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Snowbirds have their wings clipped

For Wendy and Stan Coutu, winters are usually highlighted by lounging poolside, walking the dog in the sunshine and playing tennis, softball and golf.

But not this winter.

COVID quashed the Coutus' plans for a return to their holiday home in Maricopa, Arizona and instead they're staying at the new apartment-hotel complex The Shore in Kelowna.

"We're definitely going to miss Arizona this winter," said Wendy.

"But the upside of being in Kelowna is we're close to our three kids and two adorable granddaughters. We'll get out for lots of walks with our golden retriever and we'll help our daughter with the renovation on her house."

</who>Stan and Wendy Coutu and their dog, Joe, usually flee to Maricopa, Arizona for the winter, but because of COVID, they are spending the season at The Shore in Kelowna.

Because of the pandemic, the Canadian government recommends against travel internationally, a directive that puts the kibosh on thousands of snowbirds' dream of escaping winter's freeze.

Some snowbirds, willing to take the risk, are defying government suggestions and are heading south anyway.

Others are coming up with a very Canuck solution--spending the winter in the warmest regions of Canada instead, namely the Okanagan, Lower Mainland and Vancouver Island.

After all, if you're from notoriously frigid places like Prince George, Edmonton, Regina or Winnipeg, an Okanagan winter can be an oasis.

The Coutus retired eight years ago, Wendy from the pro shop at Osoyoos Golf and Country Club and Stan as a teacher at Osoyoos Secondary School.

They moved to West Kelowna and bought a cottage at La Casa as their summer home and also purchased a home in Arizona with a pool for the winter.

When COVID crashed the world in March, the Coutus sold the Arizona house they bought for $143,000 eight years ago for $300,000.

"Yes, we made money, but we loved that house and it was tough to give it up," said Wendy.

"But we'll go back to Arizona for the winter as soon as there's a vaccine and we can get health insurance sorted out. But in the future it will probably be a rental rather than our own place."

The Coutus decided to move from La Casa to The Shore for the winter so they can be in the city and not have to drive narrow and windy Westside Road to and from La Casa in the snow.

The Shore did its own COVID pivot.

The six-story complex across from Gyro Beach, which has Shoreline Brewing on the ground floor, was designed for short-term rentals in the summer and student rentals in the winter.

However, with the pandemic, The Shore decided it makes more sense to offer short-or-longer-term rentals to anyone who wants, including snowbirds.

In fact, The Shore specifically targeted snowbirds.

"We have an incredible fifth-floor corner unit with a beautiful view of Okanagan Lake and the mountains," said Wendy.

"And a great kitchen because I like to cook."

At Walnut Beach Resort in Osoyoos, almost all of the 110 suites are being rented longer term this winter by snowbirds.

"Osoyoos has always been a bit of a destination for snowbirds, but it's even more this season because of COVID," said Walnut Beach general manager Vincent Pouget.

"Walnut Beach is well positioned because all suites have a fully-equipped kitchen, we keep the heated pool and hot tubs open 365 days a year and rates start at $1,800 a month."

The program at Walnut Beach is so entrenched that it has snowbird ambassadors, who for the past three years are Roger and Peggy Poulin from Meadow Lake, Saskatchewan.

"We've been wintering in Osoyoos for the past seven years and jumped at the opportunity to be ambassadors," said Roger.

"We coordinate all the snowbird activities here, including the twice a week coffee mornings, cribbage tournaments, bean bag baseball, afternoon and evening music jams and potluck dinners."

</who>Roger and Peggy Poulin from Meadow Lake, Saskatchewan are spending the winter at Walnut Beach Resort in Osoyoos.

Before retiring, Roger was meat manager for 37 years at the Meadow Lake Co-operative grocery store and Peggy ran a daycare for 27 years.

The Poulins also get out and about for long walks, dancing and bingo at the Osoyoos and Oliver seniors centres, pickleball at the Sonora Community Centre and volunteering at the Catholic church.

"Our calendar is jammed," said Roger.

"Winters are pretty harsh in Meadow Lake, so we might as well be in Osoyoos because it's the nicest place in Canada."

In fact, most hotels and RV parks in Osoyoos are full this winter with snowbirds.

Generally, hotels are suffering as COVID continues to keep people at home.

However, the BC Hotel Association started a campaign to help accommodations in the Okanagan, Fraser Valley, Lower Mainland and Vancouver Island pivot to longer-term rentals for snowbirds as a way to fill rooms.

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