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British Columbia

Ski mountains gear up to attract families

By JACK CHRISTIE

It stands to reason that families that play together stay together. And what better way to

bond with your loved ones than carving tracks on British Columbia's slopes, especially when snow sport resorts across the province are offering new lifts, new runs and new ways to learn to glide side-by-side.

Top of the list: skiers and snowboarders at Rossland's RED Mountain Resort get a new peak-sized place to slack off, a vocation that particularly suits locals who gravitate to un-groomed backcountry terrain. What's in it for families? Everyone earns slope cred by being among the first to explore the new lift-serviced runs on Grey Mountain, where a 997-acre terrain expansion with 360-degree summit descents vault RED into the big leagues while still retaining its small town intimacy. Grey joins sister peaks Red and Granite mountains in featuring naturally gladed forest runs paired with gently sloped groomers, a complete all-ages experience at a resort whose pedigree dates back to the 1890s.

As RED Mountain Resort unveils its new quad chairlift and expanded mountain playground, Whistler Blackcomb, always on the leading edge, adds two new lifts to its already impressive inventory. The first, dubbed the Harmony 6 Express, is a six-pack chairlift on Whistler Mountain — a new addition that will service terrain spanning the edge of Symphony Bowl all the way over to Glacier Bowl, increasing skier capacity by a mind-blowing 50 percent. Over on Blackcomb Mountain, the new Crystal Ridge Express high-speed quad, which now originates 518 feet lower than the previous chair, will dramatically transform the skiing and riding experience by ensuring easier access to many Crystal Zone trails. The best part: both are guaranteed to offer families and friends a truly elevating alpine experience.

Ever skied or snowboarded with your kids in a terrain park? These man-made playgrounds are designed to amp up the fun factor for adventurers of all ages, thanks to a host of heart-thumping jumps and sliders. Two cozy Okanagan destinations — Silver Star Mountain Resort and Apex Mountain Resort — pride themselves as terrain park innovators. From gentle inclines to expert-rated zones, each mountain presents a blend of natural and constructed challenges where skiers and riders can try out slopestyle techniques while learning the new language of tabletops, rails, spines and step ups. Bonus: Silver Star's My 1 Pass offers all-inclusive access to skiing and riding terrain plus the resort's Nordic and snowshoe trails, Tube Town Adventure Park and ice skating in the great outdoors at Brewer's Pond.

Slopestyle fun dovetails naturally with slopeside soaking; once snow sliding ends on the mountain, it's time to relax sore muscles. At Panorama Mountain Village, this rejuvenation has been artfully refined (think: off with the boots and into the resort's welcoming hot pools). One reason to hop back out? Night skiing, of course. You'll find extra incentive this winter, too, as a $400,000 snowmaking expansion ensures early-season coverage in the learner's area adjacent the pools. Blending hot and cold good times doesn't come much easier than this.

Easy is how they do things at Big White Ski Resort, an Okanagan Valley gem that enjoys a well-earned reputation as a carefree, car-free, ski in/ski out resort. For families with pre-schoolers, the on-mountain daycare and activities centre anchors a convenient drop-off and pick-up location just steps away from chairlifts. And if you really want to make your time on the slopes a bonding experience, the Mom, Dad and Me ski program is ideal for young children ages three to six eager for their first taste of skiing; this two-hour, child-and-parent lesson introduces little rippers to snow sports, while at the same time equipping parents with tips on how to teach children the basics through games and entertaining contests.

When it comes to basics, if Mom's technique needs a boost, try Sun Peaks Resort's Ski Sisters program, taught by women for women in intimate, four-person groups. This season, Sun Peaks also presents two new multi-day sessions for the whole gang: the Family Race Camp enhances skills within a safe learning environment while the Off-Piste Camp guides skiers and snowboarders beyond the groomed runs to improve turns on steeps, glades, powder and moguls; for the latter, coaches blend technical instruction with local knowledge to develop all-mountain skills. The result? Increased confidence means everyone's free skiing talents are sure to soar to new heights.

