Friday, February 09, 2018

Family Guide to Panorama Mountain Ski Resort

We recently had the fabulous opportunity to spend a weekend skiing at Panorama Mountain Resort outside Invermere, BC, and it was an incredible experience. My son is already begging to go back, and I wish every day could start with a rollercoaster ride (our favourite run on the hill.)

Family Guide to Panorama Mountain Resort, British Columbia

Introduction to Panorama Mountain Resort

The Village of Panorama is located 20 minutes southwest of the Town of Invermere in the East Kootenay region of British Columbia. From Calgary, it's a 3.5 hour drive and definitely doable for a normal 2-day weekend. Extend your trip to a 3-day weekend though and you'll find the trip a bit more relaxing.

What really sets the Panorama Mountain Resort apart from other ski resorts that we've visited is its isolation from other nearby towns. With Invermere 20 minutes away, Panorama has to be its own village, complete with accommodations, restaurants, après ski activities and nightlife.

Panorama Base area complete with restaurants and lodging

While you "could" drive to Panorama for a day of skiing, and many do, the true "Panorama experience" comes from staying on the hill, soaking in the ski culture and vibe, and relaxing in the slopeside Panorama Springs hot pools at the end of the day.

Sunrise over the BC Purcell Mountains at Panorama Mountain Resort

The Panorama Village Experience

"The advantage of staying in a mountain village is that once you've parked, you've arrived. No endless trips or shuttling around. It's all here." (Quote: Panorama Mountain Resort)

We found the above quote to be true with our stay. We drove out to Panorama from Calgary Friday night, stopped in at Central Check-in (which is a convenient way of doing things rather than having individual check-in desks inside each property,) and then drove over to our condo, The Panorama Springs Lodge.

We parked in our underground parkade, hauled our bags up to our room, and that was it. The rest of the weekend involved walking out of our room onto the ski hill, walking down to restaurants in the village, or heading down the elevator to the village hot pools (conveniently located in our building.)

Slopeside Panorama Springs Hot Pools 

Lodging in the Panorama Mountain Village 

There are various lodging options in the village from ski-in/ski-out condos to larger townhomes for families needing more space than the average condo. There is also an economic choice in the Pine Inn, located right at the base of the ski hill and with restaurants conveniently located on the ground floor.

All overnight resort lodging guests have access to the Panorama Springs Pools (located inside the Panorama Springs Lodge, where we stayed.)

We loved our condo in the Panorama Springs Lodge and I'm pretty certain I could have moved in permanently. Our suite had a comfortable living area with electric fireplace, a small kitchen and dining room, a large master bedroom with ensuite bathroom (with king sized bed,) and then a smaller bedroom with two twin beds that could be pushed together into one larger bed. 

Kitchen and dining room in our condo 
Living area in our condo at the Panorama Springs Lodge

The best part of staying in the Panorama Springs Lodge was the easy access we got to the Panorama Springs Pools. Located inside our building, we didn't have to put on our winter coats to walk to another building. 

We also loved that we were right on the hill. We walked outside and skied down beside the magic carpet to get to the village base area. Once at the base, we could go out for breakfast and be first in line for the 9am chairlift. (Which means we got the best snow, sunrise views, and all the fresh corduroy!) 

Saturday morning and first in line for the 9am lifts

Skiing at Panorama Mountain

It didn't take us long to figure out a routine that worked well for us at Panorama. If there would have been fresh snow overnight, things would have changed I'm sure, but we were looking at a "corduroy" weekend with no fresh powder.

Mornings on Fresh Corduroy (Rollercoaster)
Awesome to be skiing with this kid!

Mornings on Fresh Corduroy 

We got in line for the lifts first thing each morning at 9am. Then we headed up the Mile 1 Express Quad, and straight up the Champagne Express Quad. This put us at the top of "Rollercoaster," a groomed blue cruiser and wicked fast! After an hour or so, this run would start to get icy, so it was best enjoyed (and safest) on fresh corduroy.

First run of the day down Rollercoaster
By the time we skied down Rollercoaster, and rode the Champagne Express back up, the Summit Quad would be opening at 9:30am. We skied straight over to it and enjoyed fresh corduroy down the steep but groomed "View of 1000 Peaks," a black run with some steep pitches, and also best with fresh grooming.

Fresh corduroy and great views!

