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Skiing the White and Silver

Debbie Neilson-Hunter and family road test two of Canada's favourite family ski resorts.

Covered in over seven metres of Okanagan champagne powder snow annually, it's easy to guess how the British Columbian resort of Big White got its name.

It's the snow - also the resortís motto - and, by golly, they cater for every imaginable activity that you can possibly do on the fluffy, white stuff.

Skiing and boarding first come to mind - which the resort caters for in awesome style.

Elevated at 1755m, the sprawling terraced village, providing more than 17,000 guest beds across hotel, vacation home and apartments (ours with fireplace, log bunks and hot tub), is purpose-built into the side of the mountain so everything is conveniently ski-in, ski-out.

As well as 25km of Nordic trails and terrain park, 16 lifts access 118 runs (105km of marked trails) across 2976ha of varied terrain encompassing deep powder bowls, ghostly forest glades, steeps and bumps and fall-line cruising. Over half cater to blue intermediate skiers, the rest is pretty evenly divided between the more advanced blacks and the easy greens but it is also possible to explore the breadth of this picturesque mountain either way.

Helping build confidence are specially marked slow zones which make it easier for beginners and others who want to take their time.

While the well-equipped Kidsí Centre offers full and half-day learn-to-ski programs for children four years and up (and an after dark program) if your little ones (three - six years) are anxious about being away from a parent, a two-hour 'Mom, Dad and Me' semi-private lesson will introduce your child to skiing while arming you with tips on how to teach your child using games and fun activities.

Babies and toddlers (from 18 months) are well cared for in the Tot Town day care, next to the main mall (the central booking hub) in the pedestrian village.

Happy Valley, a short gondola ride or ski down from the Village Centre mall, is where most kids, including mine, end up after their lessons. Virtually right next door to the Happy Valley Lodge (popular for its kid-friendly happy hour) is the Adventure Park, home to the Mega SnowCoaster Tube Park and a 60ft ice climbing wall. Both are lit up at night. Next to the Lodge is Canada's highest ice skating/hockey rink with rink-side fire place to toast marshmallows and sip hot chocolate. It's also where we found Clydesdales Bud and Doc waiting to take us on our first ever family sleigh ride through the back country trails. Dog sledding. Tick. Snow shoeing. Tick. Kids can even ride a mini-snowmobile here.

The off-snow action is just as much fun with weekly fireworks, bonfires, movies, trivia and Wii nights. Among the many social and sporting events, Australia Day is even marked to entertain the growing number of Aussies who holiday and work here (including the previous owner, the late Desmond Schumann, who originally hailed from Adelaide). The day features brave skiers in bikinis and board shorts, an evening carnival with jumping castle and hugs from a giant kangaroo called Boomer. Tim tam anyone?

Silver Star Until recently, common ownership meant skiers could ski seamlessly between Big White and sister resort Silver Star (near Vernon just two hours away) on dual mountain passes and lift tickets. Following a corporate restructure both resorts now operate independently.

No matter, Silver Star shines all on its own.

The resort is smaller than its former sibling with accommodation for 5500 across a variety of ski-in, ski-out options - from hotels to larger style vacation homes (popular with Australians on longer stays) and luxury condos.

It's possibly every youngster's animated-Disney dream to live in a town painted a rainbow of primary colours and that's just what we found here. The fact that the central village is modelled on a 19th century mining town will also appeal to kids.

Beyond the Discovery Park's magic carpets, Silver Star's 12 lifts access a total of 115 marked runs catering for all levels of skier across 1240 skiable hectares (including a terrain park).

While Big White is renowned for its glade skiing, Silver Star is particularly legendary for its steep groomers and advanced-only terrain on the 'backside' of the mountain leading down to Putnam Creek.

Off skis, the super-fast snow tube park gets the thumbs up from us as does the skating/hockey rink (in between hot chocolate stops).

"It's a frozen pond mum, with real fish and everything!"

Miss (then) Six rated the snowmobile track the real highlight of her visit.

I had other ideas. In summer, the surrounding meadows and forest trails attract hikers and bikers, but when you're waist deep in snow, snowshoes are the best way to get around the back country. Let Outdoor Discoveries' naturalist, Roseanne Van Ee, be your guide. It's a great way to learn a little more about the mountain's equally colourful past (her hot apple cider isn't bad either).

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