A skiing trip with his young son and mother seemed like a great idea, but as the departure date loomed, Patrick Thorne began to have doubts
Over the 25 years I have worked as a ski writer, I’ve visited hundreds of ski resorts in dozens of countries, often accompanied by my wife Sally and our three sons, Sam, Alexander and Robert. I’ve stayed in everything from tents pitched on snow to eight-room presidential suites.
But I had still not visited Western Canada, so last December I leapt at the opportunity to take a road trip round three ski areas in British Columbia, Canada: Big White, Silver Star and Sun Peaks. An interesting twist for me this time, though, was that I’d be travelling with my son Robert, five, and my 75-year-old mother, Catherine. It sounded like fun, but as the date of the trip grew nearer, I became uncharacteristically nervous about how I was going to keep them both entertained.
Actually, I expected – and indeed got – the normal superb childcare facilities and positive attitude to children that’s the norm in North American resorts. And, funnily enough, it was not my young son who was the greater worry: it was my mother. When I agreed to the trip I’d subconsciously thought that she would be happy to sit around reading and spending her time looking after Robert whilst I, selfishly, spent the day on the slopes and the nights enjoying the après ski. Wrong. She expected to have a full-on, albeit non-skiing, holiday in her own right.
I had lined up three resorts for the trip, flying in to Kelowna via Calgary and driving up to Big White, then over to colourful Silver Star nearby and, finally, we would drive a few more hours to Sun Peaks before flying back from Kamloops. Kelowna is now being expanded to accept direct inter-continental flights from Britain – although Calgary turned out to be a great airport for children, full of life-size sculptures of animals, dinosaurs and spaceships hanging from the ceilings.
Our 48 hours at each resort involved a tough regime of skiing for me, ski school for Robert and pampering in
spas for my mother.
First stop, Big White. As Robbie worked his way up through the Ready Teddys and Jumping Joey levels in ski school and I raced around the vast Big White ski area, my mother was forced to undergo luxurious spa treatments in the Beyond Wrapture Day Spa in the boutique-style Chateau Big White hotel.
In the evenings, Big White had a good selection of lively bars and dining options that range from family-friendly to gourmet. There’s also the Happy Valley entertainment area at the base of the resort centre transit gondola, which contains what the resort claims is the “biggest tubing park in North America”, as well as a giant ice rink.
It was lively and fun, but Silver Star was marginally my favourite. Having seen so many big resorts, I’m a sucker for the quirky little places. With 112 trails, Silver Star can hardly be described as ‘little’, but ‘quirky’ might still be a fair description. The colourful Victorian storefronts and brightly painted mountain homes I’d seen in brochures lived up to my expectations. The resort’s main street is a ski run, and there’s a definite touch of Northern Exposure about it. This place has lots of character and, it quickly transpired, lots of characters running it.
We stayed in the new Snowbird Lodge, which is the epitome of fine slope-side accommodation with private hot tubs on the balcony and heated porcelain tiles in the bathrooms. The building also has excellent leisure facilities, including a snooker room, cinema and a great playroom, which Robert and I made good use of between 4am and 6am each morning as the jetlag woke us up.
On the mountain, the terrain was superb with something for everyone in the 3000 acres of runs. More importantly, the snack stop we enjoyed the most during the day was Bugaboo’s Bakery, with its wonderful cakes, coffee and friendly, efficient service. In the evenings, we had a choice of family-friendly dining and opted for Clementine’s Dining Room one night and a sleigh ride dinner the other.
Sun Peaks had been on my wish list for over a decade. I’d watched it grow from a small regional ski hill to the second largest ski area in British Columbia thanks to a $450m spend since 1993. We weren’t disappointed.
It is a truly world-class resort with a pedestrianised centre linked to all accommodation and the large ski area. It’s difficult to imagine getting tired of the great variety of ski runs, but there is plenty to do besides skiing – my mother particularly enjoyed the range of shopping, dining and her visit to yet another spa.
Robbie, in the meantime, visited the friendly and well equipped ski nursery, but was especially drawn to the local ice rink. He also loved the tubing followed by a ride on a sleigh so cool its runners turned to wheels whenever it hit a hard surface.
The shops and restaurants at Sun Peaks are also world-class, ranging from an eclectic mix of coffee and cakes in the village sweet shop, to fine dining at the upmarket Delta Hotel. We were also treated to dinner with former Olympic and World Champion Nancy Greene, the resort’s Director of Skiing and owner of the popular Cahilty Lodge.
As we headed back on the flight from Kamloops, I pondered on the success of the trip in providing entertainment for a family group whose interests were divided by 70 years. Having travelled previously either alone as a single skiing male or in a family group, I’d never really had to satisfy so many diverse requirements on a single trip. But, in fact, we’d all had a great time individually, and together. All three resorts had offered us experiences that spanned the years and the range of interests of all three generations both on and off the snow.
- Cahilty Lodge Tel: 001 866 714 8404
- Chateau Big White Tel: 001 250 765 8888
- Chalets Big White Tel: 001 250 491 9496; firstname.lastname@example.org
- Snowbird Lodge, Silver Star Tel: 001 250 558 6083
- Sun Peaks Delta Hotel Tel: 001 250 578 6003
- All America Holidays Tel: 001 888 778 5050
- Canadian Affairs Tel: 020 7616 9177
- Frontier Travel Tel: 020 8776 8709
- Ski Independence Tel: 0845 310 3030
- Ski Safari Tel: 01273 224060
- Ski the American Dream Tel: 0845 277 3333
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