5 Family-friendly ski areas, from west to east

By Janice Biehn on November 23, 2011

Kelowna, B.C.

Nestled in the heart of B.C.’s Okanagan Valley, Kelowna is home base for two large ski resorts: Big White and Silver Star. The on-mountain development in the last 15 years on both mountains is impressive, says Brent Holliday of Tsawwassen, B.C., who has been skiing in the area with his family for about 10 years.

Big White has a peak chair lift to a gloriously steep back bowl, tons of glade skiing and runs for all levels of skier. The west side, which opened about 10 years ago, has runs as long as your biggest runs at Whistler, says Brent. The mountain does have one downside. Because it is the largest mountain in the range it is subject to an unpredictable climate. The wind can sometimes close the west side and “Clarence The Cloud,” as the locals call it, can sit on the peak making visibility difficult. “On a clear day, however, Big White is one of the best ski areas in Western North America,” says Brent.

Silver Star has its share of amazing terrain. Though not as large as Big White, it’s just as varied, says Brent. “It has the Putnam Creek double black diamond area in the back, glades and fantastic rolling intermediate runs on the front side. The weather is more consistent too which makes it my favourite of the two.”

Vail, Colorado

With the Canadian dollar hovering around par, a trip stateside is worth considering. Colorado boasts some of the most storied ski areas in North America, and is home to Aspen, known as a playground for the rich and famous. A little more convenient to the Denver International Airport are the ski resorts of Vail and Keystone, two of the family-friendliest places around. Vail looks every inch the part of an alpine ski village with winding cobble-stoned streets, an ice rink, chic ski boutiques and cozy restaurants. The original 70s style village has expanded in recent years into one with a lush Tyrolean feel.

Blessed with more than 300 days of sunshine a year, you’ll need to step into one of those boutiques to get a good pair of shades. For a more Western-style ski village, travel a few minutes down the highway to Keystone. Ski conditions are well suited to families at both resorts: top notch ski schools, soft powder and wide runs of all varieties. Kids will enjoy night skiing and the giant snow fort at Keystone. 

At Vail the newly opened Kidtopia Park at the top of the main gondola includes snow tubing, a mini-snowmobile course and bungee trampoline. As intermediate level skiers, we found Keystone was better suited to us. With fewer runs, it was easier to get our heads around.

Jasper, Alta.

Jasper received a UNESCO World Heritage Site designation in 1984; at over 20,000 square kilometres, it’s among the world’s largest protected natural areas. The nearby Columbia Icefield is approximately 300 square km and the hydrologic apex of North America. Meltwaters flow to the Atlantic, Pacific and Arctic oceans. Marmot offers 3,000 vertical feet of superb skiing and snowboarding spread over 1,675 acres and is only 20 minutes from the town of Jasper. Ski and snowboard runs are split evenly between easy, intermediate and advanced, making this an ideal destination for all ability levels. With more than 300 km of ski trails, Jasper is also one of the largest crosscountry ski areas in Canada. – Julie Van Rosendaal

Quebec City, Que.

Any time of year is a great time to visit one of Canada’s oldest cities, and the oldest walled city in Canada or the United States. But we’re partial to winter. The skiing at Mont Ste. Anne is fantastic, and your lift ticket is also good at nearby Stoneham. There isn’t the same type of ski village development at Ste. Anne as other ski resorts, but this is probably because you only need to drive about 20 minutes and you’re exploring the beauty of la vieux Quebec.

Families may appreciate this separation. It allows you to have a quiet après-ski near the mountain, or head into town if you’re itching for action. It’s the best of both worlds. Mont Ste. Anne is the only ski resort with a sugar shack halfway down the mountain. You can make maple taffy in a trough of fresh, clean snow. How fun is that?

Marble Mountain, Nfld.

You haven’t lived until you’ve kissed the cod in Newfoundland, the traditional welcome to Canada’s friendliest province. That’s just the beginning of an unforgettable family ski trip – and don’t let Marble’s base elevation of 10 metres above sea level scare you. Its dependable 10-metre snow base guarantees good skiing, and with average temperatures a comfy -5C, the climate is ideal for keeping children happy on the magic carpet and gentle beginner area. Set in the uppermost foothills of the Appalachian Mountains, Atlantic Canada’s premier ski area offers handy slopeside accommodation and après-ski fun such as dog sledding and snowshoeing. For yummy seafood straight from the waters, try Gitano’s in Cornerbrook. The mixed platters of scallops, shrimp, salt fish cakes and live entertainment will have you talking like the locals in no time. Oh me jesus, you’ll love it. – Leslie Woit

Originally published in ParentsCanada magazine, November/December 2011.

By Janice Biehn| November 23, 2011

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