Monday, February 27, 2017

Panorama Mountain Resort (much more than downhill skiing)

Panorama Mountain Resort is a popular destination for Calgary families in the nearby Columbia Valley of BC. Situated just outside the Town of Invermere, the resort caters to downhill ski enthusiasts and has a variety of ski terrain for the whole family (with over 100 different runs serviced by 10 lifts.)

My family and I visit the resort every winter while staying in the valley but we have yet to actually purchase lift tickets for the ski hill. (And that's not because we sneak onto the hill or because somebody else is buying lift tickets for us.) The reason we haven't had to buy lift tickets at Panorama is because we've never used the ski hill when we've visited the resort.

Cross country skiing across the golf course at Panorama Mountain Resort

My family loves downhill skiing but we've always enjoyed Panorama for its Nordic trails. We love cross country skiing up to the Hale Hut, we ski around the Grey Wolf Golf Course, and we've enjoyed exploring the multi-use trails as well.

On our most recent visit to Panorama we also discovered that the multi-use trails are a lot of fun on bikes, and the Nordic Centre just happens to rent fat bikes for the whole family. (something I can assure you is rare at a ski hill! - trust me, I challenge you to find me another ski hill that has kids' winter bikes to rent)

Fat biking at Panorama Mountain Resort

Cross Country Skiing at Panorama Mountain Resort

There is a great Nordic Centre at the Panorama Mountain Resort where you can rent skis if you don't have your own. The trail fees are reasonable and the resort hands out easy-to-follow maps showing  trails for all abilities.

Our first time cross country skiing at Panorama (and my son still had strap on skis!)


Parking has become much easier for cross-country skiing at Panorama now that they've moved the trail centre to the Grey Wolf Golf Course clubhouse.

Drive up to the golf course from the ski hill where you'll find a large parking lot. Go inside the clubhouse, and you're set.

Inside the clubhouse you can pay your trail fees, get a map, ask questions about the trails, and rent gear if you need.

You'll also find bathrooms inside the clubhouse.

Easy skiing from the Grey Wolf Golf Course

The Ski Trails:

From the Grey Wolf Golf Course you can either ski up towards the Hale Hut on an easy/intermediate trail (roughly 6 km round trip from the golf course,) you can ski across the golf course on an easy flat trail, or you can ski all the way to the end of the Nordic Centre on the Great Scott Trail (roughly 17 km round trip.) 

There are 20 km of groomed trackset trails for classic and skate skiing at the Panorama Nordic Centre on dedicated (ski only) trails. They are groomed daily and some of them are open to skiers wanting to bring their dog with them.

The Hale Hut, Panorama Mountain Resort

On our last visit we skied up to the Hut for lunch in the warm heated cabin, skied back down, and then continued skiing down to the Lower Village on one of the multi-use trails since it's all downhill from here and super fun. 

Skiing up the Placer Trail to the Hale Hut

For more information on the ski trails at Panorama, visit the Panorama Mountain Resort website. Trail conditions are posted along with a map of the trails, and information on trail fees and rentals. 

You can also visit the Toby Creek Nordic Ski Club for more information on ski trails in the Columbia Valley.

Easy family skiing at Panorama Mountain Resort

Fat Biking at Panorama Mountain Resort

So you've tried cross country skiing at Panorama and have another day to play - I highly recommend trying fat biking on the multi use trails that start out from the Nordic Centre or down in the lower village.

First, stop in at the Nordic Centre and rent a set of bikes for the family. The Centre rents fat bikes for adults and rents 20" and 24" plus sized bikes for kids (bikes with larger tires that are half way between a summer mountain biking tire and a fat bike tire.) The kids' bikes wouldn't work in deep powder but they work fine on the packed Panorama trails.

Fat bikes and Youth plus sized bikes for rent at Panorama

Once you've taken care of rentals, either bike up towards the Hale Hut on the new Mineral King Trail (an intermediate trail with climbing involved) or head downhill on the Mountain View Trail down to the lower village. (An adult will have to bike back up at the end to fetch the vehicle.)

Note if the kids are only biking downhill to the lower village, you will have to drive their bikes back up to the golf course.

Riding down one of the steeper hills on the Prospector's Trail

What to expect from winter biking at Panorama:

  • There's not a lot of "easy" beginner biking here unless you bike one-way down to the lower village. 
  • You must use the multi use trails for fat biking. You can not use the trackset trails for cross-country skiing.

  • The multi use trails are generally groomed or packed down for easy biking. 

For more information on the multi use trails at Panorama, visit the Panorama Mountain Resort website. Trail conditions are posted along with a map of the trails, and information on trail fees and rentals. 

Easy riding along the river at Panorama

Overall Summary and Recommendation

Regardless of whether you choose to bike, hike, snowshoe, or cross country ski at Panorama, there's something for each member of the family with rentals on site for everybody. The resort offers so much more than downhill skiing and you could easily spend a weekend here without ever stepping into a set of downhill bindings (and still have a blast!!)

