Family Time at Big White
Since I first practiced linking big, sloping turns on my original snowboard back in the '90s, I have loved Big White, the ski resort tucked an hour southeast of Kelowna between the Monashee Mountains and the Okanagan Valley.
The snow is dry, like berry sugar -- unequaled powder if you get it on the right day, but never a frozen sheet of ice if you don't. It's always a soft place to land. On the east side, the mountain has a lacy network of green and blue runs, twisting and dropping down the gentle grade. Even if you do suddenly find yourself at the top of some ferocious looking vertical, there's always a relatively easy green route that will lead you safely to the bottom. Plus, I was in my 20s -- I liked hitting Snowshoe Sam's for late-night fun with my pals.
When I met my future husband though, he wasn't quite as enamored. More skilled on his board than I, he likes steep, fast slopes and challenging terrain; and favored other resorts above it.
He has changed his tune now though, since our visit this season to Big White with our boys, aged seven and four. Without question, it was the best family trip we've taken yet. The four-year-old (who cried a bucketful of tears when it was time to leave) is plotting his upcoming education so he can grow up to be a ski instructor at Big White; and as a family we are already planning our return in 2012, likely for Spring Break.
Herewith, our top 10 reasons why we think Big White is an ideal family getaway.
1. The snow. It bears repeating: This fluffy stuff is nothing like our heavy wet coast concrete. It's fun to learn on, and even more fun to challenge yourself with once you gain some skills. Glades at Big White offer the perfect amount of space between trees, the west side of the mountain has lots of "steep and deep," and a noticeable dearth of lift line-ups makes it a worthy destination for any level of skier or rider.
2. Ski-in/ski-out accommodation. Since buying the resort in 1986, the Schumann family of Australia has made good on their vision to create a family-friendly ski-in/ski-out resort. Our own suite at Stonebridge Lodge gave us a slope-side view of green run Easy Street -- and a quick schuss to the Village Centre -- while our balcony hot tub was tucked away on a more private side of the building. Though we could see the lodge's swimming pool from our living room, we never had a chance to use it . . . there was just too much to try and fit into our three-day visit. Next year we're staying longer.
3. Ski school. Over lunch, Josh Foster, director of Snowsports at the Kid's Centre in the Village, explained that when hiring instructors he looks for ski and snowboard pros who genuinely love kids. It shows. Past experiences with all-day ski schools have been hit-and-miss for our family -- there's nothing worse for a child than being stuck with teacher who is "putting in their time" with the little kids to get plum coaching positions later. At Big White, both of our boys were eager and excited to get to their ski lessons in the morning, and both improved one to two levels during our trip.
4. The staff. Hiring throughout the resort seems to be exceptionally well-considered. From Guest Services to restaurant servers and pizza delivery staff, the largely Australian contingent is friendly, knowledgeable and helpful.
5. The ice rink. My seven-year-old might rate this No. 1. For a hockey-mad kid who has only skated on indoor rinks, the massive ice surface at Big White was a dream come true. He'll likely never forget his first night on it, when he had the rink almost entirely to himself for fast laps and shooting practice with his dad for close to two hours.
6. Mega Snow Coaster, Mini Z Snowmobiles, Ice Climbing Tower. There is no getting bored at Big White. The Club Penguin-sponsored tube park is one of the best we've screamed down, with slow lanes that allow group sliding, and super fast lanes that don't. Kids' snowmobiles offer a safe and entertaining circuit for kids to cruise around, and the ice tower -- though we were too chicken to try it -- is an impressive addition for more adventurous types.
7. The Happy Valley Gondola. The bright yellow cable cars that ferry passengers from the Village Centre down to the Happy Valley Day Lodge were an attraction in themselves. Our youngest son let out a whoop every time he learned we would take another ride on it.
8. Nightly family events. On the off-chance that aprés, or simply relaxing in a hot tub after a day on the hill won't be enough for your brood, the resort has lots to keep you busy. Check out Carnival Night in the Village Centre Mall, the weekly talent show in the Happy Valley Day Lodge, or if you haven't had enough time on the hill, get back up in the largest night skiing area in Western Canada. Here's a tip: On Friday nights it's just $5.
9. The After Dark Program. If you need kid-free time, the Kids' Centre evening programs let parents get out to a restaurant or lounge. Supervised programming includes: dinner and tubing at the Mega Snow Coaster; hot chocolate and skating; and, dinner and activities night with board games and movies. "We try to make it easy for parents too," explained Blair Ireland, director of guest services.
10. Good eats. From hot chocolate and waffles by the ice rink to winemaker's dinners at the Kettle Valley Steakhouse, there's no shortage of ways to fuel up.
Kids ski and stay free at Big White during Spring Break. Get more information at www.bigwhite.com.
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By Deana Lancaster, North Shore News March 9, 2011 10:23 AM
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