Canada can work out to be a great option if you want to ski with your kids. The Australian ski fields may be nearer, but if you compare transport and accommodation costs, ski hire, lift tickets, childcare and skiing lessons, a snow holiday in Canada may work out to be similar in price – even after the cost of long–haul flights is taken into account.
What’s more, you get to ski when it’s summer in Australia, and the scenery is even more magical than back home.
The Canadian resort of the moment is little–known Fernie, located in the beautiful Kootenay Rockies, just a 3 hour drive from Calgary. You can fly to Calgary on Air Canada from Los Angeles – and have the added bonus of taking in Disneyland during the off–season en route – or you may want to spend some time in San Francisco, where the kids will love the old tram cars and the sea lions down at Fisherman’s Wharf.
Fernie itself is known for its amazing ‘powder snow’ and with a season extending from early November to early April you will rarely see crowds on the ski slopes. With an annual average snowfall of around 8.75 m, or 29 ft, you won’t be short of the white stuff even at the end of the season.
While Fernie offers some extreme skiing conditions, and some very challenging green and blue runs (you might be surprised by the classification of runs when compared to Australia) there are also plenty of opportunities for beginners among the resort’s 107 designated trails.
Fernie also offers that wonderful add–on to the perfect winter vacation: the chance to ski in and ski out of your own front door. Otherwise there are plenty of relatively inexpensive options a short drive down the hill in the town of Fernie itself.
One of the most welcoming things about Fernie though, especially if you’re travelling with very young children, is the Kids’ Childcare centre, located beside a fenced–in ‘magic carpet’ run, where the littlies can learn to ski.
The centre looks after children from zero to seven, from 8:30am to 4:30pm daily. Rates come in at around C$56 a day for kids under 18 months old and C$39 a day for older children, and with the Canadian dollar almost on par with the Australian dollar, it works out quite cheaply. There are also half–day rates, hourly rates, and special multi–hour tickets that work out even cheaper and are perfect if you have more than one child.
The childcare centre also offers a full ski programme, starting off with gentle rides on the magic carpet, and more advanced lessons as children improve. An hour’s lesson on the magic carpet for a toddler costs around C$20, while a half–day of lessons including ski hire and lift tickets for an older child costs around C$60. That’s great value.
With the kids sorted out you have plenty of time to refresh your own skiing prowess, and when you want a break there are some good on–slope restaurants where you can buy snacks, drinks and meals at prices that won’t burn a hole in your wallet.
As for adult lift tickets, a full day on the slopes will cost C$60, which compares well to Perisher Blue or Thredbo, where a daily lift ticket is nudging $90.
An added bonus of skiing at Fernie is its close proximity to another emerging ski resort – Kimberley Alpine Resort. Kimberley, a Bavarian–styled resort, is renowned for long cruising runs, and offers fabulous family skiing. A three–day or multi–day pass allows you to ski at both Fernie and Kimberley.
Want more? Well, apart from skiing and boarding, you have plenty of other options available at Fernie too, including snowshoeing, dog–sled and back–country tours, sleigh rides, snowmobile tours and even ice fishing.
Another Canadian ski resort well worth making the journey for is Big White, Canada’s largest ski–in/ski–out resort.
Located in the Okanagan region in the interior of British Columbia, Big White is British Columbia’s highest winter village and, with an annual snowfall averaging more than 7.5 m, or 24.5 ft, it offers truly spectacular skiing whether you’re a beginner or an expert skier.
Like Fernie, it’s famous for its ‘champagne powder’ snow and spectacular mountaintop views across valleys and slopes packed with pine trees.
With similar rates to those at Fernie, the Big White Kids’ Centre is the ultimate playground for tots from 18 months through to teenagers. It’s so good that Ski Canada magazine rated it as the ‘Best Resort Feature for Kids in Canada’ and the UK’s Daily Mail newspaper marked it out as one of the top five kids’ ski centres in the world. Nearby there’s even a mini snow–mobiling track.
Again, there are plenty of learn–to–ski programmes to keep your children happy and occupied. Highly–trained staff can even take your kids out to the $2.5 million TELUS Terrain Park, which opened in the 2004/2005 season. It’s a purpose–built skiing and snowboarding fantasyland, where everyone from children to Olympic–calibre athletes can test themselves on a range of terrains, from simple slopes to a huge World Cup–standard Super Pipe. The area is lit for night sessions too.
Two more excellent family Canadian ski resorts are Silver Star and Sun Peaks. Silver Star Mountain Resort is located at the north end of Lake Okanangan, 20 minutes from the township of Vernon and 90 minutes from Kelowna International Airport. It features streets full of colourful wooden Victorian–style buildings and boasts two distinct ski areas, with 110 runs, ranging from sweeps of powder to double black diamonds. What’s more, skiers and snowboarders will have over 400 acres of new skiable terrain to explore next season, all serviced by a new high–speed quad lift.
Silver Star also offers exceptional Nordic skiing, and many Olympians choose to train on the resort’s 60 km of immaculately groomed trails. The mountain is also highly rated for family skiing, and as well as the usual lessons, there’s Tube Town. Here, a tube lift allows you to make run after run without hiking back up the hill with your truck–size tube sled.
A SnowCross course offers family funtoo, as does a Terrain Park, where there are plenty of table tops, step–up jumps and spines to satisfy cravings for trick riding. Children from zero to six can also enjoy the Star Kids Daycare Centre, which offers a ‘magic carpet’ and ski lessons with friendly instructors.
Then there’s Sun Peaks Resort, a 45–minute drive north of Kamloops. This impressive European–style ski–in/ski–out village offers 117 runs and lots of kids’ activities. There are some superb learning trails here, and a gentle 8 km top–to–bottom green run suitable for those with a few hours of skiing experience.
Family events come and go throughout winter, including a Kids’ Winter Bonfire & Twilight Toboggan, a Family Casino Night and a Mid–Mountain Dinner & Torchlight Descent. All season long, kids can jump aboard a giant grooming machine on its 45–minute run, try out a mini snowmobile, go ice–skating at the open air rink, or ride down the mountain at the Tube Park.
And with the kids fully occupied (even if it’s just painting snow–and–pine pictures at the kids’ centre), you can pamper yourself with a soothing massage at the resort’s luxurious day spa. Now that’s what a family skiing holiday should really be about!