From novice downhill slopes to back country cross-country and expert heli-skiing, the Canadian Rockies and surrounds suit every level of ski ability. Canada is an easy choice for ski families, with powder light snow, a long season, easy direct flights, and plenty of luxury accommodation choices. For those comparing costs, the U.S. dollar-Canadian dollar foreign exchange rate works out to be around 30% discount at the time of publication.
The Canadian Rocky ski areas cross both the provinces of Alberta and British Columbia. In Alberta, the main resorts are Marmot Basin, Lake Louise, Mt. Norquay, Nakiska, and Banff Sunshine Village. In British Columbia, the best resorts include Whistler Blackcomb, Sun Peaks, Big White, Fernie, Panorama, Kicking Horse, Kimberley, and Revelstoke.
When to go
Canadian ski season in the West starts well before the Christmas holidays and goes through early spring. Lake Louise opened November 8 this season and is currently scheduled to close May 8 (2017). Snow is light and powdery, although temperatures vary across the region. This year, Alberta saw extremely cold weather in January, dipping as low as -30C/-22F while in Whistler Blackcomb, lows only reached -8C/18F. Holiday weekends are often the busiest, including American Thanksgiving.
What to wear
It’s best to pack merino wool for under layers on the slopes and après ski is smart-casual in the lodges and restaurants. Canadian ski resorts are more relaxed than European resorts, but chic looks including Moncler, Dale of Norway, Descente, Spyder, Canadian Goose, and furs are popular. For fine dining, a necktie isn’t required, but bring along a suit jacket for men and pants skirts, or dresses for women.
How to get there
To reach most Alberta ski resorts, fly in direct to Calgary International Airport (YYC). From Calgary airport, take a rental car for a self-drive on well maintained freeways, straight to the mountains.
Vancouver airport (YVR) is on the West coast of British Columbia, and most major international destinations fly direct in and out of the hub. Vancouver is a beautiful coastal city and worthwhile to spend a few days there eating fantastic sushi and touring around. Whistler Blackcomb is a two-hour scenic drive north of Vancouver along the Sea-to-Sky corridor (Highway 99).
For families that prefer city comforts or a short stay, there are several ski resorts less than two hours drive, from Calgary or Vancouver. However for a true ski holiday, a day trip is not worth the effort and a stay on the mountain gives families more flexibility.
Where to stay and what to do
For families with discerning taste and an appreciation for gourmet food, fine wine, and five star service, the best ski resort options in Alberta and British Columbia are Banff, Lake Louise, and Whistler.
Banff is about 1.5 hours drive from Calgary. For exclusive services and amenities, the Fairmont Gold experience at the Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel is a hotel within the hotel, providing a separate VIP check-in on two separate floors. Guests are made to feel they are in a luxury boutique hotel with its own lounge and dining options.
For dinner in the hotel, 1888 Chop House and Samurai Sushi Bar are recommended. The town of Banff also has some wonderful restaurants, including The Bison and Saltlik. For a fine dining degustation experience, head to Eden Restaurant in the Rimrock Hotel. Banff has become a tourist town of postcards, fudge, and knick knacks, but the mountain setting is incredible and mountain sheep, moose, and bear sightings are regular.
For skiers, the hotel provides free shuttle services to the surrounding Banff ski hills. The current winter package (ending Sunday, April 30, 2017) starts at CAD$539 per night and includes parking, daily ski passes, breakfast, daily access to the spa, and all gratuities.
Down Highway 1, 56kms past Banff is Lake Louise (2 hours drive from Calgary). The more well known, Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise may sit on the lake with a superb view, but for a romantic and European gourmet experience is The Post Hotel & Spa. Designated a Relais & Châteaux property and family run by Swiss brothers, André and George Schwarz, The Post Hotel includes 60 rooms, 29 suites, and five cabins. Compared to 550 rooms at the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise, The Post Hotel has the charm and warm service that any well-traveled family would appreciate. Concierge services also arrange snowmobile tours, ice climbing, horse-drawn sleigh rides, and snowshoe hikes.
For wine lovers, The Post Hotel’s highly regarded wine cellar contains over 25,000 bottles with 2,200 labels and is recognized as one of the most impressive collections in the world. Every year since 2002, the Hotel has won the “Grand Award” from Wine Spectator Magazine, an honor held by fewer than 75 establishments worldwide.
