After a dismal 2022 winter season at Ruapehu and a couple of significant milestones, we decided to pull out the big guns and tick off a bucket-list dream. The plush snowy mountains of British Columbia were calling.
Our requisites were ski-in, ski-out family resorts with plenty of runs to suit our various abilities. We decided to holiday at Big White in Kelowna, and Sun Peaks in Kamloops, both regarded as British Columbia’s leading family ski destinations.
Flying direct Auckland to Vancouver on a 14-hour evening flight was easy with kids, and we arrived midday on a Saturday after a pretty decent block of sleep.
Excitedly we arrived to lashings of snowflakes and piles of snow outside. Cue snowball fight with the kids, before a planned visit to the Science Center, and a trip to the MEC, an outdoor store similar to Kathmandu.
Big White Ski Resort
Rested and ready for mountain adventures, we caught our Air Canada flight to Kelowna, for eight days of skiing at Big White (bigwhite.com). This ski resort is built upon the traditional lands of the Sylix people of Okanagan and is based around a village with eateries, grocery and ski stores and dozens of condos and apartments.
Driving up the mountain, banked by trees covered in heaving layers of thick snow was nothing short of magical.
The excitement levels were at an all-time peak, as we took in the views of the snow-capped mountains. Big White has it all, with 25 kilometres of incredible trails for cross-country skiing and snowshoeing, a vertical drop of 777 metres, 119 designated ski runs, 3052 hectares of resort area, and patrolled night skiing. The ski school offers 100 instructors and complimentary ski tours twice a day.
Our shuttle dropped us off at our ski-in, ski-out condo in the Sundance Resort building. It was perfect, with a generous two-bedroom unit including a full kitchen, two bathrooms with heated tile flooring, and dining and lounge areas. A heated swimming pool and spa, games room and movie room were also available for guests to enjoy.
Heading to the village we got our ski passes sorted and hire skis and boots fitted, where the staff were incredibly friendly and helpful, and surprisingly, mostly Australian and Kiwi uni students.
We skied straight down to our lessons from our locker room; my youngest got settled into ski school well (with Kiwi instructors), knowing I would meet her for lunch.
My instructor Linda was a straight-shooting, athletic woman in her mid-60s. Inspiringly, she learnt to ski at 56 and now works as a ski instructor part-time. If Linda could nail it at 56, I could learn at 40.
Our first day of skiing was absolutely epic, I was grinning ear to ear and full of gratitude and amazement at the ridiculous expanse of slopes to ride and the ease of riding in fresh powder. For a beginner, you couldn’t pick a better location to learn and later, progress and be challenged.
By lunchtime, thighs were shaking and we were ready to meet up with hubby and kids. My husband and son had joined the daily, free guided ski tours which ended up being an incredible way to explore blue and black runs with expert passionate skiers.
After lunch, we were off to ski together as a family – loads of fun seeing the kids hoon down the mountain, dart between trees, and laugh and hoot.
For the next seven days, our daily routine consisted of boys and girls splitting off to have lessons or tours, and meeting up for lunch, followed by a full afternoon of skiing. Then, exhausted but happy, we would head home for a hot chocolate together and either cook a meal to enjoy at home in front of the fire, or venture into the village for a pub meal.
On our last evening at Big White, we ventured down to Happy Valley, to spend a few hours tubing. With five specially-groomed lanes which are seriously long, I haven’t screamed and laughed so much in so long. Every Saturday night, Big White hosts an impressive fireworks show at Happy Valley, an extravagant spectacle that can be viewed from anywhere at the resort.
Sun Peaks Resort
With an amazing week at Big White at an end, we packed up and caught a shuttle back to the airport, where we had hired a rental car to drive two hours to Kamloops, the home of Sun Peaks ski resort (sunpeaksresort.com).
Sun Peaks boasts Canada’s second-largest ski area with 1278ha of skiable terrain over three mountains: Tod Mountain, Sundance Mountain, and Mt Morrisey. The resort has 13 lifts run by hydropowered electricity, covering 137 runs, including 19 glade areas and 40km of cross-country trails.
From every chair there are beginner to advanced runs, meaning we could happily ski as a family. The resort has over 1100 places to stay from condos to townhouses, hotels, chalets and suites to choose from. Sun Peaks was built on the ancestral and unceded territory of the Secwépemc Peoples, traditionally known as Skwelkwek’welt.
We were staying at Stone’s Throw, a fully equipped two-bedroom house with gas fireplace, two bathrooms, full kitchen, lounge and dining, and …. a heated spa on our deck, surrounded by piles of thick lush snow and views of snow-covered pine trees. Dreamy.
Again, the accommodation was ski-in, ski-out, close to the new Orient chairlift and the cutesy Umbrella Cafe which served fresh cinnamon scrolls.
After a day off to catch our breath, we were ready to ski. As per the Big White experience, my daughter and I dedicated our mornings to ski lessons for the first few days, while the boys joined the free ski tours where they explored the full extent of the mountains.
Investing in lessons is something I cannot recommend enough – it gives you dedicated time to work on skill development under the careful watch of an expert while being challenged.
After lunch together, the boys showed us their favourite runs. Then it was dinner at home or out at one of many family restaurants on the mountain. The dream life.
Our kids were desperate to experience dog-sledding. Mountain Man Dog Sled Adventures (mountainmanadventures.ca) is owned and operated by Chris and Taryn Schwanke, with exhilarating tours through the Sun Peaks backcountry on private trails with husky dogs that absolutely love to run. The clincher: cuddling newborn puppies on return to their base, the most adorable friendly pups.
Our incredible winter holiday had come to an end. We’d had 15 amazing days of skiing at two dreamy resorts, which both nailed the ultimate in family ski resort vibes; epic snow conditions, varying ski runs, amazing village atmosphere, friendly staff, and excellent accommodation.
The kids had obvious ski goggle tan marks, the sure sign of a good ski holiday. All good things come to an end and within a day of arriving home, I came down with Covid. But was it worth it? Yes, it was! Our savings account is now drained but we will absolutely be saving for another trip back as soon as we can.
Carbon footprint: Flying generates carbon emissions. To reduce your impact, consider other ways of travelling, amalgamate your trips, and when you need to fly, consider offsetting emissions.
The writer and her family were hosted by Destination British Columbia.