Biking along Toby Creek at Panorama 

Disclaimer: We received complimentary bike rentals at Panorama Mountain Resort so that I could write this story. We have always paid for our own trail fees though when cross country skiing at this resort and I was not compensated for writing this review. As always all words and opinions are my own.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Our Newest Winter Obsession - Family Fat Biking

"Obsession" might be a strong word but what else do you call something that has completely captivated you and that has changed the way you look at life around you? An avid skier who dreams of gliding through pristine snowy meadows on my cross country skis, I have now started looking at  trails with fresh eyes and am wondering what they'd be like on a bike. I'm taking a brand new look at all of my favourite trails and am starting to imagine what it would be like to explore them with a fat bike as opposed to skis or snowshoes. I'd say "addicted" or "obsessed" is hence fairly accurate for how I'm feeling about my new winter "interest."

A new winter hobby for us - Fat Biking!

Fat biking had been on my list of new things to try for a couple of winters now but I'd been putting it off for a few reasons:

  1. I was terrified to try fat biking. I'd seen photos and heard stories from friends, and thought I had to be this extreme mountain biker to participate in this sport. I didn't associate fat biking with the casual mountain biking enthusiast and couldn't fathom how I'd manage to bike up snowy hills (when I already struggle with ascents in summer.) Add twisty, windy single track trails and steep descents, and I just couldn't picture myself trying it on a snowy (possibly icy) trail. I equated fat biking with being a bad ass mountain biker - and that, I am not!

  2. There are not a lot of places to rent fat bikes. (And buying one was out of the question due to the $$$.) I also didn't picture myself renting one and driving it out to the mountains, so I needed to find a good trail system with on site rentals.

  3. I didn't know of a single place renting fat bikes for kids - and if I tried this new sport, I wanted my son to be able to try it as well. He loves mountain biking and had been begging me to try fat biking. I told him that if he could find me a place renting 20" kids' fat bikes, that I'd happily take him (and we'd walk the scary hills together.)

Trying winter biking for my first time at Nipika Mountain Resort (and it wasn't scary!!)

Fat Bike Trail System with On Site Rentals - Found!

Step one if I was ever going to try fat biking was to find a trail centre or winter sports destination with on site rentals. I also needed to find a place that had EASY trails for beginners.

Easy winter riding at Nipika
Fortunately, I was planning a ski weekend with some girlfriends at Nipika Mountain Resort located on the border of Kootenay National Park outside Radium Hot Springs, and I knew Nipika had fat bike trails.  I'd also heard that they were super mellow and chill as compared to the resort's regular mountain bike trails (which are very challenging.)

I planned to spend most of my weekend skiing at Nipika on their amazing network of groomed cross country trails but figured just maybe, I'd rent a fat bike for a quick spin and see what the fuss was all about. I suspected they wouldn't have kids' bikes (and I was initially right) but I could at least try it myself before introducing the activity to my son.

Luck or fate intervened and Nipika was hosting a "Demo Day" with Specialized bikes while we were there so you could try out some cool winter bikes on the Nipika trails. While my bike wasn't technically a "fat bike," it still had bigger tires that enabled me to try out some of the trails at the resort. And the result - instant addiction!

Ok, so there's a "small" learning curve when the trails are soft

Dedicated Fat Bike Trails at Nipika Mountain Resort

Nipika maintains, grooms, and packs two different trail networks on their property. First, there is a great system of cross country trails for skiing. Second, there is a dedicated trail network for winter biking - and only biking (so if you see somebody on your bike trail who's hiking, snowshoeing, or skiing, you could actually tell them to get off and to go find their own trail!) Snowshoers and winter hikers don't get their own groomed trails but they are welcome to use the summer mountain bike trails or to hike on the main ski trails (staying off the tracks.)

Dedicated fat bike trails at Nipika Mountain Resort

I can't even begin to explain how amazing it is to bike on a snowy trail that has no foot prints, (other than where people have had to walk up a hill or have stopped for a break,) no crusty indentations from people post-holing through soft snow, and no ski tracks to accidentally ride into. Nipika's winter bike trails are pure perfection, groomed for easy riding, and well signed so that you always know you are on one of the bike trails. (And if you get lost, you can always hop onto the ski trails, find the nearest junction, and orient yourself.)

Easy riding on the South Trails at Nipika Mountain Resort

If for whatever reason you find the fat bike trails to be too challenging, you can always get off and ride on the packed ski trails (wide and well groomed for easy riding) but I can assure you that the South Trails are EASY PEASY and I had zero challenges on them. My 8 year old got to ride them too and found the trails well within his ability range.

Crossing a ski trail at Nipika while fat biking

For riders looking for more of a challenge, the North Trails are hillier with more twists and turns. I rode these trails when I was first at Nipika and then checked out the South (easier) Trails on my next visit. Whichever set of trails you choose to ride, there is something at Nipika for all abilities and challenge levels.

My girlfriend riding across a snowy meadow on the north trails


Family Fat Biking at Nipika Mountain Resort

When I do something, I do it with all my heart (and that includes falling in love with a new sport.) Fortunately, we had planned to be in the Columbia Valley staying in Radium Hot Springs over the Family Day Long Weekend - just a short drive from Nipika. How could we not go back??

I also new that Nipika had just purchased a 20" kids' fat bike at the extreme begging and pleading of a crazy Calgary woman (yes, me.)

So, off to Nipika we headed with friends to check out the South Trails and to find out if this could become a family winter sport for us.

My son LOVED his fat bike at Nipika. He was very proud of how "fat" his tires were

The Family Fat Biking Experience at Nipika:

  • Arrive early if you want to rent the kids' fat bikes. Nipika currently has one 20" bike and one 24" bike. We were there for 9am and managed to claim the smaller one that was perfect for our 8 year old.

