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 multi-use trails. We love cross country skiing up to the Hale Hut, we ski around the golf course on the Valley Trail, and we love cruising down the Prospector's Trail (all downhill from the Grey Wolf Golf Course to the Nordic Centre in the Village below.)

On our most recent visit to Panorama we also discovered that the nordic 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!)

Our approach to cross country skiing at Panorama



Parking:

The biggest challenge at Panorama is parking in the lower village near the Nordic Centre. There's a parking lot right across the bridge from the Centre (just below the gondola station) but there's never any free parking spots here unless you arrive super early.

We get around the parking situation by just starting at the Grey Wolf Golf Course above the Village. You can drive right up to the Golf Course Club House (closed in winter) and there's tons of parking here.

Easy skiing on the Valley Trail from the Grey Wolf Club House

Note that if you choose to park at the golf course above, there are no bathrooms. There are no bathrooms at the Nordic Centre though either so it's just easier to make sure you use facilities in Invermere before the drive out. (Or hopefully you're staying at the resort and it's not a problem.)

Also, if you park at the golf course, you'll need your own skis. If you have to rent, you'll be forced to at least double park by the Nordic Centre while somebody runs in to grab equipment and day passes for the trails

If you've parked at the golf course, you can buy day passes for the ski trails from an automatic kiosk outside the club house using your credit card. Otherwise, we often send an adult into the Nordic Centre to grab passes while the second adult stays with the car

One of the fun hills coming down the Prospector's Trail from the Golf Course to the  Lower Village


The Ski Trails:

From the Grey Wolf Golf Course you can either ski up towards the Hale Hut on an easy/intermediate trail (roughly 8 km round trip from the golf course,) you can ski across the golf course on the easy Valley 2 Trail (2 km return) or you can ski down to the Lower Village on the Prospector's and Valley 1 Trails (4 km one way.)

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 since it's all downhill from here and super fun. The Prospector's Trail down to the Village is rated "easy" but there are a few hills where you definitely have to know how to snowplow (I would personally rate the trail as intermediate.)

Skiing up the Placer Trail to the Hale Hut

If you've decided to ski down to the Lower Village one way, you'll need to either have a car shuttle set up, or (much easier) just send an adult back up the Prospector's Trail to fetch the vehicle. And while somebody's doing that, you can take the kids up the free gondola from the Lower Village to access the Upper Village where you'll find a coffee shop and post-ski snacks. The open gondola ride will probably be the highlight of your kids' ski day.

Grab your coffee and snacks in the Village and then simply head back down the gondola for a pick up in the lower parking lot once your partner is back with the vehicle.

Flying down the Prospector's Trail to the Lower Village

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 same trails as mentioned above for cross country skiing.

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 the Valley Trail or if you have a truck, load the bikes in for a short drive up to the Grey Wolf Golf Course (what we did.) From the golf course, it's a FUN ride back down to the Village on the Prospector's Trail and the Valley 1 Trail.

We couldn't fit all of our bikes in our truck so my husband generously biked up and met us at the golf course parking lot so that my son and I didn't have to make the climb up. Then he biked back up to get the vehicle again at the end (and brought his bike back down in the truck while my son and I rode the gondola up to the Upper Village.)

Biking down the Prospector's Trail from the Golf Course to the Lower Village


What to expect from winter biking at Panorama:

  •  There's not a lot of "easy" beginner biking here unless you manage to get your bikes up to the Grey Wolf Golf Course parking lot and you ride downhill on the Prospector's Trail and Valley 1 Trail to reach the Lower Village.

    You can also ride out and back on the Valley 2 trail from the golf course before riding down to the village.

  • If you decide to bike straight from the Nordic Centre, you can ride out and back along the Valley 1 Trail for a short ways but then you'll have to start climbing up the Prospector's Trail (something that most kids would find hard to do.)

  • From the golf course, you can also bike towards the Hale Hut which has a lot of hills (up and down in both directions.) On a nice warm day though, it would be a fun ride and you'd just have to walk any steep hills the kids couldn't ride. It's on our list to try next time.

  • Know that all trails are multi-use. This means that you must be able to stop if going down a steep hill before you run into some poor unsuspecting cross country skier slowly climbing up a hill.

    Also, because the trails are multi-use, you can expect frozen foot prints (making for a bumpy ride,) ski tracks that you have to avoid hitting, and possibly even snowshoe tracks. On the bright side though, each member of the family could choose to head out to the Hale Hut via a different mode of transportation. You can bike, ski, or hike to the hut and still do it together as a family (something that's really cool in my mind  because I could see myself quite happily skiing while my son biked.)
Riding down one of the steeper hills on the Prospector's Trail

Main reasons I recommend fat biking at Panorama

  1. You've always wanted to try fat biking and you are staying at Panorama with extra time on your hands. Boom, here's your chance to try it!

  2. You're in the Columbia Valley looking for something new and novel to do for a day. Again, boom, here's something super cool and original to do for half a day.

  3. You're not a skier and are spending a weekend at Panorama with the family. Fat biking is an excellent alternative to cross country skiing and you'll still get to reach the beautiful Hale Hut.

  4. You love biking in the summer, can easily ride uphill in a gentle sustained 30 minute ride, have no problems with moderate descents, and again, have never tried fat biking. Here is your chance!! (and honestly, all trails here are double track so it's not that challenging in terms of technical terrain)

  5. You are looking for a multi-sport outing with the family. Maybe the older kids or teens would like to bike but you need to ski or walk with the younger kids (or pull a toddler in a sled.) The trip to the Hale Hut is the kind of outing where you can do it all: bike, hike, snowshoe, or ski. The whole family can go together and there's no designated trails for each sport.

  6. You've been trying to find a place that rents fat bikes for kids (not the easiest thing to find!) Well, you've come to the right place here because the whole family can rent bikes down to a 20" bike.

Easy riding on the Valley 1 Trail 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 on the Valley 1 Trail


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.

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