By Louise Hudson
We all know that families are growing all the time: one moment the kids are bouncing babies and next they’ve miraculously morphed into moody teens. A ski resort that suited the whole family when the kids were newborns and toddlers may not necessarily be as compatible as kids get older. So here are some age-appropriate reasons to ski en famille at a range of resorts this season.
5 and Under
When parents are new to the game, things really need to be easy. They have been used to thinking only of themselves, so suddenly having a burdensome baby in tow with all the necessary gear can put people off skiing and snowboarding completely! However, it is not as difficult as it looks, particularly at a resort like Kimberley, BC. Here the Wildhorse Childcare runs 9 am-4 pm, seven days a week (apart from Christmas Day) and is for ages 18 months to five-years-old. They offer flexible full and half days – with or without lunch – as well as morning or afternoon ‘learn to ski’ programs, escorting the kids to and from the nearby Magic Carpet.
Once kids really get into skiing, it is important to note that under 5s ski free (no lift tickets to buy), a huge saving during their first forays around the bunny hill and further, and a good reason to get them into the sport early. Ski lessons are reduced at off-peak times with ‘Value Rates’ at $10 less than at peak periods (these are Dec 23-Jan3, Feb 13-21 and Mar 23-Apr 9).
Family Clinics are increasingly popular, whereby two adults and up to three kids can join have lessons altogether. This works best if everyone is either skiing or snowboarding and at a similar standard: fun family bonding and (hopefully) enables the family to progress at the same rate. At Kimberley, the learning area is right in front of Trickle Creek Lodge, where Montana’s provides a handy haven for warm-up breaks, snacks or lunch. On clear days, these slopes are also in full sunshine most of the day.
If you choose to stay at Trickle Creek, the condos are all fully furnished for self-catering and have the added advantage of a huge pool and hot tub area overlooking the slopes. Peripheral play activities in group daycare can also be beneficial, getting the toddlers gradually into the idea of snowsports and surrounding the whole subject in fun perks. In contrast, struggling with teaching your kids yourself, without similar standard buddies for them to bond with, can actually lead to a demotivated dislike of the sport and hamper improvement. Group dynamics are also important in the day lodge.
Whereas some ski lodges are chock full of teens and Millennials, the Slopeside Café at Kimberley has a younger family vibe. Here, mums or dads hang out pre- and post-lessons with babes in arms and kids running around, all warming up over hot chocolate before heading out for more fun on the slopes.
6-11 age group
Sunshine Village is all about families, according to Kendra Scurfield, daughter of owner Ralph Scurfield. “After all we’re a family owned and operated resort,” says Kendra. “In the 1980s, when the Scurfield family purchased Sunshine, a primary reason for our purchase was because of how Sunshine was a place that celebrated family and community.” One of the chief advantages is the way the wide variety of terrain funnels down into just three primary bases: the Village, Goat’s Eye and, at the end of the day, the parking lot. “As big as Sunshine is, parents love us because there is very little opportunity for kids to get lost,” says Kendra who learnt to become an expert snowboarder there.
With its range of terrain for all ages and levels plus expertly-crafted terrain parks, it a perfect progressive playground. Having all natural snow is another bonus, as kids get to advance into powder skiing, bumps and glades at the earliest possible age. They all love taking the meandering ski out down the mountain at the end of the day and this is the one place that Sunshine uses snow canons during early season to make sure the base stays packed. Lift tickets are not too expensive for kids aged 6-12 – just $38 per day and they get free season’s passes when in Grade 2 and Grade 5. Focusing on satisfying all the generations, Sunshine offers Family Ski Week Programs including a week of lessons, accommodation in the high-altitude, ski in/out Sunshine Mountain Lodge and après ski activities.
“Families love the program because it gives them an opportunity to ski together, improve their skills, and meet other guests to create new lifetime friends,” says Kendra. It really helps to have the Lodge as a base, too, so that kids can come back for more clothing, snacks, drinks, warming up or, if they are tired, hanging out at the huge outdoor hot tub or in the TV or games room. If they get a second wind, then there are free snowshoes at the Lodge for the whole family to explore the resort after the day traffic has died down. Sunshine focuses, too, on animation on the mountain: “Each weekend we work to host family friendly events,” Kendra explains. “These include our weekly bonfires in the Bourgeau Base area, spring concerts, educational events like avalanche awareness, nightly tobogganing, and more.”
Utilising persuasive social media to entice families, Sunshine posts a minimum of three kid and family-focused photos each week. “It’s to show how accessible Sunshine is to families of all ages,” says Kendra. “Our traditional marketing campaigns focus on how ‘Sunshine is a resort that grows up with you’. As a beginner, Sunshine is about mastering the Dell Valley, as an expert it’s about getting as many laps in Delirium Dive as you can.” To get kids from Dell to Delirium there is firstly the Tiny Tigers program (5 and under, graduating to Kids Kampus for full day lessons and multi-week ski programs where kids develop lifelong skills and form strong relationships with their instructors and fellow students.