  • Consider going with friends and sharing the cost of bike rentals. We were with another family who also just has one child so we rented three bikes and took turns with them. While we biked, our friends skied. And then while they biked, we skied. Afterwards, we headed to the sledding hill and played there for a bit before the drive home. There is plenty to do at Nipika for a day so you'll be fully justified in making the drive out from Radium Hot Springs or Invermere. There's also a great lodge beside the parking lot where you can have your lunch, warm up, and even just hang out between activities.

  • Start on the South Trails and then if everything goes well, try a short loop on the North Trails. I love the meadow area around the first warming hut on the north side for its easy gentle terrain. The south side though gives you that same easy experience the entire time. It's ALL easy flat meadow riding and great for families.

  • Rent actual fat bikes. While my first experience on an all-season Specialized bike was ok, my second experience on a real fat bike was much better. I stayed on top of the snow better, I wasn't slipping or fish tailing, and I didn't sink in fresh snow. When we were there as a family, it had snowed a bit overnight and we were easily able to break trail with our fat bikes. (My 8 year old broke trail most of the time if that says how easy it was with the big tires.)

  • Try not to get your kids' hopes up too high about the actual fat biking, and plan to visit Nipika for either skiing or biking. If you get the kids too excited and then discover that the kids' bikes are already rented out by a family in one of the cabins on site (for the full day) your kids would be quite upset. We tried to emphasize to our son that hopefully we'd bike, but if we couldn't (or if conditions were too challenging with the fresh snow) that we'd ski - and have a simply lovely time doing so.

  • Have a back-up plan in place. If you are visiting the Columbia Valley for a weekend and can't get on the bike trails at Nipika, you can always head out to Panorama Mountain Resort which also rents winter bikes (and has kids' bikes too.) I'll be writing more about our experience at Panorama in another story very soon so watch for that one.

  •  Bring your own bike helmets with you. Other than that, wear any gloves that you find to be comfortable and warm. I recommend the thinnest snow pants you have (rather than bulky ski pants) and you'll want a buff or something under your helmet to keep your ears and face warm. Other than that, you can wear your normal winter boots (or warm hiking boots.) Remember that you don't have to look like professional winter bikers here - you just want to be warm and comfortable.

  • Choose a warm day to try fat biking for the first time. You don't want to try it when it's -30 and your hands/feet are freezing from being inactive. I was blessed with warm weather on both of my days at Nipika and it made the winter biking experience much more pleasant.

Easily biking through fresh snow on the groomed fat bike trails at Nipika

Fat Biking - Not what I expected at all!!

Fat bikes for the whole family at Nipika
If you go back to the beginning where I listed my fears and reasons for not having tried fat biking yet, you'll see that most of my fears were unfounded.

Yes, there are EASY fat bike trails out there - and you only have to plan a weekend getaway to BC to access them.

No, you don't have to have previous experience. If you've done some easy mountain biking in summer, you can bike at Nipika in winter.

Yes, you can rent fat bikes for the whole family and take them onto a great trail system without having to load them into your vehicle.

Yes, at least one magical amazing place has kids' fat bikes!! (Thank you Lyle and Steve!!!)

 Fat Bike AND Stay Overnight at Nipika Mountain Resort

Nipika has several cozy cabins on the property that you can rent for a couple of nights. Each cabin has a kitchen and living area. There's also a house that sleeps 10-12 people. We've stayed at Nipika several times now and it's one of my favourite places for a girls' ski weekend. We also love staying here in the spring for a mountain bike weekend.

You can read about our previous stays at Nipika in these stories that I've already written for my blog.

Kids on Wheels - Nipika Mountain Resort

Everything for a Family to Love at Nipika Mountain Resort

The ultimate Girls' Ski Getaway at Nipika Mountain Resort 

Exploring the Nipika trail network by bike

For more information on rental rates, trail fees, accommodations, or ski trails at Nipika, please visit the Nipika Mountain Resort website.

Disclaimer: This story was not sponsored by Nipika. I paid for my recent stay at the resort and we paid for our own trail fees and bike rentals on our last visit. This story is written out of pure love for a great resort.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

The Ultimate Family Ski Weekend at Kimberley Alpine Resort

I posed the following question in a recent ski story: Do you want more ski days or do you want more GOOD ski days? That was the thought that hit me in December as we made our way to Kimberley Alpine Resort for a day of skiing. We had "gone cheap" on accommodations and had chosen a hotel in a nearby city thinking we would just drive to the ski hill in Kimberley for a quick day of skiing - and that it would be just as good as the last time we'd skied here when we'd stayed on hill.

Magical Kimberley Alpine Resort in February

For us, a "day trip" to Kimberley meant waking up unorganized. It meant having to pack everything up before we could drive to the hill for the day. It meant trying to get to the hill in time for first lifts (but knowing it would never happen.) It also meant showing up at the parking lot, not knowing where anything was! I'd tried to be super organized but it's hard when you have a small car packed to the roof with your ski gear, your overnight gear, food, and the extra supplies we'd need for the rest of our new years vacation in a neighboring town.

Fortunately we got a chance at a do-over this month when we got to spend an entire weekend in Kimberley and had lodging arranged for us right on the ski hill. We also brought friends with us and discovered what it looks like to plan the ultimate family ski weekend.

