Years ago, when our two children were little, we took them to a small British Columbia ski resort to introduce them to cross-country skiing and have a weekend of snow fun. We had such a good time, it became an annual tradition. Now that the kids are older, they prefer alpine skiing on big slopes, so we’ve upgraded the size of the resorts we visit, but heading to British Columbia is still an annual event for our family.
British Columbia’s resorts offer outstanding skiing, and they know how to do the family scene just right. Best known, of course, is Whistler (nearly twice the size of Vail), with its unparalleled skiing and big, busy ski village. But while it may be the perfect getaway for your family (see below for budget tips), our Bellingham family prefers the smaller, less crowded resorts, even if it means driving a bit farther. Here are three to try this winter.
1. Manning Park Resort
Small, sweet and close
During my kids’ elementary school years, Manning Park Resort — just 4. 5 hours from Seattle — was our destination of choice because of its compact size, remote setting and low-tech activities. With no resort village or nearby town, the kids spent their days skiing and then meeting buddies to sled by starlight, throw snowballs, play pickup games of hockey on the outdoor ice rink and splash around the indoor pool.
Manning is a self-contained resort surrounded by conifers and snowy slopes midway between the towns of Hope and Princeton, in E.C. Manning Provincial Park. It accommodates 450 guests in its Northwest-themed lodge, cabins and chalets, and also offers one restaurant, a pub and a tiny convenience store. Kids love the resort’s spacious indoor pool, free for guests, while parents tend to congregate in the hot tubs. What Manning doesn’t offer in glitz, it makes up for in old-fashioned family connection. No cell-phone coverage here, so you’re off the grid.
Nordic skiers and snowshoers have more than 30 kilometers of scenic, woodsy trails outside the lodge door. Manning’s downhill area, Gibson Hill, is just six miles away (take your own car or the free lodge shuttle). Never crowded, Gibson features tobogganing, tubing, four lifts and more than 30 runs, about half of them green or blue and half black diamond. As a novice alpine skier, I found the green runs a little steep, but my kids handled them just fine.
Lift passes are relatively cheap (CAN$33–$53, free for 6 and younger). However, holiday weekends book up and Manning’s cabins are popular, so try an off weekend for more options. (All prices are quoted in Canadian dollars unless noted otherwise.)
Budget tips: Cabins have kitchens, but when we stay in the lodge, we bring microwavable food to save on restaurant meals (the lodge’s spacious “mini suite” has a sink, table and chairs). Pick up fruit and veggies in Hope (45 minutes away) before arriving, and bring the rest from home to avoid Canadian prices.
Photo credit: Chris Barker
2. Sun Peaks
Cozy village, big skiing
Forty-five minutes north of Kamloops in British Columbia’s interior, Sun Peaks Resort nestles at the foot of three mountains between the Coast and Rocky mountain ranges. It is British Columbia’s second-largest resort behind Whistler, but its intimate European-style, ski-through village is a fraction of the size, just big enough for tweens to have fun without being overwhelmed. We felt comfortable letting our 12-year-old and his friend explore on their own.
Sun Peaks’ mountains surround the village in a 360-degree layout of 11 lifts and 124 long runs. My husband and daughter couldn’t get over the long runs and reliable snow. Notably good for beginner and intermediate skiers (I loved being a novice here), Sun Peaks also offers plenty of black diamond terrain, and Nordic and snowshoe aficionados have 30 kilometers of scenic cross-country ski trails.
Other resort fun includes a tube park, terrain park, bungee trampoline, ice skating, snowmobile tours, horse-drawn sleigh rides and dogsled tours, as well as all kinds of lesson programs and day care. An outdoor heated pool in the village will appeal to younger kids, but my kids preferred our condo’s hot tub.
Lift passes are CAN$43–$86, free for 5 and younger, with discounts for multi-day stays. Accommodations include hotel rooms (in the village), and chalet-style condos and houses — many with hot tubs — about a 10-minute walk from the village center. Drive time from Seattle is five-and-a-half hours via the Sumas/Abbotsford border crossing.
Budget tips: Look for deals, such as four days’ accommodations and skiing for the price of three over Presidents Day weekend or spring break. There is a 10 percent discount on multiday ski passes with accommodations. Shop in Kamloops before arriving to avoid steeper grocery prices in the village. Also, season passholders to Mission Ridge receive 25 percent off lift tickets at Sun Peaks
Photo credit: Sun Peaks/Kelly Funk
3. Silver Star
Champagne powder and charm
Located 12 miles northeast of Vernon in the Okanagan Valley, Silver Star is the farthest away of the three resorts, but well worth the trip if you have a few days off. Its small ski-through village doesn’t nestle like Sun Peaks but is perched halfway up Silver Star Mountain, with ski runs above and below. Themed after a 1900s mining town, the resort’s colorful Victorian-style hotels, shops, restaurants and twinkly lights give the village a quaint storybook feel.
And then there’s the skiing. Famous for its dry, light “champagne” powder, Silver Star offers big skiing for all skill levels, with more than 3,000 acres, 12 lifts and 115 runs on one mountain with three distinct faces. Its renowned “dark side” offers 50 black and double-black runs for adrenaline junkies. The resort offers lesson programs, day care and a new beginner area called The Zone.
Also known for superb Nordic trails (voted no. 1 by the U.S. Ski Team), Silver Star features 55 kilometers of trails, or 105 kilometers if you also ski the nearby Sovereign Lake area — Winthrop folks love the Nordic skiing here. New in 2013 was My1Pass, an alpine ski pass that includes ice skating, tubing, snowshoeing and Nordic skiing. Sleigh rides, snowmobiling and bonfire nights are among the other options for winter fun.
Lift passes cost CAN$45–$85, free for 5 and younger. Accommodation options are similar to those of Sun Peaks. Drive time is six-and-a-half hours via the Sumas/Abbotsford border crossing.
Budget tips: Look for last-minute February deals and mid-February Family Day (a national holiday in Canada) specials at Silver Stars deals page. You can ski for free during the last week of the season with purchased accommodations (April 1–6).
Photo credit: Tourism BC/Don Weixl
Whistler on a budget
Whistler’s internationally renowned skiing is tops, two new lifts are opening this winter, and it’s only a four-hour drive from the Seattle area. But it's also one of the priciest ski areas in B.C.
Here are a few ways to keep costs down:
• The Edge Card offers discounted lift passes, rentals, shopping and lodging for Washington and B.C. residents ages 7 to adult. Pre-purchase 1, 3, 5 or 10 lift tickets and add tickets through the season for discounted rates. Call 800-766-0449 or see whistlerblackcomb.com.
• Check whistlerblackcomb.com for packages and deals, including Family Day (in Feb.) and end-of-season deals.
• Book a Lodging & Ski package for savings on multiple nights and great family deals: Kids ages 12 and younger stay, ski and rent free all season long when reservations are made through whistler.com (two-night minimum required).
• Discover Whistler Days offers kids’ lesson packages at a 25 percent discount. whistler.com/kids_programs
• To avoid the village bustle, try Creekside for accommodations, just seven kilometers south — not necessarily cheaper, but more relaxed.