Friday, January 03, 2014

Nakiska Mountain Resort - Raising the Bar in Family Excellence

Until recently, it had been over 5 years since I'd been at a ski resort.  My husband and I used to ski all the time in the Rockies until our son was born at the beginning of 2009.  After that, a combination of factors lead us to give up downhill skiing in favour of sports we thought would be more family-friendly.  Resort skiing seemed frightening and we weren't sure how to tackle a day at a ski hill with a baby or toddler in tow.  Even as our son got older, he's almost 5 now, we thought maybe we'd wait a few years before introducing him to downhill skiing.  Neither my husband or I learned to ski until we were older and we just didn't see a hurry.  Hence, we focused on cross country skiing, snowshoeing, and other "easy" winter sports that we thought were safe and fun to do together.

Our First Family Resort Experience

One day at Nakiska Mountain Resort was all it took to show me that resort skiing is completely family-friendly and an awesome way to play in the mountains together as a family.  Things have changed a LOT over the last 5 years and additions such as Tube Parks have made the resort experience even more family-friendly than it's ever been before.  Add on-hill day care,  great ski schools, and the introduction of the "Magic Carpet" lift (no more platter lifts or rope tows for little tykes learning to ski), and what's not to like??

Nakiska Mountain Resort

The Family Experience at Nakiska Mountain Resort

Calgary's Closest Mountain

Nakiska is located off Hwy 40 in Kananaskis, approximately 45 minutes away from the Calgary city limits.  It is conveniently located a short drive away from Kananaskis Village and the Delta Kananaskis Lodge, where it's possible to spend an entire week with offerings from downhill skiing and tubing at Nakiska to cross country skiing, skating, sledding, and snowshoeing at the Village.

Nakiska likes to boast that they are Calgary's closest Mountain (which is definitely true), and their slogan is:
Drive Less, Ski More!
Skating at Kananaskis Village
Exploring near Kananaskis Village

Beginners Ski for Free

What first stood out to me about Nakiska is that families can ski for free in the beginner learning area accessed by two magic carpet lifts.  And yes, that's the whole family including Mom and Dad.  At many/most ski hills, parents have to pay to ski in the beginner area with their children.  This makes it very hard to teach your children to ski when you have to run down the hill  screaming "pizza!" while you try to catch your child before he or she runs into somebody.  Letting parents use skis in the beginner area is just plain smart and creates a safe learning environment. (I could also add that some local hills even make parents pay to just walk around in the beginner area, let alone ski.)

Skiing with Daddy in the Beginner Area

At Nakiska the beginner area is free for anybody who wants to ski there.  That means even an adult learning to ski can do so for free.  While you do still need a Magic Carpet lift pass from the day lodge, there is no cost associated with the pass.  Now, that's how you get repeat skiers!!  Allow a family to learn and practice for free, and they will eventually be paying for full lift tickets in no time!  (My son was ready to take the Bronze chair up the mountain by the end of the day in fact!)

Cruising down the Nakiska beginner hill

Children under 6 ski for free on the whole hill

This definitely saves money when you are teaching young children to ski.  Chances are, your preschooler will only go down the mountain a few times at most from the top of the bronze chair while they are learning to ski. That being the case, it's nice to not have to pay for a day pass for just a few runs!  And bonus, children who have been skiing from the age of 2 or 3 may be skiing the whole hill by the time they reach 5.  This is one of the top reasons we decided to return to skiing this winter;  We figured we should seize the opportunity to teach our son now and get a year of free skiing for him in while we could.

Heading off to the Chair Lift

The Tubing Experience

We got to try Nakiska's brand new Tube Park while we were at the resort before Christmas.  First impression, I honestly thought it looked like a miniature toboggan hill.  It didn't look like much and it wasn't very big.  I'd never tried tubing at a resort before so I guess I had built it up in my mind to be something much larger.  I quickly changed my opinion after the first ride down though.  It was the most fun I've had on a sled or tube - EVER.  And it didn't hurt!

Trying out the New Tube Park at Nakiska

I'm not generally a big fan of sledding because honestly, this body is just too old to handle all the bumps and jarring anymore.  Tubing at Nakiska on the other hand was completely gentle, smooth, groomed, and adult-friendly!  I'd go back again any day!

Starting off down the chutes
Tubing at Nakiska
My son loved it as well and wasn't scared in the slightest (which surprised me given the speed you get up to.)  There was a height limit but fortunately he's tall for his age and got to ride.  Most kids 5+ would likely be tall enough but maybe call before you go if your child falls short for his age.

While the Tube Park is small at only two chutes, there was no line up the day we were there and my son was easily entertained for over an hour at the park.  It makes for a wonderful compliment to the beginner area which is conveniently located right beside the park, sharing one of the same magic carpet lifts.  Tube Park Only passes can be purchased for families just using the beginner area and children under the age of 6 are free when tubing with their parents.

Thanks to the Tube Park, we actually spent the whole day at Nakiska!  I never dreamed that would be possible with a child that's not even 5 years old (second day on skis), but between the beginner area, the Tube Park, and a few runs down the bronze chair, our day was happily filled up and we had a blast!!

The thrilling finish to each slide

Below is a short video I took of the tubing experience while my husband took a spin with my son.