View of 1000 Peaks either took us over to Founde'rs Ridge (where you'll have the entire area to yourself at 9:30am,) or back to the bottom of Champagne Express. If heading up Champagne again, we'd choose to traverse over towards the Summit Chair, skiing down "Schober's Dream," another black/blue run that's groomed with fresh corduroy first thing in the day.

Fresh corduroy on View of 1000 Peaks 

Getting Playful in the Afternoon

It didn't take long each day before the fresh corduroy would be skied out, and groomed runs would start to get icy. This was the sign that it was time to move on to the Sun Bowl.

The Sun Bowl runs were less groomed and better with the soft afternoon snow. We also liked that we could all take our own line down through the large bowl, choosing mogul runs, easy traverses, or fun gladed runs. Most of the terrain in the Sun Bowl is intermediate, making it a dream for families not wanting anything too "intense."

Gateway to the Sun Bowl

The only challenge with the Sun Bowl was getting to the area! The only easy way we found to get into the bowl was by skiing down from the bottom of the Summit Quad on Schober's Dream (quite steep at the top and icy by afternoon.) And then unfortunately, there was no chair to take you back up into the Sun Bowl so you were pretty much looking at riding up to the top of the mountain again, and skiing all the way back down. For these reasons, we only did one run down through the Sun Bowl each day.

Getting playful in the afternoon

Another afternoon favourite was "Fritz's" on the lower mountain, a groomed black run that never seemed to get overly icy. It was also the only way we found to access the "Secret Forest" with awesome tree house for the kids. (The other easier way to the tree house was down "Old Timer" but it was closed for training and racing.

The Secret Forest at Panorama

Finally, we spent a lot of time skiing the short runs off the Sunbird Chair at the bottom of the mountain. My son loved skiing down under the chair on the main "Sunbird" run, a black mogul run, and I discovered a nice easy groomer in "Out Rider," a mellow green run that takes you down beside the landing pad for the Panorama paragliding operation.

Skiing down Sunbird 

Discovering the Terrain Park off the Toby Double Chair 

There is a large terrain park off the Mile 1 Express Quad but my 9-year old won't be ready for that one for quite some time yet! Fortunately, we discovered a more "Secret terrain park" off the small Toby Double Chair near the bottom of the hill.

The cute little Toby Double Chair

This terrain park had the typical boxes and rails, but also had several jumps my son loved! We finally called it quits and decided to start the drive home after a few rather epic large falls left me worried that my kid would actually break something! Apparently he has no fear of speed or jumping off large mounds of snow! (and sadly I have no videos of the best jumps that actually made me cringe to watch.)

Having a blast in the terrain park off the Toby Double Chair

Panorama for Beginners 

I know that I've been talking mostly about intermediate terrain with a few groomed black runs but Panorama is also a great hill for young kids or beginner skiers.

Highlights for beginners:

  • There are two magic carpets for progression of skills when first introducing the kids to the basic ski techniques.

  • From the Little Ripper Carpet, and then the Red Carpet, skiers can move up to the Silver Platter and the beautiful beginner run off of it. It's the perfect intermediate step from bunny hill to actual green runs down the ski hill. And secret Pano. tip: There's a day use parking lot at the base of the platter run (and it doesn't show up on maps, so it's a local secret.)

  • From the Silver Platter, move on to the Discovery Quad with its short green runs and the awesome "Discovery Zone," with a special tree course for the kids - that is a guaranteed crowd pleaser for all children, no matter how experienced at skiing.

  • From the Discovery Quad, I recommend trying out the Toby Double Chair where there are a couple of short green and blue runs. Alternately, move up to the Mile 1 Express Quad and follow the easiest way down. And another secret Pano. tip: There's a great day use parking lot at the bottom of the Toby Chair. When we've visited in the past, we always thought we had to park down below in the Lower Village (riding the village gondola up to the base area.)

  • After getting comfortable on the beginner terrain off the Mile 1 Express Quad, skiers can try "Out Rider" off of the Sunbird Chair (but know, it is a bit steeper than your average green run, and more of an intro-blue run.) Higher up the mountain, I can't recommend anything for true beginners.

And also to note, Panorama offers a great Wee Wascals child care program for families of little ones who might not want to ski the whole day. They accept babies as well as young as 18 months! - which is a great option for families wanting to spend time skiing with older kids, and not sure what to do with the youngest family member.

