At age 32, I was fortunate to move to what I call the ultimate year-round destination – Kelowna, B.C., Canada (lake in the summer; ski hill in the winter). Despite my opinion on Kelowna though, sometimes the cold days and dark evenings of long Canadian winters can get depressing. But when you’ve got one of the best family ski resorts in Canada less than an hour from your doorstep, winters are a whole.lot.better.
Affectionately known as “Biggie” to locals, Big White Ski Resort is far from simply a mountain to ski at. It’s a full-fledged wintery world – like the inside of a snow globe on steroids.
Many different people with an array of accents (but mostly Australian) come to ski the legendary Canadian champagne powder, but they find much more. Especially if they have children. This place comes complete with a multitude of winter adventure activities, and world-class lodging and amenities. It’s no wonder Big White has received accolades from heavy hitters such as The Telegraph, MSN Travel, and Trip Advisor, and was named “Best Family Resort” in Canada by Ski Canada magazine.
Often when riding the chairlift with people from Australia, the U.S., or anyone else who flew thousands of miles to a place we get to go every weekend, I shake my head at how lucky I am. I can’t count the amount of positive comments I’ve heard on the quality of snow and resort overall. They’re not the only ones. Locals alike (especially my kids) love it so much.
Here are six reasons why Big White Ski Resort is one of the best family ski resorts in Canada:
1. It’s the perfect place to learn how to ski or snowboard
Kids five and under ski free at Big White. My kids are only three and five and can ski very well for their age, which I credit mainly to the excellent instructors at Biggie. There are multiple levels for every age and gentle terrain starting with what we call the “baby magic carpet” run (a conveyor belt that you stand on to be taken to the top). I’ll never forget my son Cohen’s first time skiing down this run at age two, yelling “LOOK AT ME EVERYBODY, I’M A BIG BOY NOW!!!” Now at age five, he’s had enough instruction and practice that he’s skiing black diamond runs.
The beginner area has two magic carpet runs and the gentle Plaza Chair is great for those who want to ease into it. I’ve seen children as young as 16 months at the baby magic carpet (probably why we named it that), and parents can easily walk up and run down beside their child. Next is the longer magic carpet, and once your little one is comfortable there, the Plaza Chair is a short vertical with green runs to build up their confidence.
The weather is ideal for learning due to the soft snow and mild temperatures compared to other places in Canada. My kids come back from lessons talking about “Silly Magnus” and the “animal games” they play on the chairlift. The instructors REALLY know how to make learning to ski fun, and they’re great with adults too. Big White also takes safety seriously and attaches a GPS tracker to your child’s leg. Afterwards you receive an email showing all the runs your child did on a map!
2. Seasoned skiers and snowboarders of all ages will love the terrain
For those who don’t need instruction, there is terrain for literally everyone spread over the 118 runs. From the TELUS Park (the terrain park that’s been ranked in the top parks in North America) and steep mogul runs, to gentle groomers and fantastic tree runs with deep powder, you won’t run out of spots to explore. On a clear day you’ll want your camera – the sky is extra blue up there, or maybe it’s the contrast with the stark white snow, but I can guarantee you’ll want to stop to snap photos of the magnificent scenery.
Skiers or snowboarders who love really steep runs (double black action) will want to head to the Cliff chair. The Ridge Rocket and Snow Ghost chairlifts (quad and six-person chairs right beside each other) have a wide variety of green, blue and black runs to choose from – faves include Perfection, Paradise, and Kangaroo. The Powder chair is awesome for a more advanced area with great powder (try the run called Surprise and duck in and out of the trees). The Black Forest chairlift is a favourite in our family, as it’s more sheltered if there’s wind or fog, and offers runs for all levels. Bears Paw and Whiskey Jack are our top picks, and if you like steep tree runs, try the Easter Chutes.
3. Winter-y outdoor activities abound
Okanagan champagne powder skiing isn’t the only reason Big White is one of the best family ski resorts in Canada. There is also a massive outdoor ice skating rink (the highest in Canada), dog sledding tours, an ice climbing wall, and snowmobile tours, even cute little snowmobiles for kids.
Then there’s the “Mega Snow Coaster Tube Park,” where you zoom down fast rolling snow tracks in a tube, only stopping abruptly at the bottom when you fly into piles of hay. It’s like waterslides but on snow; hold on to your companion’s tubes and ask for a huge spin from the attendant. Hours of winter fun I tell ya!