Food is absolutely spectacular and a gourmand’s heaven. From a breakfast of perfectly poached eggs benedict, juicy cheese burgers in the pub on house-made brioche buns, cocktails by the fire, afternoon cakes and teas, gooey cheese fondue, and a full degustation winemaker’s dinner, guests of any age are fully spoiled.
Skiers are well looked after, with shuttles running back and forth to the Lake Louise resort all day. The front desk can also assist with daily ski passes, to save time for more turns on the hill. The après ski routine back at the hotel includes a tea service with house-made cakes and tarts, perhaps a steam sauna to ease the muscles, and swim in the indoor pool for the children. The 3,200 square foot full service spa, The Temple Lodge, is another treat not to miss. Suites that sleep four, with a whirlpool tub and fireplace, start at CAD$685 for the winter ski season.
For families looking for a more active ski holiday and bustling village, head to Whistler, BC, host of the 2010 winter Olympics and Paralympics, and #1 rated North American ski resort for 2017 (Ski Magazine). Whistler is a playground for the whole family, world-class skiing, full children’s programs, teenage activities, snow shoeing, zip lines, snow mobile tours, dog sledding, and cross country skiing. Top tier restaurants, shopping, and good coffee is everywhere in Whistler.
For a comfortable and effortless visit, book the family stay at The Four Seasons Resort and Residences Whistler, a luxury alpine resort with stunning mountain, valley, and forest views.
At The Four Seasons in Whistler, like all their properties, service is taken to a level where it’s anticipated and every single guest, including children, are made to feel special and well looked after. At every opportunity, staff demonstrate a passionate commitment to be respectful, generous, and deliver over and beyond expectations.
At check-in, other suite options are offered, in case of change of mind. At the ski concierge, attendants assist putting on ski boots, diverting potential toddler tantrum #1. At restaurants in the hotel, guests are provided the same wait staff over the stay. At the heated all-year-round outdoor pool and hot tubs, guests’ robes are placed in a warmer. And every day, there are multiple children’s activities, including s’mores making, scavenger hunts, weekend movie nights, so parents can have a date night, painting with the resident artist, and cuddles with the resident dog.
There are 178 guest rooms, 95 suites, and 37 residential units across the Four Seasons Whistler property. Currently on offer is the Family Ski Whistler package, which includes daily lift passes and buffet breakfast for two adults and two children 12 years of age or under. As with all guests, fitness classes, ski concierge, resort-village shuttle, daily wine reception, and internet access, are all included. A deluxe executive suite (850 sq.ft.) that sleeps two adults and two children on the winter package is currently priced at CAD$1062 per night on a four-night minimum stay.
Daily lift tickets vary across the resorts, for example, Lake Louise and Banff Sunshine are CAD$99 for adults while Whistler Blackcomb are CAD$139. Here are some tips to reduce those costs, which add up quickly when travelling with a family.
- Epic Pass holders that already use U.S. resorts including Vail, Breckenridge, and Park City also include five days of free ski for Whistler Blackcomb. Holiday restrictions apply.
- Before December 31st each year, there are frequent visitor cards on sale which provide free ski days and discounts on daily lift tickets. Skiing even two days pays off the cards. Purchases can be made online or in person at the resorts.
- Children of Canadian residents can ski for free on the Grade 4 & 5 SnowPass across Canada for up to three visits at each resort.
- Ski for only $25 in Canada, on a Never Ever Day, the ultimate beginners’ package for newcomers to skiing or snowboarding, providing everything–equipment rental, lift ticket, and a lesson.
- Note that while exchange rates on the Canadian dollar are favorable for international travelers, taxes vary significantly from Alberta with 5% vs. British Columbia with 12%
10 BEST VACATIONS FOR KIDS IN THE U.S.
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About Elizabeth Middleton
Elizabeth Middleton is a Calgary, Canada based luxury living writer with a degree in political science from Rutgers University. Adopted from Vietnam, she grew up near Baltimore and has lived in Italy, West Africa, Manhattan, and Australia. After more than 15 years in corporate marketing, she now spends her time freelance writing, blogging, and traveling the world with her Australian husband and their nine year-old daughter. Follow her on her blog, and on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and Instagram.
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