With its lush landscape and serine lake dotted with cottages and boat ports, the Okanagan Valley is almost perfectly contrasted with the stark mountains that rise around it. High up into the surreal rocky and snow covered terrain, about an hour drive from Kelowna is the Big White Ski Resort—a destination that proudly boasts itself as "Canada's Favourite Family Resort." A lofty declaration considering the number of ski resorts the province alone contains. As wallets have tightened over the last several years, there is fierce competition for vacation dollars. Resorts advertising themselves as family-friendly need to do a lot more than just pay lip service to your family's needs—they need to ensure that they can cater to the requirements of visitors in every age range while providing value that mom & dad can appreciate. So how does Big White measure up?
With the Okanagan Valley visible far below Big White's base village, it is almost ideally located to ensure perfect ski conditions throughout the winter months. The basin below provides perfect conditions for great powder snow, clear blue skies and minimal risk of plunging temperatures. While Big White can occasionally succumb to foggy conditions, it is truly an ideal location to ensure a weather-cooperative ski vacation.
The ski runs bridge a broad range of skills, important when skiing with a family. The area immediately surrounding the village is perfectly suited for beginner skiers and offers everything needed from those strapping skis on for the first time to those who are still trying to build their confidence before heading out on the more challenging runs on the mountain itself. Where Big White really shines though is its ability to host the intermediate skier, with dozens of 'blue runs' that weave their way down its massive slopes. From just about every peak and ski lift there is a plethora of intermediate runs down the mountainside. The resort boasts nearly one hundred runs across 2,900 acres of skiing. For the advanced skier, the West side of the mountain, known as Gem Lake, offers some more advanced runs and challenges. For snowboarders there is a ski park on the mountain which includes a half pipe, jumps for all levels and a fairly gentle slalom course where your family can race down the hill and test their skills against one another.
While many resorts have recently opted for a fabricated European-village feel, Big White prides itself on its uniquely Canadian appeal. There are no mock-cobbled streets lined with Irish pubs, French patisseries or German chocolate shoppes. The village and its subtle combination of chalets and log buildings brings just the right amount of Canadian charm while avoiding the over-the-top sheen and glamour of the overhauled resorts Intrawest has been sprouting up of late.
Nearly all of the accommodations offer ski in/ski out ability and with 17,00 beds the resort offers a wide array of accommodation options. From multi-room units with bunkbeds in one of the many hotels to massive high-end chalets with stunning views of the mountain-side, the sky is truly the limit when it comes to the variables available on pricing, size and comfort. The staff are all so friendly, it's really one of the lasting impressions you'll take away with you. Everyone from the pimply kid shoveling snow from the base of the chair lift to the shuttle bus drivers will greet you with a warm smile and friendly hello.
You will not find a conglomerate restaurant anywhere at Big White. All of the restaurants are either run by the resort or local owners who lease the space directly from the resort. While there are higher end restaurants available if you are looking for a nice glass of wine, a steak dinner or an evening at the pub, the resort does not lack for family-friendly options. From pizzas, to hamburgers and bowls of pasta—nearly every restaurant has either child friendly selections or its own Kids' Menu available.
For those taking part in the Kids Centre activities, fresh kid-friendly meals are prepared on-site every day with a strict "nothing fried" policy. The Kids Centre is also happy to accommodate nearly any dietary requirement with enough advance notice.
If you've got members of your family who decide the ski hills are just not their thing, Big White has a ton of other stuff going on at just about any hour of the day. Climbing their one-of-a-kind ice tower, skating on their massive outdoor rink, or scooting around on their child-sized skidoos—there is no lack of programming available for your family.
If you fancy a nice night out with your significant other the kids can take part in an evening of fully-supervised tubing and dinner while you dine nearby. Almost every night of the week there is something going on in the village centre. From carnival night, to movie night and fireworks there is certainly no lack of entertainment options for your crew.
The Kid Centre
Big White's greatest strength is definitely its family oriented Kids Centre. Children aged 18 months to 5 years can spend half or full days in their Tot Town daycare where staff watch over the resorts youngest guests in a full-facility daycare. Areas designated for play-time, learning, napping and snacks make it feel like a fully functioning day care you'd find at home.
Across from the daycare those kids old enough to ski can sign up for full or half days in the Kids Centre. Skiers of all levels can sign up to go out with a ski instructor and improve on their skiing, or spend a day at the tubing park. The Kid Centre boasts its own kitchen, a rock climbing wall, art centre and more. A lot of families often opt to put their children in a half day ski program in the morning, and then join up with their kids for lunch and an afternoon on the slopes. The key to the Kids Centre is its breadth of options while still offering the best flexibility for your family.
Clearly, Big White does not take its family-friendly status lightly. There are an abundance of family activities, facilities and accommodations for families of any size. It doesn't take much time walking around the village to see just how much fun families can have at Big White, spending time together and making lasting memories. With direct flights into Kelowna from many locations throughout Canada, it is not difficult to see why it may indeed be Canada's favourite family resort.
Photo credits: Big White Ski Resorts & Shane Black
If you are looking for some great ways to keep your kids looking cool while keeping warm, check out this great post