Family Ski Weekend at Kimberley Alpine Resort

Snapshots into our Family Ski Weekend at Kimberley


Friday Night

We arrived in Kimberley Friday night, had a quick dinner in our condo (yay for the grocery store in town where you can grab a couple pizzas, a salad, a bag of chips, and dessert) and then sent the kids to the swimming pool with the dads. Us moms on the other hand - we went skiing! Cross country skiing that is.

The Kimberley Nordic Club has fabulous trail network with 3 km of lit skiing for night use. We had brought head lamps with us as well so we did a second loop on the non-lit trails up to a lookout point. From the viewpoint we could look down over the whole valley and the lights below us.

The cross country trails are also conveniently located right above the ski hill so we had a very short 2 minute drive to reach the club parking lot.

Night skiing on the Kimberley Nordic Trails

Saturday Morning

We all headed to the ski hill together after a gourmet breakfast cooked in our condo's kitchen. And it's pretty easy to be in line for first lifts when you're staying right on the ski hill!

We did a couple of runs with the kids skiing together but quickly realized that paces and ski styles weren't exactly conducive for skiing in a large group. It wasn't a big deal though because the hill had something for everybody. I was able to run laps up and down the main run (the only one freshly groomed after a large dump of powder overnight,) my husband and son took off to play in the trees, and our friends split up to check out runs to suit their children's tastes and ability.

Our small gang of kids heading down one of the novice runs on a soft powder day

Kimberley is a beautiful hill for families because it's always easy to regroup after a run or two. All runs on the front side return to the same chair lift. Stay on the front, and you're guaranteed to find your group again if you wait at the bottom of the main run.

We also liked using the cafe and day lodge as a meeting spot and would frequently retreat here for a snack or a cup of coffee. My husband could then head out for a solo run and find us again after we'd warmed up.

Together for a quick photo with my son at the top of the main chair lift

Saturday Afternoon

The beauty of staying on a ski hill is that you aren't committed to following the same plans as every member of your group.We loosely made plans with our friends to meet back at the condo for a late lunch and knew that the kids would likely spend the remainder of the afternoon in the swimming pool. This left plenty of time for the non-supervising adults to get more laps on the ski hill and to check out more advanced runs.

I happily sacrificed a few ski runs for a chance to spend some time soaking sore muscles in the hot tub with my son, and all three kids had fun swimming in the pool. With four adults between us, there was always somebody to hang out with the children and nobody felt like they had to cut their ski day early when the kids got tired of skiing.

Saturday afternoon in our condo's hot tub and swimming pool

The Après-Ski Experience and Resort Entertainment 

My husband was off the ski hill by 3:30 and it seemed like the perfect time to head over to the Stemwinder Bar and Grill to hear the band and grab a drink. I discovered an amazing coffee that must have had four different kinds of alcohol in it and my son liked listening to the live music.

Afternoon entertainment at the Stemwinder Bar and Grill

The bar allowed kids and was a very popular place to be at any time of day. Ski boots were welcome and it was definitely "the place to be" on the hill for some good pub food, a post-ski beer, or even a bowl of soup at lunch (again with a beer of course.)

Our friends' kids never did make it down to the bar, preferring to spend what had to have been two hours in our condo's swimming pool. Again though, the brilliance of staying on hill is that everybody can do what works for their own family. Stay on the ski hill, go back to the room to unwind, hit the swimming pool, or head to the pub to hear the live entertainment. There's something for everybody (and for each member of the family.)

Late afternoon at the hill

Saturday Evening and Dinner on the Town

We split ways with our friends for a couple of hours because we wanted to go downtown to the Platzl for dinner. The platzl is a super cute Bavarian themed plaza with some amazing restaurants. We wanted to eat at the Pedal and Tap, probably my favourite restaurant in all of the Kootenay Rockies.

Our friends wanted to cook dinner at the condo and wanted to spend some time chilling but we were all united again by 7:00 so that the kids could run around and play for a while before bed.

The Pedal and Tap, and the very snowy Kimberley Platzl

And again, because we were staying at the ski hill, we could all choose different ways to spend our evening. Most of us chose not to do anything after dinner but one of our dads wasn't quite done with his ski day yet and headed back out for some night skiing on the lit main run.

Night Skiing at Kimberley Alpine Resort

Other options would have been skating on the village rink, more cross country skiing at the Nordic Club, or more time in the hot tub. And try as we might have to get the kids back outside to do something, they were tired and committed to not moving again till the next morning.

The Village Skating Rink in the evening snow fall

Sunday and the Arrival of Snow-magedon

The resort received over 70 cm of snow in a 72 hour period. Meteorologists called it one of the most significant snowfalls to hit British Columbia in February history and RCR (Resorts of the Canadian Rockies) proclaimed it the "best storm in years."

Snow-magedon hits Kimberley while we were there

I'm usually a big fan of groomed corduroy skiing and had never skied in snow this deep before. It was easily up to my son's knees and he had a big learning curve ahead of him on Sunday. He learned quickly that you did not seek out fresh tracks in the kids' trees when there's just been a fresh dump of powder. (It took my husband an hour to guide him down and they had to spend significant periods of time searching for buried ski poles.)