The Kids' Discovery Zone off the Discovery Quad 

Panorama for experts

My husband might not call himself an "expert" but he had a lot of fun skiing in the Taynton Bowl one afternoon, and found lots of fresh powder in the new terrain, just opened for the 2017/18 winter season. He traversed over as far as he could to drop down "The Monster" and said it was definitely a backcountry type ski experience (with the safety that comes from skiing at a resort with avalanche control.)

Gateway to the Taynton Bowl
Expert terrain in the Taynton Bowl at Panorama

On Hill Dining (Up the Mountain)

Panorama has a European Ski Village feeling to it with cute little huts spread out around the hill serving fondue, raclette, and other popular menu items for the ultimate lunch or après ski experience.

At the top of the mountain, you'll find the Summit Hut, a cozy place to warm up with great views. You'll find gourmet smokies, homemade treats, and hot drinks.  And for something extra special, book an evening heli-fondue with RK HELISKI. Fly up to the hut after the lifts close for the evening and enjoy both cheese and chocolate fondues.

The Summit Hut at the top of Panorama 

You can also participate in the fondue experience at the summit hut without the helicopter ride by loading the last chair of the day to the summit, and then enjoying a guided ski back down to the base.

Visit the Panorama website for more information on Après-fondue experiences at the Summit Hut.

Afternoon at the Summit Hut 

Further down the mountain off the top of the Champagne Express, you'll find the Elkhorn Cabin with the best homemade apple cider on the hill! Guests can also enjoy fresh homemade soups and Swiss Raclette (a cheese and meat grill popular with European skiers) in this small cabin.

Beautiful views from the Elkhorn Cabin

Raclette is served all day long in the cabin but you can also make a reservation for after the hill has closed and enjoy a guided ski down after your après ski party. Visit the Panorama website for more information on the  après ski raclette experience at the Elkhorn Cabin.

Enjoying an apple cider on the deck of the Elkhorn Cabin

Finally, at the top of the Mile 1 Express Quad, you'll find the small Mile 1 Hut, a great spot to warm up and grab a coffee. It's the only hut accessible to beginner skiers and is popular! (We tried to get in but couldn't find a seat anywhere in the small cabin.)

This is where you'll find grilled burgers (bison, salmon and veggie,) local Kicking Horse Coffee and a variety of baked goods and treats.

Looking down on the Mile 1 Hut at the top of the Mile 1 Express Quad

Village Dining (off the slopes)

There are several options for dining in the village (for all meals,) so I'll just tell you about the two restaurants we enjoyed. - and you can read about all of the village options here

Saturday night we had dinner at the T-Bar & Grill, a family-friendly pub style restaurant. The food was amazing for a casual grill restaurant and I'd eat here again on future trips to Panorama.

Evening at Panorama Mountain Village

And what's awesome about this restaurant is that it's aimed at the après ski experience, so you can come straight from the slopes in your ski gear without having to get changed or dressed up! This is good news because Panorama offers night skiing off the Mile 1 Express Quad, and also has tubing on Friday and Saturday nights. Take the kids for a few runs down the tubing hill, and then go straight for dinner. Or, grab a quick bite and then return to the hill for a few final runs before bed.

Night skiing at Panorama Mountain Resort 

For breakfast on Sunday, we tried out the Picnic Cafe, and let me just say - I'm a huge fan of this place!! They have great breakfast wraps, local Kicking Horse coffee, fresh baking, and then a large assortment of breakfast menu items to order.

Every ski hill should have a separate coffee shop apart from the busy day lodge

I liked Picnic so much, I returned later for coffee and felt like I could spend hours here curled up with a book by the fireplace. It was very refreshing to find a ski hill offering more than the crowded "day lodge experience."

Isn't this a cozy spot to enjoy a cup of coffee while taking a break at the ski hill?

More than Downhill Skiing at Panorama 

This was our first downhill ski trip to Panorama, but we've visited the Village many times over the years for cross country skiing (and even to go fat biking last winter.)

While many ski resorts offer cross country skiing or snowshoeing as "options" for the non-skier, Panorama actually excels at their Nordic offerings. And as I said, we've actually visited Panorama many times just to cross country ski (without ever feeling like we were missing out on anything.)

