Discover winter: Trip to a mountain resort

By Janice Biehn on November 18, 2011
Read about 5 Family-friendly ski areas, from west to east

It was at the end of a sunny day of skiing at Sunshine Village in Banff that it happened. We decided to “ski out,” or ski all the way to the bottom of the mountain, instead of just halfway down to the gondola. 

The path was slow and narrow and winding, a perfect easy glide as the snow began to turn a bluish grey under the lowering sun. My older daughter Katie, then 10, was in the lead, as my husband, Craig, and I bookended our younger daughter, Gabbie, who at age eight was a slightly more tentative skier. Katie had barreled ahead when suddenly, just metres ahead of me, jumped a majestic looking stag. He fled across the ski path back into the woods leaving Gabbie, Craig and me breathless.

That brush with wildlife is one of the reasons we love skiing. Not only is it a great way to stay active in the winter, but it also lets you take in the splendour of nature and the outdoors. To stand at the edge of an alpine slope and see nothing but blue sky and snowy vista spread out before you makes you feel good.

I’m not one of those dyed-in-the-wool skiers who was heading down the slopes before she could walk and who spends all weekend at a chalet. I first tried skiing as a teenager, and was the only one in my family to take it up as a hobby. Even breaking my collarbone on a high school trip didn’t dampen my enthusiasm for the sport. When Craig and I became parents, we agreed to introduce our kids to the slopes at an early age. After a couple of years of lessons and practising we felt we were ready to make the transition from ski hill to mountain. We found that spending our ski budget on one big trip to a ski resort was worth the expense.

Here’s what I’ve learned about planning a family ski or snowboard vacation:

Hotel vs chalet

Hotels have the benefit of often having a pool or hot tub, activities for kids and other families to hang out with. But a chalet or condo usually includes a kitchen which can help you reduce costs significantly. Whenever we’ve stayed in a chalet we make our own breakfasts as well as a few dinners. A chalet also provides some separation from other people if you’re looking for some true family time. Pack along some games and DVDs and get ready to bond.

Get in shape

This is a tip I learned the hard way. Skiing on a real mountain takes more stamina than a ski hill. The runs are longer and often (when the ski Gods are smiling) you get to ski in fresh powder. Your quads will hate you for it. So a few weeks before your trip, start stretching and walking or swimming.

Pace yourself

Some mountain resorts offer night skiing, but most tend to close runs by late afternoon as the sun sets and the conditions change. This is a good thing. If you are new to mountain skiing, your legs will start to wobble after a long day of skiing and that’s when, for me anyway, it stops being fun. Start early and quit when your body tells you to.

Look into ski school or take a guided tour

A day of ski school is not cheap, but it’s worth it if your ski legs are a little rusty. The instructor will give you tips on handling the different terrain of a mountain. Best of all, you’ll learn what runs are ideal for your skill level. To that end, most mountains have ski ambassadors who will show you around their favourite runs at no cost.

Buy tickets online

Save time standing in line, and in some cases money, by buying your lift tickets online. Scour the Internet for deals as well.

Get the proper gear

If you’re flying to your ski destination, consider renting equipment. The cost may be the same as paying for overage on your luggage, and it’s one less bag to schlep through the airport.

Enjoy some alternative activities

Ski resorts know that not every ski family lives and breathes the sport. Other activities abound. Dog sledding, snowshoeing, ice castles, snowmobiling and bungee trampolines are among the many items on the snow fun menu.


Originally published in ParentsCanada magazine, November/December 2011

By Janice Biehn| November 18, 2011

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