Heading off into the Kids' Trees for First Tracks Sunday Morning

I attempted to change my ski style but my muscles were shot by the end of my third run. Apparently skiing through fresh powder is quite the leg work out! My son lasted a few runs longer than me while I retreated to the Stemwinder Bar and Grill again for more "spiked coffee." And, apparently I wasn't alone in needing a break from the skiing because the bar was packed!!

Fresh tracks on what was actually a groomed run!

My girlfriend pretty much closed the ski hill down, giddy like a child in a candy store, while her children spent several hours with dad in our condo's swimming pool. (That could be a separate story: Ode to the Beautiful Resort Pool, Salvation for Tired Kids and Sore Muscles.)

No friends (or grooming) on a powder day

As tempting as it was to call in sick and stay for another day, we had to get back to Calgary and chose to leave early afternoon in an effort to beat some of the traffic and bad road conditions we anticipated.

Powder Day at Kimberley Alpine Resort

Where We stayed at Kimberley Alpine Resort

We stayed at the beautiful Mountain Spirit Resort on the Kimberley Alpine Resort property. We had a two bedroom condo with fully equipped kitchen and dining room, king sized beds in each room, a spa-inspired ensuite with large soaker tub in the master bedroom, a second full sized bathroom, electric fireplace in the living room, and TVs in both the living area and bedrooms. We even had in suite laundry!

Honestly we could have stayed here for a week and would have been quite comfortable!

Enjoying breakfast in our condo kitchen

While the condo may have been a bit cozy for 7 people, we didn't really spend a lot of time in it (with all the activities we were  doing on the hill) and the bedrooms were very spacious. Our friends' kids slept on the floor in their bedroom using mattresses and sleeping bags they had brought for them and my son slept on the pull out sofa in the living room.

Large master bedroom in our two bedroom suite

Our condo was located just behind the Trickle Creek Lodge Property where we had stayed our last time at Kimberley and we had views of the skating rink outside our window. It took us less than 2 minutes to walk over to the main chair lift from our front door and we enjoyed our underground parkade (more so with all the fresh snow!!)

The view from our balcony over to Trickle Creek, the Ski hill behind (and the reason we liked our parkade)

Over all we had no complaints about this property and we found it to be very quiet. Trickle Creek had been noisier with a bit more of a "party vibe" to it. The Mountain Spirit Resort was like Trickle Creek's more mature sister for those who want to ski hard and then go to bed early.

Spa Inspired Ensuite Bathroom in the Master Bedroom

More on Kimberley Alpine  Resort

The Town of Kimberley is reached in roughly a 4 hour drive from Calgary via either the Crowsnest Pass and Town of Fernie or via Banff and Radium Hot Springs. We chose to take the Hwy 93 via Radium Hot Springs and found it easier to take half a day off Friday so that we could get an earlier start on the drive. We left Calgary around 1:00pm and arrived at our condo in time for dinner.

You can read more about the Town of Kimberley here and read more about the Kimberley Alpine Resort here.

The chair lift sign that greets you at the top of the main run at the Kimberley Alpine  Resort

You can also read about last year's trip to Kimberley Alpine Resort where we had a more typical experience with bluebird days and groomed corduroy as far as the eye could see. That story is here: Family Guide to Kimberley Alpine Resort. Last year we stayed at Trickle Creek Lodge and information on those accommodations can be found in my family guide story.

Bluebird day at Kimberley Alpine Resort

Finally, read more about the Kootenay Rockies and Area Tourism here on the Destination BC website.

My boys skiing fresh powder at the Kimberley Alpine Resort

Other COOL Things to Do while at the Kimberley Alpine Resort

We tried to do it ALL while at the hill but it just wasn't possible. We tried out the nordic ski trails, we spent two days on the hill skiing, we checked out the live entertainment and après ski scene, we definitely enjoyed our condo's pool and hot tub, and we explored the town Platzl. And heck, we even tried both nordic and downhill skiing at night to make sure we took full advantage of our time at the resort.

Making the most of our ski weekend at Kimberley

Other activities that we didn't get to try this year included the chocolate fondue snowshoe tour and the fat biking tour. We really wanted to try the "S'mores fat bike tour" but alas, it snowed too much! (not usually a problem.) We also discovered that they don't have kids' fat bikes (yet.)

To read about snowshoe and fat bike tours, check out the resort's Family Fun Activities Section on their website.

Fat Bike Tours at Kimberley Alpine Resort (photo: Resorts of the Canadian Rockies)

Big Thanks to Resorts of the Canadian Rockies and Tourism Kimberley for partnering to sponsor this family ski vacation.

Disclaimer: While we enjoyed skiing and accommodations at Kimberley Alpine Resort, all words and opinions are my own.

Monday, February 13, 2017

Family Cross Country Ski Trips - Our Favourite Destinations near Calgary

We've had many beautiful awesome ski days as a family. We've also had many disastrous days I wish I could take back and erase. Fortunately, the older my son gets, and the better he gets on cross country skis, the more good days we tend to have consistently.

Ski Day at Kananaskis Village, one of our favourite places to ski

Location and choice of trail are two of the biggest keys we've discovered for making cross country skiing easy, fun, and doable with kids. We like to start from a warming hut, cabin, or lodge so that we start skiing with warm hands and fingers. We like places that have a variety of trails (because you never know what kind of day your child is going to have until you're ON the trail.) We also look for places where we can have a good Après Ski experience (somewhere to warm up in before driving home, a cozy spot to have a snack or even a cup of coffee, and a place kids can run around for a bit before climbing into the car.)

