Big White Ski Resort
Big White Ski Resort. Photo courtesy of Big White Ski Resort.

Nothing says “Christmas” quite like a snowy alpine village illuminated by strings of colorful lights and open fires roasting chestnuts.

While small towns like this light up across the Rocky Mountains and the European Alps, Big White Ski Resort stands out as the home of highly skiable champagne powder snow.

In addition, the British Columbian Monashee Mountain Resort is also home to the top après ski destination in Canada.

Big White Ski Resort

Big White Ski Resort opened exactly fifty years ago under the wings of Doug Mervyn and Cliff Serwa. The two adventurers spent years trekking, camping, skiing — and running into grizzly bears around the unexplored mountain before opening a ski lift and day lodge on site.

The construction process was daunting, as before resort construction could even commence the duo needed to build an access road to the mountain. They knew their efforts would be worth the toil, as 24.5 feet (7 meters) of annual snowfall in big, fluffy flakes was simply too much to pass up.

Big White Ski Resort
Skiing at Big White. Photo courtesy of Big White Ski Resort.

Eventually, Mervyn and Serwa’s efforts succeeded and a world-class ski resort was born. Twenty years later, it even attracted the attention of the owners of the popular Gunbarrel Saloon in nearby Apex, British Columbia.

The team had been working to develop a series of festive and innovative winter drinks and was looking to attract the same international attention as Big White.

They decided to move shop to the mountain, and set up Snowshoe Sam’s Bar and the Gunbarrel Grill Restaurant.

Today, the Big White Ski Resort hosts 118 runs over 2,765 acres of skiable terrain and Snowshoe Sam’s and the Gunbarrel Grill have gained the international recognition they were looking for as the top après ski destination in Canada.

Gunbarrel Coffee
Gunbarrel Coffee

Gunbarrel Coffee

0.75oz brandy
0.75oz crème de cacao
8oz Kootany coffee (to fill glass)
1 dollop whipped cream
0.75oz Grand Marnier

After a day of challenging skiing down panoramic mountain ranges, I took to the Big White village to taste test the famous Gunbarrel Grill cocktails. Walking into the Grill, I step in to face a warm, chalet-style hideaway and took a seat at the bar. I was quickly greeted by Keith, the bartender and preceded to order a Gunbarrel Coffee.

When making Gunbarrel Coffee, a gun becomes an important tool. Photo courtesy of Judi Zienchuk.

To my surprise, the order prompted Keith to jump out and disappear from behind the bar. He soon came with a wheeled table holding a small fire pit and a large shotgun.

Unable to hold back a smile, he starting pouring brandy into a glass, using the fire pit to set it aflame. I snap to full attention at the sudden presence of heat and light in the glass, which Keith is now skillfully twirling through his fingers. Even before the caffeine hits my lips I can feel myself perking with energy.

Once the flame is extinguished, the crème de cacao, coffee and whipped cream are added. For the grand finale, Keith begins to prepare the shotgun, which is used to pour flaming Grand Marnier into the beverage.

As he “loads” the shotgun, Keith explains that the drink was conceived 30 years ago in an attempt to find a unique way to market the Gunbarrel Saloon.

The owners decided on a specialty coffee drink that could be set of fire. After a lot of trial, error, and drinking, the centerpiece shotgun at the saloon was taken off its token spot on the mantle and used as a slide to pour flaming Grand Marnier into the drink.

pouring the coffee
Pouring the Gunbarrel Coffee. Photo courtesy of Judi Zienchuk

Sipping the coffee, I immediately taste the sweet notes of the crème du cacao and feel the warmth of the toasted brandy and Grand Marnier. Lucky, no hints of gunpowder have run off the shotgun.

Filled with caffeine and sweet warmth, the drink is the perfect way to unwind after a day on the slopes.

By the end of the night, Keith also reveals there’s a secret Naked Gunbarrel Coffee.

Keith divulges when groups of ladies order Gunbarrel Coffees on quiet nights, he’ll often surprise them by preparing the drink while replacing his conservative black button up shirt with a bow tie and leather vest.

solstice martini
Solstice Martini. Photo courtesy of Judi Zienchuk

Solstice Martini

1oz ABSOLUT vodka
1oz Stoli salted caramel
0.5oz Orange and citrus simple syrup
0.75oz Grand Marnier
1 maraschino cherry

While the Gunbarrel Coffee is a staple of the Grill, they also offer up a variety of winter cocktails to round out the season. One of the favorites is a citrus flavored Solstice Martini. The caramel touch provides hints of Christmas, but the simple syrup is really what brings the drink to life. Made in-house with fresh orange zest, the rinds provide extra flavor along with a bit of texture to an otherwise smooth cocktail. The martini has a sweetened character and the layered Grand Marnier provides added depth and color.

To make the drink, start by shaking the ABSOLUT and Stoli salted caramel vodkas over ice with the orange and citrus simple syrup and 0.5oz of the Grand Marnier. Then, pour the blend into a chilled martini glass. Finally, float the remaining 0.25oz of Grand Marnier and the maraschino cherry.

Good Old Fashioned Christmas
Good Old Fashioned Christmas. Photo courtesy of Judi Zienchuk.

Good Old Fashioned Christmas

2 orange slices
2oz Crown Royal whiskey
3 dashes of grapefruit bitters
0.5oz orange citrus simple syrup
1 maraschino cherry
1 cinnamon stick

A Christmas twist on a classic cocktail, a Good Old Fashioned Christmas adds a flourish of citrus and cinnamon to the well-known beverage. Start by muddling the orange slices in a cocktail shaker with the grapefruit bitters and orange citrus simple syrup. Bruising the oranges slightly will help to bring out their character.

Orange and citrus bitters
Orange and citrus bitters. Photo courtesy of Judi Zienchuk.

Next, add the whiskey and stir over ice.

Finally, rim an old fashioned glass with orange juice and cinnamon powder, pour the drink and pop in the maraschino cherry and cinnamon stick.

Whether you’re craving something hot or cold, sweet or citrusy, there’s an endless amount of seasonal drinks available for any taste.

A snowy setting and cottage-like atmosphere like those at the Gunbarrel Grill also help spread the festive flare.

And by the way:

If you’re already exploring the incredible offerings of British Columbia, consider also making a trip to discover the many things to do in Victoria BC, the capital of the province. 


About The Author

Currently working in a museum, Judi Zienchuk has lived everywhere from Southeast Asia to Northwestern Canada. She loves travel, longboarding and coffee flavored ice cream. To get more personal, check out her blog, Travvel Sized.

Judi Zienchuk

Judi Zienchuk has lived everywhere from Southeast Asia to Northwestern Canada. When she's not galavanting the globe, you can usually either find her on a bike or consuming large amounts of caffeine (maybe even both at the same time). To get more personal, check out her blog, Travvel Sized.

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