12-18 age group
When your kids can surpass you on the slopes, it’s time to take them to Revelstoke . Here, North America’s greatest vertical (5620 ft/1713m), longest run (9.5 miles) and 3121 acres of fierce fall-line will help keep the family bonding buoyant, especially at the ‘terrible teenage’ stage when families can lose empathy. To get to grips with the 69 rugged runs, expansive alpine bowls, and endless ungroomed glades, there are educational and fun Freeride Camps and weekend classes. For the younger end of this age-group (6-12) there are evening activities including movies, tubing, dinner and games (for just $10 per child), giving parents a chance for a date night in the village or downtown. And for everyone, there’s the Bungee Bounce, Tube Park, dogsledding, and snowshoeing. Snowmobile driving tours are for 18+, although passengers can be seven and up. Revelstoke Ski Ambassador, Chris Pawlitsky was born in town and is bringing his son up there.
“There have been a few occasions over the years when we have talked about living somewhere else but none of us wanted to leave here with this natural playground on our doorstep,” says Pawlitsky, who used to ski guide for a catskiing operation there before Revelstoke became a lift-serviced ski resort. Favourite runs to take his son include Separate Reality. “It has so many different lines, it’s close to the chair which means a quick turnaround time for banging off big daily vertical,” he says. Also, dating back to his catskiing days, there’s a ‘secret gulley’ on Hollywood: “Especially fun, this is a kind of big natural halfpipe that starts off wide open and then finishes in some beautifully gladed trees.”
The two get father-son bonding in Revy’s bowls and glades, sometimes taking short hikes into less tracked terrain. “Being in the heli-ski capital of the world is one reason that makes it so great here – snow everywhere, deep and consistent snowfalls,” he explains. Apparently, the snow keeps fresh due to what is known locally as the ‘Mount Mackenzie Blob’, cloud cover which helps keeps the sun off the mountain when temperatures warm up occasionally. “This keeps the powder fresh, it’s like skiing in your own little cloud,” Chris describes. “Every peak in the area can be visible, but the top of the ski hill sometimes gets a little fog which really helps protect the snow from getting sun crusted.”
As most of the resort is below the treeline, there are plenty of visual markers to help visibility during these cloudy conditions. He honed his son’s skills on Snow Rodeo which, he says, is perfect for intermediate development. Especially in spring, Snow Rodeo is in full sun the whole way down. “This is also where I would take someone for their first run back to the Stoke Chair,” says Chris. “A nice blue run, with lots of rollers, and usually soft snow on the sides. A classic, for sure, and the very first run on Mount Mackenzie going back to the original cat skiing days.”
Although suitable for all age-groups, Fernie really comes into its own when families are grown and parents want to woo the wandering offspring back for weekends or holidays. One Calgary family has been making regular Fernie forays for the past few years while building a holiday home there. “Our house in Fernie has become a gathering place for our grown children and their friends,” says Piers Fothergill. “Perhaps sometimes we get complacent about how special Fernie is, but we are continually reminded when the guests are blown away by a day on the slopes or backcountry.”
With everyone in the family of a similar strong standard of skiing, they were able to plan a get-together with friends for a cat-assisted backcountry trip with Island Lake Lodge: “That resulted in epic runs,” said Fothergill. The Fothergill family has literally grown up in the Fernie mountains and it is this energetic outdoor environment that lures the grown kids back from far-flung universities and jobs each winter. “The terrain and snow continue to provide a challenge and enjoyment that ultimately keeps them returning,” Fothergill explains. “Every year there are days where someone pulls out their mobile phone and takes a magazine worthy shot of snow billowing over the shoulders and, of course, are proudly displayed on Instagram!”
Although the tempting terrain over 2,500 acres and the 30-something feet of seasonal snowfall are major draws, the après ski is another winning factor with the family. “Fernie has a dynamic nightlife with film festivals, great local bands and restaurants that offer fare that is as good, if not better, than you will find anywhere,” says Fothergill.
A unique addition is the Ice Bar , housed within the Cirque Restaurant at Lizard Creek Lodge. The vodka-tasting menu, with drinks served from ice glasses in an icy room, is a firm fave with Millennials. New this season are ski touring courses for those tempted by the side country Backcountry Basics are introductory programs with instruction in the use of ski touring equipment, snow safety, and uphill travel techniques.
Next stage is the Uptracking Tour where experienced guides help newbies apply all their new skills in the off-piste playground surrounding Fernie’s five bowls. Like sister resort, Kimberley, Fernie also offers Family Clinics to encourage parallel progression.