The three ski areas I'm featuring are our favourite places to go skiing as a family. They have it ALL and give you a good fighting shot at having a GOOD ski day with the kids. They are also all within an hour's drive of Calgary which is VERY important to us so that we can spend more time skiing and less time driving!!

And if you read to the bottom, I've also included three destinations for awesome overnight x-country ski vacations (for those times when you want to drive further.)

We've come a long way since this photo was taken at Kananaskis Village when my son was 5 (three years ago)


Top Three Day Trip Destinations



West Bragg Creek Provincial Recreation Area 

Referred to most often as just "West Bragg," The West Bragg Creek Provincial Recreation Area has a fabulous trail network for cross country skiing, snowshoeing, and fat biking. In the summer it is a mountain bike "mecca" and also popular with hikers.

The trails are maintained and cared for by the Greater Bragg Creek Trails Association and all ski trails are groomed and track set by a dedicated group of volunteers.

Winter wonderland in West Bragg Creek on the Hostel Loop

Reasons for Families to Ski at West Bragg Creek:

One. The Trail System. There's a great trail system with choices for all ski abilities. Many of the loops are blessedly short too so you can easily cut your losses if you're having a bad day. One of our favourite loops is to ski out on West Crystal Line until we get to the Moose Connector. We take that trail to the Mountain Road and then ski back down to the parking lot. The full loop is under 4 km and is great for novice skiers with a few hills to practice on.

Easy skiing on the Moose Connector, West Bragg Creek

Another loop we've been working on is the Hostel Loop (much hillier) which is another short practice outing around 4 km in distance. Finally, my son loves the gradual descent down the East Crystal Line Trail (lots of double polling) so sometimes we climb up the big hill on East Sundog just to do the fun run down East Crystal Line. Again, this loop is under 4 km in distance.

Skiing across the meadow on East Sundog

Two. Proximity to Calgary!! I can reach West Bragg Creek in 45 minutes from my house in West Calgary. This makes it easy for us to come out on a Friday afternoon if my son gets out of school early or for us to head out for a relaxed ski day if we don't want to wake up super early.

Just note that the parking lot can become a zoo on weekends so you might have to arrive early if you want a spot to park. The trails never seem that busy though because skiers, snowshoers, and bikers tend to spread out on their own trails.

Easy skiing on the Mountain Road

Three. Skiing, Snowshoeing, and Biking - all in the same spot! There are dedicated ski trails, snowshoe trails, and fat bike trails here. The mountain road is the only "multi-use trail" where you can enjoy all three activities. In theory, this means you could bring both skis and snowshoes and do a little of  both.

Fat Biking on the Mountain Road (photo: Polar Stroller)

For information on trail conditions, to see maps for the trails, or to find out more about this area, please visit the West Bragg Creek Trails Association website. I also suggest making a donation at lease once per season if planning on skiing here. Your donation goes towards the purchase of new grooming equipment and helps with maintenance of the trails. Without donations, we wouldn't be skiing, snowshoeing, or biking here. You can either donate on the website or you can leave some cash in the donation box at the trailhead.

And want the inside scoop on trail grooming at least once a week? You can sign up for the GBCTA newsletter by going to their website and scrolling down to where it mentions the newsletter and donations, both in the right hand side bar of the site.

Working on hills on the Sundog Loop

The Canmore Nordic Centre

While I don't like having to pay trail fees to ski,  there are a few great reasons to still plan a ski day at the Canmore Nordic Centre (and it's a lot cheaper than downhill skiing before one should protest too much about the cost of the day passes here.)

The trails here are always immaculately groomed and it's a great place to ski early or late season when other trails lack snow.

Gorgeous scenery in the Mine Meadow at the Canmore Nordic Centre

Reasons for Families to Ski at the Canmore Nordic Centre:

One. The Day Lodge Building. I'm a huge believer in starting out warm. I like to put my ski boots on inside a warm building, I like to add final layers inside, and I like to give my son a pre-trip snack before we head out. I pack everything into a duffel bag and haul it all into the Nordic Centre main building. We stash the duffel bag and our winter boots under a table or in a corner somewhere and then head out to ski.

Usually my husband is with us and so he can take the skis out to the front of the building while I'm hauling everything else inside. Even on my own though, I manage to get the skis and everything else to the lodge in one trip from the parking lot.

Overall, it's just much more comfortable having a beautiful day lodge to stage your ski trip out of rather than bundling up and getting ready in a cold parking lot. (Guaranteed somebody will be crying as you try to get ready from the parking lot when hands or feet start to get cold.)

When you're finished skiing you'll enjoy the day lodge for a post-trip snack and a cup of coffee from the café. It's also a great place to hang out with younger kids while one parent might want to go for a longer ski with older kids.

Skiing back to the day lodge across the Stadium

Two. The Meadow Warming Hut. The meadow hut is absolutely gorgeous and it's the perfect spot to ski to with young kids for lunch. At a distance of roughly 5 km round trip, most families should be able to ski as far as the hut before having to turn around.