You can also rent snowshoes, join hay rides, drink hot chocolate by an outdoor fire, or simply stroll the village, ducking into restaurants or bars for a Caesar (the most Canadian of cocktails). With heaps of snow piled up everywhere, there’s ample opportunity for kids to sled all over the place, not to mention build snow forts, snowmen, or snow angels. Ask Nick how many times I’ve said, “Can you imagine if you flew into Kelowna, came straight to Big White and had never seen snow before?! You’d be shitting yourself!” (there’s that much).
4. There’s a great restaurant and bar scene
Big White is small enough to walk almost anywhere, but large enough to have a happenin’ restaurant and bar scene. There are 14 bars and restaurants, almost all with kids’ menus, from the slightly grungy (but fun) Snowshoe Sam’s, with live music every weekend and lots of drunken young Aussies, to fine dining options like the Kettle Valley Steakhouse and 6 Degrees Bistro.
There are no shortages of spots to enjoy your “apres ski” – a great pastime of mine. Nothing quite like a cold beer, cider, or Caesar after a day on the slopes, paired with some salty snacks. For the late-nighters, Sessions is your pub/nightclub option, which also has good food all day and its own brewery. Snowshoe Sam’s is your ski hill bar, complete with pool tables, live music, and nostalgic ski decor. The Woods is a terrific option for a cozy bite to eat or drink (best Caesars), and Globe Cafe & Tapas Bar features great coffee, breakfast, tapas, and evening events like live music and comedians.
5. Added touches and pluses for families
This is where Big White really steps it up a notch. There is somewhere to go or something to do indoors with kids IN ADDITION to all the outdoor activities above, almost every day of the ski season. The Moose Lounge in Happy Valley has live music every day from 4-6 p.m., and also offers different activities for families each night of the week – kids crafts, family games, trivia, and bingo. There’s a Family Carnival complete with games, free popcorn/cotton candy, and prizes at the Village Mall every Thursday and Saturday night. Then there’s the Saturday night grand finale – fireworks! GOOD ones!
Other added touches include special events throughout the winter, including Santa’s Workshop at Christmas (you can ski with Santa too – seriously – they’ve thought of everything), “Light up Big White” at the beginning of the season, “Big Reds at Big White” wine festival, and many more. All of this is accessible via foot or the gondola. And the many ski-in, ski-out accommodation options make popping in for lunch or a quick hot tub very easy with kids.
6. Moms and dads benefit
I can confidently recommend every child care option at Big White. I’ve tried them all – the ski school, the Tot Town Daycare, and Big White Sitters. When mom and dad come all this way, you NEED some time alone to ride the legendary powder sans kids. We love our kids, but we also love the option to ditch them for a few hours!
Once you’ve dropped off your kids, head to the Powder, Gem Lake, Falcon, or Cliff chairlifts for more advanced skiing/riding that you wouldn’t take young kids to. That’s when you’ll REALLY be glad you came. But then when you pick up your kids from lessons and they are SO EXCITED about how well they can ski, you’ll be even MORE glad you came!
If you’ve packed in so much winter fun that you require a relaxing break, check out Elevation Spa, Mountain Massage (excellent mobile massage) or the shops in the Village Mall.
The best family ski resort in Canada
I’ve only scratched the surface of why I think Big White is the best family ski resort in Canada, so here’s where I squeeze in a few more things. I didn’t go into detail on accommodation, but can assure you there’s a wide array of great options from hotel rooms to mansion chalets. Stonebridge Lodge is a top pick for its location, amenities, and mountain-feel.
I also didn’t talk much about Big White in the summer – it’s growing in popularity for downhill mountain biking, which I expect to become busier each year. The natural beauty of the area also deserves a nod, as it will also delight you and your kids. This comes in the form of “snow ghost” trees, gorgeous views of the valley, cloud blankets on bluebird days, and beautiful sunsets.
Another selling point is that Big White isn’t as busy as ski resorts like Whistler/Blackcomb, so you’ll have less time waiting in line with impatient kids and more time for turns!
Get ready to potentially ski the deepest snow you’ve every skied in! When your legs get tired, there is plenty to do around the village. Don’t forget to visit Bigwhite.com before you plan your trip to see what special events will be happening while you’re there.
WE LOVE BIG WHITE! AND WE HOPE YOU WILL TOO!
Looking for more on Canada? Check out my post on beautiful Tofino, British Columbia.