot Springs Resort in southwestern British Columbia met these criteria and more. Just over a three-hour drive from Seattle, there are no mountain passes to negotiate. It has spa facilities (for us), several outdoor and indoor swimming pools (for the kids), and a local ski resort about 90 minutes away for downhill and cross-country skiing (fun for the whole family). Going to Canada seemed "exotic" to the kids, who were delighted by, among other things, the colorful currency.

We picked up our children after school on Friday, and with an hour stop for dinner in Chilliwack, were registering by 7:30 p.m. After a quick check-in (the cold wind blowing through the automatic doors did not encourage lingering in the lower lobby), we hurried up to our rooms on the sixth floor. We could see the swimming pools from our deck, but otherwise the winter darkness made it impossible to get a sense of our surroundings. We did discover the main lobby, which was beautifully appointed with overstuffed chairs, a fireplace and an expansive elegance harkening back to the historical 1926 roots of the resort.

The next morning we were greeted by views of the nearby snow-covered mountains from our windows to the back of the resort, and beautiful Harrison Lake through the windows of the Lakeside Café, where we enjoyed the breakfast buffet and plotted our activities for the day. Since the steadily blowing winds made the below-freezing temperatures even more cruel, we decided to defer skiing for a day and enjoy the amenities at the resort instead.

Our first activity was a swim in the indoor pool. Its unusual curved shape is not conducive to lap swimming (you have to do that outdoors), but the 4-foot shallow end, increasing to an 8-foot deep end, was plenty large for a family swim. In spite of the freezing outdoor temperature, my daughter and I wanted to try the outdoor swimming experience, and sprinted to one of the large outdoor pools. It didn't take long for us to decide that the warmth of the pool water could not counteract the cold, 25-mph winds, and we high-tailed it back to the protection and warmth of the indoor complex.

Later, my husband and I each made a trip to the exercise room. While not considered large by health-club standards, it was equipped with an elliptical trainer, two treadmills, a stationary bike and several weight machines, as well as free weights. There were never more than one or two other users when we were there.

On Saturday night, we made dinner reservations at the Copper Room. Its mauve and green décor, with floor-length curtains and formal dining atmosphere, also takes one back to a more elegant time. It had just opened when we arrived at 6 p.m., but soon began to fill up. Around 7:30 p.m., the Jones Boys, a versatile dance band, began playing. The festive atmosphere created by the music put me in mind of a wedding reception:People aged 7 to 70 out on the dance floor, moving to music ranging from big band to classic rock. We left around 8:30 p.m. when the band took its first break, deferring to the "no kids on the dance floor after 8 p.m." notice on the menu, which left our kids sitting at the table while we danced (though there was a designated "kid dance floor" next to the band platform in use).

On Sunday, the day we had planned to cross-country ski, we awoke to five inches of new snow, with more coming down. It seemed silly to get in the car and drive when the snow had been brought to us, so we spent the morning playing on the resort grounds. There was plenty of open area to build a snow fort and have a snowball fight. When we tired of that, we walked a short way beside Harrison Lake and saw the original source of the hot springs, which is a somewhat unimpressive fenced-off hole in the ground.

That afternoon, my husband and I enjoyed a couples' massage at Healing Springs Spa. It was our one grown-up indulgence of the trip. The resulting whole-body relaxed feeling was fabulous, as was knowing that my spouse enjoyed it too. The resort features a wide array of "body care" treatments; make your arrangements well in advance of your arrival as appointments fill up fast.

While not inexpensive by any means, we felt most of the charges were quite reasonable for a resort. The breakfast buffet at The Lakeside Café was $14.95C for adults and half-price for kids. Our room charge was $309C (or approximately $280 U.S.) for an "Executive Suite" in the west tower, comprised of two adjoining rooms, one with two queen beds and the other with a foldout queen sofa, and each with a three-quarter bath (shower, no tub). At night, we put the kids to bed and closed the door between the rooms to a crack, and my husband and I could still read or watch TV without disturbing them.

We had anticipated an active family get-away, but due to freak weather conditions, we ended up "cocooning" at the resort instead. I had to agree with my son when he spontaneously declared, "This is what I call a successful family vacation!"

Harrison Hot Springs Resort & Spa
100 Esplanade Ave.,
Harrison Hot Springs, B.C.

Located approximately 150 miles from Seattle; about three hours drive time (use the Sumas border crossing).

Reservations: 888-818-2999
Web site: www.harrisonresort.com
Spa web site: www.healingspringsspa.com

Nearby ski area: Manning Park Resort, a one-and-a-half-hour drive from Harrison Hot Springs, the resort features four chairlifts, 24 trails for skiers and boarders and 19 miles of groomed cross-country ski trails. www.manningparkresort.com

Author Marlene Kissler and her family enjoy discovering new things to see and do in the Seattle area

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