The promise of reaching the nice warm hut is a great incentive to keep kids skiing and it's accessible via a very easy green trail that has few hills. Skiing Banff Trail to the hut and back is a great trip for novice skiers and families.

For a longer ski you can do the full Banff Loop with Banff Trail, the Banff Loop Trail, and Lynx.  The loop is roughly 6km in distance and is easy other than a few big hills on Lynx. Families with older kids can try taking the Meadowview Trail back to the day lodge (adding height and hills.)

Mine Meadow and the new Meadow Hut

Three. Rentals and Lessons on Site.  Families can rent skis and even a pulk (ski sled for toddlers) at the Trail Sports Centre on site if you want to try cross country skiing before committing to buying the equipment. The Centre also rents fat bikes and snowshoes, and has drop in ski lessons. You can book a group lesson too for the whole family if you're new to skiing. (How cool is that?!)

Skiing across Mine Meadow with a ski pulk

Four. Skiing, Snowshoeing, Sledding, Skating and Biking - all in the same spot! Yes, there is nothing you can't do at the Canmore Nordic Centre except perhaps downhill skiing. (Some of the hills might make you wish you had downhill skis though!)

There is a free skating rink and sledding hill on site and you'll find dedicated snowshoe and fat bike trails if you have a non-skier in your group (or if you're spending a weekend in Canmore and want to try a variety of sports.)

For full information on skiing here, visit the Canmore Nordic Centre's website which has a trail map along with details on day passes and hours. 

Easy skiing on Banff Trail

Kananaskis Village Ski Trails

While there is no warming hut or trail centre here, I can overlook that for what IS here: The Kananaskis Lodge with its gorgeous fireside room, café, and skating rink. There's also a sledding hill and if you stay overnight, a beautiful swimming pool with waterslide. Really, there's nothing not to like about these ski in/out accommodations.

Regardless if you stay overnight or not, you can still warm up after skiing inside the lodge, grab a coffee, and unwind after with a short walk around the property, a stop at the playground, or some skating on the pond.

Easy skiing on the Terrace Trail from Kananaskis Village

Reasons for Families to Ski at Kananaskis Village:

One. The Pomeroy Kananaskis Mountain Lodge. As just mentioned, we go inside the lodge after skiing anywhere in the Kananaskis area. We buy a coffee and some fresh baked goods from the café, and then we sit down beside the fireplace in the giant fireside room. Kids can run around (within reason) and warm up, I can upload a photo or two to my FB or Instagram account, and we can just relax for a bit before the drive home.

And while there is no warming hut or anything where you can get dressed inside, you can park beside the Mount Kidd Manor (the closest parking lot to the ski trails) which has bathrooms and an area inside the lobby with chairs and sofas. You can at least put your boots on here if you want and grab a quick snack before you start skiing. (We often do.)

Fireside Room, Delta Kananaskis Lodge

Two. The Wide Assortment of Activities on Site. Face it, you won't know what kind of ski day you're going to have with kids until you start out. Fortunately, the Terrace and Terrace Link Trails form a short 4 km loop and then you can call it quits for one of the other activities at the Village. Bring the skates, a sled, your winter boots for a short walk, or even the snowshoes and you'll have plenty to do here for a whole weekend. Good thing there's a hotel on site!

Skating on the Pond at Kananaskis Village

Three. Ski in/out Lodging. There are two options for lodging here. You can either stay at the Kananaskis Lodge (the more $$ but decadent option,) or you can stay at the HI Kananaskis Hostel down at the Ribbon Creek ski area below which has three private rooms. Both options give you ski in/out options and from the hostel you can easily ski out the door and up to Troll Falls in a short 4 km return trip outing with Hay Meadow. (Note if you stay at the hostel, you can cook your own meals too saving money on eating out.)

Skiing along the Hay Meadow Trail below the Village

Four. Variety of Trails. Families can ski the Terrace Loop from the Village in a short 4 km return trip. Start from Ribbon Creek below and you can ski to Troll Falls and back in as few as 3 km return.

Other options are plentiful though and we like doing the Terrace Trail from the Village to Kovach and Aspen. Then we descend back down to the village on a very fun downhill section of Kovach. We've tried this trail in both directions and we definitely prefer doing it counter clockwise so that we get to go DOWN the Kovach Trail hills at the end. Going up was not much fun last time. This full loop is roughly 6 km and is made up of beginner and intermediate trails.

Family Skiing on the Kananaskis Village Ski Trails

Five. Rentals on Site. You can rent everything from cross country skis to ski pulks, skates, sleds, and snowshoes, and fat bikes at Kananaskis Outfitters. They also offer great tours.

Ski, Hike, or Bike to Frozen Troll Falls below Kananaskis Village

For more information on skiing, open this PDF document on the Ribbon Creek and Kananaskis Ski Trails.

For more on staying overnight here, visit the Pomeroy Kananaskis Mountain Lodge website

To read more about Kananaskis Village in Winter, read this story I wrote: Ten Reasons to Spend Time at Kananaskis Village this Winter.

To read about staying at the HI Kananaskis Hostel, read this story I wrote:  Affordable Family Ski Vacations in the Canadian Rockies.

And you can visit the HI Kananaskis Hostel website directly too.

