Visit Big White for the ultimate winter family vacation
The word “Okanagan” can bring to mind the distant sound of people whooping excitedly over their boat motors; wine glasses aloft against a pastoral backdrop of sand-coloured hills; lakes twinkling in the sun.
And for part of the year those images are entirely accurate. But it’s also the distant sound of families whooping excitedly as they swish down mountains blanketed in champagne powder snow. And sometimes it’s flaming Grand Marnier flowing down the double barrel of a shotgun (more on that later).
Keep reading for our ultimate family travel guide to Big White…
1. Getting there and where to stay
Big WhiteYou can fly direct from Vancouver to Kelowna in under an hour and in the winter months, there are shuttles between Kelowna and the resort that take about an hour (approximately $80 per adult). But given the favourable highway weather reports and the accompanying scenery, we opted for the five-hour drive.
We checked into our suite in one of the slope-side Stonebridge Lodge buildings, located a very short ski from the main drag of the resort. If your child is too little to trudge through the snow, it’s a good idea to bring a sled or backpack or carrier as a stroller would be of little use.
To get ready for skiing the next day, we boot-slid down to the rental area to be fitted for our skis, poles and helmets. (Make sure you bring your own appropriate outerwear, gloves, and goggles.) Then we trekked back up to stow our gear in the handy outside-access lockers at the Stonebridge.
After a fireside dinner at the Blarney Stone Irish Pub (lamb stew and Guinness get along really well), we retired to the delicious juxtaposition of the warmth inside our balcony hot tub and the winter wonderland outside it, watching night skiers swoosh by just a few feet away.
TIP: Come prepared with your child’s current height and weight specs, as you’ll need them for the rental forms.
2. Ski school for the kids
Big White Ski ResortThe ski school offers half-day sessions as well as full-day options and you can evenarrange for the ski instructors to come pick up your child right from your accommodations for lessons. They provide lunch too, so your kid just needs proper ski clothing and they’re good to go. If you or your child are uneasy with them skiing without you, the Ski School also offers private coaching options.
A sticker with a bar code will be affixed to your child’s helmet and a GPS “Flaik” tracker strapped to their leg, giving families not only total confidence in the security of their young mountaineers, but also an online “map” of their activities to talk about after.
It says a lot about the resort’s history of being family-owned and -oriented that such a large and prominent section of the prime commercial area is dedicated to children’s activities.
3. Some grown-up ski time
Big White Ski Resort“Snow hosts” are available to take you on a guided tour around the resort. Big White is 7,355 acres of ski terrain accessed by 16 lifts, from the six-person Snow Ghost Express to magic carpet “moving sidewalk” ones for kids and tubers.
Over 50 per cent of Big White’s 118 designated trails are graded intermediate, with a quarter deemed advanced. For modestly skilled skiers who wish to see the whole mountain, there’s an Easy Out trail at the top of every one of the alpine lifts. For the more adventurous, TELUS Park features a half-pipe, rails and jumps.
4. Where to eat
Janine VerreaultThere are 18 eateries on the mountain, from takeout to casual and fine dining. Many of the restaurants, cafés, delis, and pubs feature kid’s menus. Kids of all ages will love the gooey S’mores at The Globe with marshmallows roasted tableside, while adults will enjoy charcterie platters (pictured above).
For tableside showmanship aimed at adults (well, aimed safely down towards your glass, actually), it’s hard to beat the coffee at the Gunbarrel Grill (upstairs from Snowshoe Sam’s): a boozy concoction of coffee, brandy, chocolate liqueur finished with flaming Grand Marnier poured down the double barrel of an antique shotgun. It's as delicious as it is entertaining.
If you’d prefer to make use of your suite’s kitchen for some home-away-from-homemade fare, you have a few options for supplies. You can bring it from home or buy it in Kelowna and transport it in a cooler. If you’ve got your hands full, there’s also the option of pre-ordering your groceries from Vacation Food Service. They even offer rental high chairs and playpens, which they deliver along with your food. Be sure to order at least 72 hours in advance.
There is a market in the resort’s main thoroughfare, which is surprisingly well-stocked considering its location, however, its prices do reflect the effort it takes to get the ingredients there, so we used it sparingly.
5. What to do (so, so much!)
LCE/Big White Ski ResortWe took the “pineapple express” gondola (pictured above), so named due to their bright yellow colour and oval shape down to Happy Valley, past some adventurers picking and cramponning their way up the ice-climbing tower (of particular interest to our Frozen fan) on our way to the Tube Park. For safety reasons, everyone must sit in their own tube. If your child is under 42-inches tall, an adult is required to tether the two tubes together by holding on to one of the handles. Of the 10 runs, the ones on your left as you ascend the magic carpet are the most child-friendly (in other words, still thrillingly fast but not scarred-for-life fast).
Snow was falling gently, making a postcard-perfect setting for a horse-drawn sleigh ride. Two beautiful Clydesdales, one a 12-year-old veteran and the other a 4-year-old newbie, strolled us through forest trails as we sat cozily under blankets.
If you’ve always dreamed of yelling mush as a team of dogs pull you across the snow on a sled, Big White offers that too.
The sleigh returned to its parking spot next to the Olympic-sized outdoor skating rink. You can rent everything you need: skates, helmets, and hockey sticks, and if you bring your own skates, they offer sharpening services. There are complimentary Ice Buddies, a kind of sliding walker for a child to hang onto as they get the hang of skating. You can glide over to warm yourself by the big rinkside bonfire, which is especially nice at night.
If you’re in Big White with your little ones on a Thursday, you’ll find lots of family-friendly fun at the Family Channel Carnival Night. Every corner of the Village Centre Mall buzzes with excited kids having their faces painted, tossing rings, jumping in an enormous bouncy castle, eating cotton candy and popcorn. Kids mobbed the resort mascots, The Loose Moose and Lucy Moose when they arrived on the scene for high fives and photos.
Big White really delivers big fun for little people and their families. There are lots of things we look forward to trying next time, like snowmobiling, snowshoeing, pampering at the spa, and restaurants we didn’t have enough mealtimes to eat at.