Cross Country Skiing to the Hale Hut is a beautiful outing while at Panorama

We haven't tried snowshoeing at Panorama yet, but you can read more about our adventures cross country skiing and fat biking here in the story I wrote last winter: Panorama Mountain Resort  (much more than downhill skiing.)

And find more information on Nordic Skiing at Panorama (along with trail maps and rentals) on their website. 

Fat tire biking at Panorama Mountain Resort

Other activities to enjoy while at Panorama Mountain Resort:

  • Tubing (new for the 2017-2018 winter season on Friday and Saturday nights) - and what sets this tube park apart from the others is that you can go down on your stomach if you want! You can even take a running start. There are very few rules for this tube park compared to others. (which works here because the tube run is very short and you'll feel as if you're at a sledding hill rather than at a large mountain tube park.)

  • Check out the daily activity program (Pick up a "this week at Panorama" guide) which could include fun programming for the kids from movie nights to campfires and various arts and crafts projects. This is a great compliment to a day spent skiing on the hill (especially for kids who tire out mid-afternoon.)

  • Take an improvement session or register the kids in a ski lesson for a day. All information on the Panorama Ski and Ride School can be found on their website.

  • Try Tandem Paragliding (even in winter, on skis!! - starting from the upper mountain and ending near the base area of the resort)

  • Relax in the Panorama Springs Pools at the end of the day. (included with lodging on the hill)

  • Try a Snowmobile Adventure with Toby Creek Adventures Ltd. (great if you're staying at the hill for a week over Family Day or another school holiday.)

Weekend Tubing at Panorama Mountain Resort

Top Highlights from our recent trip to Panorama 

Below are a few things that stand out to me from our weekend at Panorama:

  1. Starting off our days with a fast cruisy "rollercoaster ride"

  2. First corduroy off View of 1000 Peaks on Sunday morning (we were seriously the first people to ski down the run and it was groomed to perfection!)

  3. Watching my son Noah getting "sendy" in the terrain park. I actually screamed watching one of his jumps, that he managed to actually land!

  4. Noah killing it in the wild terrain under the Sunbird Chair Sunday

  5. My cross country tour of the mountain on Madison's Mile in the Founder's Ridge area. And while it might not be the most exciting ski run (basically a long switch backed road,) I was all alone in this part of the resort Sunday morning without another pair of skis in sight. And I like cross country skiing so it was a good run for me

  6. Finding the treehouse in the Secret Forest

First run down rollercoaster in the morning 

It's always exciting too when you make it to the top of the mountain, and every run off the sign post indicates you are in "advanced terrain" - and you know you can actually go for it with your family.

Making it to the top of the mountain and ready to ski down View of 1000 Peaks 
Skiing down the ridge from the summit on View of 1000 Peaks

NEW for 2017/18

Have you skied at Panorama before? If so, there have been a few improvements and changes for this season.

  • Monsterous new terrain in the Taynton Bowl with four new black lines, 128 acres of nasty "brutish" terrain, and a total of 4264 feet of vertical now - placing Panorama in the top 3 resorts in Canada. The longest run is now 6.5 km long!

  • New RFID technology at the lifts - carry your day pass in your pocket and watch as the gates open up to let you on the lifts using radio-frequency identification technology (without worrying about losing a pass that's hanging from your coat!)

  • New 8-week All Mountain Program (AMP) for kids that takes lessons and ski clubs to a whole new level!

  • 2 new dining options in the Village with restaurant ElevenFIFTY, located beside the Picnic coffee shop, and Cabin Family Restaurant

  • Lunch and après ski service at the Cliffhanger Restaurant at the Greywolf Golf course - fabulous news for Nordic skiers because the trail to the Hail Hut starts from the golf course, and there's a large parking lot here!

  • New Après Kids program from 3:30-5 daily. Activities could include tubing, ice skating on the village rink, heading back up for a few more ski runs, or snowshoeing. The program includes hot chocolate and snacks, and has a cost associated with it. 

On hill dining at the Cliffhanger Restaurant at the Greywolf Golf Course

And, while perhaps not "new," two other things to draw your attention to are the free shuttle service from various locations in Invermere every day up to Panorama (for families staying down in the Town,) and the Panorama Day Trip option from Banff ($99 per person, including round trip Banff transfer and full-day lift ticket.)

Parting Shot 

Special thanks to Panorama Mountain Resort for sponsoring our adventure for the weekend, Note that all opinions are my own and I was not paid to provide a favorable review.

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