Ski in/out Accommodations at the HI Kananaskis Hostel

Wanna go further? Top Three Overnight Destinations

There are a LOT of amazing places to ski that have not been mentioned in this story but I really tried to limit it to destinations that are reached in roughly an hour of driving from Calgary (or less.) Any longer than that and I start looking into lodging so we can make a weekend of the trip.

Below are three awesome destinations if you want to plan a ski weekend and want to find some sweet ski in/out accommodations for cross country skiing.

Plan a Ski Weekend with Ski in/out Accommodations (photo: Emerald Lake)

Cross Country Ski Weekend at Lake Louise

We love skiing the Tramline Trail from Lake Louise down to the Village. The trail loses 200 metres of elevation and is a great trail for practicing your glide with gravity in your favour. The only problem is that somebody will have to ski back UP to get the vehicle after (and it's not going to be your children.)

Read more about the trails here: Family X-Country Skiing at Lake Louise. 

Stay overnight at the Lake Louise Alpine Centre and you can ski down from the lake, right up to the Alpine Centre door! Then while you hang out with the kids in the large fireside room, send a second adult back up for the vehicle. (If you've come out with another family, you can set up a shuttle so that you have one car at each end.)

Skiing down the Tramline Trail at Lake Louise

We recently stayed at the Lake Louise Alpine Centre and you can read about our adventures here: Family Guide to the Lake Louise Ski Resort. The Centre is a hostel but has plenty of family rooms and private dorms. It also has a large kitchen so you can cook your own meals.

Lake Louise Alpine Centre, Ski in/out accommodations at Lake Louise

Alternately stay overnight at the Baker Creek Mountain ResortThe resort has cozy cabins and suites, many with kitchenettes and all with fireplaces (including wood burning fireplaces in the cabins.) The largest cabins fit up to 5 people.

By staying at Baker Creek, you'll also be very close to either the trails at Lake Louise or the trails near the Town of Banff. 

Baker Creek puts you right on the ski trails along the Highway 1A as well which run between Baker Creek and Castle Junction. Total distance is 15.7 km one way from the resort to Castle Junction but you can ski as far as you want before turning around. 

Skiing on the trails near Baker Creek

Cross Country Ski Weekend at Nipika Mountain Resort, BC

Nipika Mountain Resort is located on the border of Kootenay National Park and is a true gem of a place for cross country skiers. Stay in a cozy cabin (or rent the Rocky Mountain House which sleeps 12 people) and enjoy ski in/out lodging on an amazing trail network of flawlessly groomed trails. And there are roughly 100 km of trails here so while you could visit for a day, you really want to spend a weekend.

Nipika Mountain Resort is a great destination for a family ski getaway

Also on site is a skating rink, sledding hill, snowshoe trails, and fat bike trails. Rentals and guided tours can be arranged, and I know for fact that there are two kids' fat bikes for rent (a 20" bike and a 24" bike) because I was there the day they were purchased and added to the rental fleet.

Fat biking at Nipika Mountain Resort (rentals and dedicated trails on site)

We've stayed here as a family a couple of times (both winter and summer, for biking) and I've enjoyed a couple of girls' weekends here. There's never a bad weekend at Nipika and you'll enjoy skiing to one of three warming huts (including the day lodge beside the day use parking lot.)

Visit for the day and you can still use the day lodge which aligns with my philosophy of starting out your trip warm! Put your boots and extra clothes on inside, have a snack, ski out to the first warming hut, ski back for another snack or lunch, and then continue with more skiing if you want.)

The first warming hut at Nipika Mountain Resort

Families love Nipika with the wide variety of trails that are perfect for all ski levels. Loops can be made to accommodate skiers of all ages and thanks to the day lodge (or the on site cabins,) you can always return early with a younger child while a second parent skis with the older kid(s.)

To read more about Nipika Mountain Resort, read my story: Everything for a Family to Love at Nipika Mountain Resort. 

And check out my newest story on Fat biking at Nipika Mountain Resort.

It's always a winter wonderland at Nipika! (Rocky Mountain Cabin in the background)

You can also read The Ultimate Girls' Ski Getaway at Nipika Mountain Resort.

And to plan out a summer biking trip, read Kids On Wheels - Nipika Mountain Resort

Ski in/out Lodging at Nipika Mountain Resort

Cross Country Ski Weekend at Emerald Lake Lodge, Yoho National Park

From Lake Louise, head over into Yoho National Park and spend a weekend at Emerald Lake Lodge. Enjoy ski in/out lodging on beautiful Emerald Lake, decadent dining, and a cozy lodge with fireside lounge you can play games in over a hot chocolate after skiing.

Ski in/out Accommodations at Emerald Lake Lodge

We recently stayed here for a weekend and enjoyed cross country skiing and snowshoeing around the lake, relaxing in the outdoor hot tub, hiking up to see frozen waterfalls, and exploring a natural bridge.

Scenic skiing at Emerald Lake, BC

You can also visit Emerald Lake for a day trip but it's a long drive from Calgary so you'll appreciate an overnight stay with kids more. Plus, if you stay overnight, it's easier to base your ski adventures from a cozy base camp. You can take turns skiing with the kids or heading out for a short solo ski as an adult. Finish your day at the hot tub and alternate between short ski outings or hikes around the property.

To read about our adventures, read Family Weekend at Emerald Lake, Yoho National Park.

Skiing across Emerald Lake, Yoho National Park

See you on the trails and let me know if I missed your favourite place to ski.

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