The Ski School Experience

We registered our son in his first ski lesson at Nakiska since he'd only been on downhill skis once in the city at COP.  He was enrolled in a one hour private lesson since he's not 5 yet and couldn't participate in a group class.  His teacher was a lot of fun and I highly recommend the ski school experience. 

Ski School

 Check out these reasons why I recommend learning to ski with a trained instructor:
  • It's a great way to start the day off right!  My son had his lesson first thing in the day when the hill was quiet.  We had time to get him to his class and then bring in our own ski gear from the car while enjoying a cup of coffee.  It made the day very relaxing to start with a lesson.
  • With the kids in lessons, you get time to go ski by yourself for a bit.  Always fun.
  • The teachers are great at entertaining the kids.  Our teacher could ski backwards, do tricks on his skis, and a myriad of other goofy things I'll never be able to do.  This highly motivates a young child to want to learn to ski.  (and sets the tone for a fun class)
  • The teachers have lots of patience and are able to see your child from a fresh perspective.  It's not the same challenging tyke they have to deal with all day long.  ;) 
  • In my personal experience, kids cry less, behave and listen better, work up more confidence, and learn more when they aren't with you, the parent!  (this might not be the case in your family but it certainly is in ours.)
  • The lessons are fun, relaxed, low pressure, and focused on realistic expectations.  As parents we often push our kids too hard and want them to achieve results far beyond their capabilities.  A trained ski  instructor knows just how far to push and when to just head over to the playground for a few minutes.  

Having a blast with his teacher
By the end of our son's first lesson he has built up a lot of confidence and was ready to tackle bigger challenges such as heading up his first chair lift with us and trying a few green runs (something I never dreamed possible when we headed to Nakiska for the day!)

Big Buddy Sam teaching his little buddy to ski

Final Fun Things to mention:

The beginner area has a small playground area with soft foam blocks and a slide for the kids to play on when they get tired of skiing.  My friend's kids played there for an hour alone!

There is also a miniature slalom course on the beginner hill for kids to have fun with and it helps parents who want to teach their children a few new skills such as turning.

Playing on the Beginner Hill

And here's a video of my son skiing the Beginner Hill:

Child care is also offered on the hill and can be arranged to accompany a ski lesson so that your child is taken care of for a half or full day.  This would be an awesome idea for parents who want to spend time skiing and tubing together as a family, but then want time to go off alone and ski for a bit without the kids. 

I want to say a huge Thank You to Resorts of the Canadian Rockies for graciously setting us up with an adult Tube Park pass and lift ticket for the day.  They also arranged and took care of my son's first ski lesson.  It was just the encouragement we needed to get back on the slopes and begin our journey to becoming a skiing family.  We had a blast and I can say with complete confidence that all ski resorts are not equal.  Nakiska Mountain Resort definitely raises the bar in family excellence.

First time on downhill skis in 5+ years - Thank You Nakiska!

For all other information on Nakiska Mountain Resort including tickets, passes, rentals, or accommodation packages at the Delta Kananaskis Lodge, visit the Nakiska website

Disclaimer:  As usual, all thoughts and opinions are my own and I was not compensated in any other way beyond tickets and lessons.


  1. Nakiska... it's where I learned to downhill LAST year! Great photos btw~!

    1. I can't believe you just learned to ski last year! I thought you'd been skiing forever. Nakiska would be a great place to learn as an adult. Very well groomed. And thanks RE the photos. I lucked out and had a beautiful day!

    2. Thanks so much for posting this. My son (6) starts his second year of 6-week 2-hour group lessons at Nakiska tomorrow (he needs a lift ticket this year... sad) and I didn't realize I could take my daughter (4) on the beginner hill, with me on skis, for free! Tomorrow is supposed to be super cold, so she and I will likely just hang out in the lodge after a short play at the playground, but perhaps next week I'll get her on skis for the first time and me up (and likely down on my rear end!) for the first time in 15+ years! And the new tube park looks fantastic, hope we get a chance to try that out.

      Also... a friend of mine, whose daughter is also enrolled starting tomorrow, said that Nakiska told her that kids' (age 6+) lift tickets are 50% off tomorrow (about $15) and you can buy enough for the number of days you think you'll get out there; they're good until the end of this ski season. So we'll be buying a few to cover my son's 6 lessons and if he misses a lesson, we'll try to add another day out on the hill to use it up. My husband has the Ski RCR card ($89.95 + tax), which covers his 1st, 4rd and 7th lift tickets and gives him a discount on the other days. Thanks for getting me excited about taking the family up to Nakiska again. One day, we'll all be on the hill, I hope. Happy skiing!

    3. Have fun with the lessons and good to know about the lift tickets for kids. Thanks.

  2. THANK YOU for saying that kids often behave better and learn more from instructors. We have been teaching my daughter since she was 2. When we moved outside of Crested Butte and discovered that she could take 13 weeks of 5 hour lessons, at the age of 4, we practically mauled everyone to get her signed up. The progression she made in ONE DAY vs. two years of learning with us was incredible. She is now 5 and in her second year of weekly all-day lessons. I'm an advanced skier and I fully expect that by the end of the season, I will be following her down the hill. LESSONS FTW.

    1. Glad I'm not alone in struggling to teach my own kid. ;)