BC Shines When it Comes to Family Skiing

Steven Threndyle BCShines

Way back when, a friend of mine named Tim chillingly foretold the future when he said, “never confuse ‘skiing with your kids,’ with ‘going skiing'”. I’d borne witness to more than one toddler meltdown in the parking lot or at ski school to know that it was true. And as an expectant father, I chalked it up to yet another thing that would “never be the same” once we had kids.

That seems like a lifetime ago. Now, with our son and daughter – ages five and seven – our family is lucky to be able to ski at Big White and Silver Star on a regular basis.

Over the past four winters, our kids’ skiing experience has been varied, to say the least. They took their first lessons on a t-bar hill on Mount Washington, and were in an excellent ‘Home Hardware’ program at Apex in Penticton for a full season. You’ll know where Grandfather’s Run gets its name when you’re skiing with a four year old – basically, it takes so long to ski that you’ll be old enough to be a grandfather by the time you’re finished! Since moving to Kelowna, there have been numerous lessons from the fabulous teaching staff at Big White where both kids got the message that it’s okay to turn occasionally.

As they get older, I’m sure they’ll want to move on and hit bigger mountains like Whistler-Blackcomb, Panorama, Fernie, and Kicking Horse; not to mention BC’s resorts’ many terrain parks (Cameron is already eyeing up Big White’s mini-rails).

Along the way, we’ve learned some lessons ourselves about how to stay sane and enjoy family ski trips: Ski schools that specialize in kids programs – the Canadian Ski Instructors Alliance has a ‘grading system’ so that your kids are put into the proper class. Many ski schools offer flexible pricing and lesson-time options to work around your schedule. Lessons can often be combined with daycare spaces to free up more time during the day. On Blackcomb Mountain, the Solar Coaster chair zone has a kid’s adventure zone with trails and tunnels in gladed trees, with animated characters. The Adventure Castle is at the centre and has slides, etc. Imagine kids’ delight when they discover Whistler Mountain’s tree forts; located between Bear Cub and Pony Trail novice teaching areas, they can be reached by an off-the-run tunnel.

“Ski to/from” lodging will eliminate at least a half-hour of hassle from your day. Even if it’s a bit pricier (and often, it’s not), on-slope accommodation will pay you back in spades in terms of flexibility. It’s so convenient to be able to ski down to your unit for lunch, or to change clothes. Most families also prefer condominiums to hotel rooms so that they can eat in and save money. At Big White ski resort, virtually all of the 13,000-plus beds (in a variety of configurations, from family-friendly hostels to luxury townhomes) are close to a ski run so that you can slap on the boards just outside your room and glide down to the lifts. At Whistler, the Legends is a new suite-style lodge at the refurbished Creekside base area that is geared to families. There’s an on-site Lego room for guests’ kids to enjoy, and the accommodation is complemented by slopeside retail and ski and snowboard rental shops — including kids equipment — and restaurants. The nearby Whistler Kids centre and Guest Relations allows parents to book ski school programs and drop off or pick up their children just steps from their lodging. Other friendly ‘walk to lifts’ resorts include Sun Peaks, Fernie Alpine Resort, Kimberley, Panorama, and Silver Star.

Check the ‘minimum’ age for day-care – many resorts are not licensed to take babies; indeed, 18 months is more often the norm. Silver Star is one of the few that’s licensed for newborn baby’s. Also, immunization papers are sometimes a requirement for all licensed facilities – make sure you ask about it when you’re researching resorts.

Ask if there are babysitters available who will look after the kids once the lifts shut down so that you can enjoy a quiet drink or romantic dinner together. Many resorts have nightly programs (movie and pizza nights, as one fun example) where your children can be supervised and even fed a kid-friendly dinner. Panorama’s Wee Wascals Day Care offers arts and crafts night on Mondays and Thursdays from 7:00 – 9:00 p.m. for kids between 7 and 12.

Look for resort activities that go on after the last lift – fun stuff like bingo or casino nights, snow tubing, ice skating, or night skiing and riding. Sun Peaks, Big White and Silver Star even have mini snowmobiles, where kids can tear around a track safely. Individual properties often have programs, too – the Delta Sun Peaks has garnered an excellent reputation for their kids’ programs. At Kimberly Resort, the Trickle Creek Winter Adventure Park offers family apres ski activities that include pond skating, snow shoeing, cross country, children’s contests and evening bonfires. To keep peace in the family, (and everyone coordinated) consider buying a pair of those inexpensive FRS walkie-talkies to keep in touch while on the slopes. (After all, FRS stands for “Family Radio Service.”).

Hit your local hills! For at least the first few lessons, you’ll likely be rotating between daycare and the ski school, or even babysitting the kids yourself in the cafeteria or brown-bag room. Your kid doesn’t know the difference between Mount Seymour and Whistler, though your pocketbook likely does. Crystal Mountain, Hemlock Valley, and of course all three North Shore areas (Grouse, Seymour, and Cypress) specialize in kids lessons, often in conjunction with local school programs. Just because a resort caters to families doesn’t mean that experts should be ignored. For example, Silver Star offers great kids’ programs, yet has double black diamond trails galore. Ditto for Fernie Alpine Resort, Panorama, and Sun Peaks.

New School rules for ‘tweens and teens. Nothing will put a smile on the face of a sullen teenager like telling them you’re going to a resort with a top-notch terrain park and half-pipe. Though the cranked up music might scare parents off into the woods, terrain parks are hugely popular with snowboarders and New School skiers. Progressive resorts like Whistler-Blackcomb offer introductory lessons and all parks have a grading system so that neophytes don’t get in over their heads. On Vancouver’s North Shore, Mount Seymour has a top-notch terrain park and has been the location of choice for snowboard photographers for years, taking images of airborne riders tweaked out high above the city.

Take lots of photos and video (and bring fresh batteries for cold-weather filming!). You won’t want to miss your kids making those first few turns!

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