To cover even more ground, climb in the car and head east along the province's famed Powder Highway, a Kootenay Rockies cruise that boasts more resorts, backcountry helicopter, snowcat and touring operators than any other region in the world. Make your way to Golden, where Kicking Horse Mountain Resort, known for having some of the most progressive in-bounds skiing in North America, enhances the beginner experience, starting with an easily accessed green slope aside the main plaza — complete with a mellow Magic Carpet lift. This winter, Kicking Horse adds an expansive new family-skiing zone — the Pony on Lower Mountain — groomed to perfection with panoramic views of the Rocky Mountains and equipped with its own quad chairlift.

If steeper and deeper runs are in order, book into Revelstoke Mountain Resort's newly completed slopeside village (hint: an overnight at the Sutton Place Hotel promises true ski-in/ski-out luxury). Situated at the base of the longest vertical descent in North America, the resort's cozy stroll features a variety of dining options, an organic bistro bakery, a retail sports shop and the unique Revelstoke Outdoors Centre, the hub for heli-skiing, backcountry programs, cat-skiing and lessons. Amid all this activity sits RMR's child-care facilities where parents can enroll youngsters for lessons and activities. As a bonus, this winter Revelstoke Mountain Resort offers free passes to those skiing or riding with children aged five and under.

On an ideal winter holiday, every day should be blessed with bluebird skies. Take note: Kimberley Alpine Resort receives more sunshine than any other BC resort. And the fun doesn't end at dusk. Kimberley is home to one of North America's longest illuminated runs, making it a moonlight favourite. For those just catching on to skiing and snowboarding's lifelong attraction, this season the trail crew at Kimberley unveils an easy way down from the top of Northstar Chair on Alpine Slide — the resort's new green link with lower mountain runs.

A snowball's throw from Kimberley sits Fernie Alpine Resort, a destination so massive that it can be all things to all people. One look at Fernie's expansive terrain spread across five snow-packed bowls is enough to realize that it will take a few runs to get oriented, let alone familiarized atop the resort's skyraking Polar Peak. Be sure to sign on for a complimentary mountain tour led by knowledgeable locals; come day's end, après-ski leisure activities include kids-only evening programs complete with free popcorn. Tip: gather the gang for March spring break — one of the best times to enjoy a family vacation at this Canadian Rocky Mountain hot spot — when the resort revels in Fernie's Family Fun Event, featuring on-hill action and a host of free fun in the plaza for the little ones.

When it comes to cool, Whitewater Ski Resort is a mountain kingdom in a world of its own. Long renowned as much for its cooking as for waist-deep powder snow, Whitewater has literally taken the food truck trend to higher ground by being the first ski resort to bring this tasty dining option to the mountains. New this season, families stopping at the Fresh Tracks Café Express's home at the base of the Glory Chair on the backside of the mountain will enjoy an indoor heated dining area and full washroom facilities.

No one does backsides better than Mount Washington Alpine Resort. Exhibit A: the unique Boomerang quad chairlift that services both the Gold Rush Glades on the front side and the appropriately named Outback zone on the mountain's back forty. Which side families choose depends on their confidence level. Not feeling adventurous? Practice your turns together on even more terrain, thanks to this season's expansion of the resort's Easy Acres beginner's area, complete with a total of five Magic Carpet lifts spread across six impeccably groomed wide runs. Kids can also take advantage of the latest full-day snow school option, a new Slide and Glide program that includes a ski or snowboard lesson in the morning, plus an afternoon of supervised sliding in the Tube Park. As an added touch, lunch is included so parents can treat themselves to some well-deserved one-on-one play time of their own.

For details on ski deals, live snow conditions and travel information on BC's winter resorts, visit www.SkiItToBelieveIt.com . For more on British Columbia's destinations and travel information, visit www.HelloBC.com.

Photos, from top: Skiing at Sun Peaks Resort (courtesy Sun Peaks Resort, Adam Stein); Family at Silver Star Mt. Resort (courtesy Don Weixl)

OTHER DESTINATIONS: If you're looking for other Northwest travel ideas, be sure to check out other Northwest Travel Advisor articles on Salish Lodge, Skitchine Lodge, Lake Chelan and the Rocky Mountaineer.





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