Thursday, October 22, 2020

What to Expect at Ski Resorts this Winter across the Canadian Rockies

The upcoming ski season may look a bit different this year, but resorts are excited to welcome us back! Ski Industry Leaders across Canada have established best practices for the coming season with a commitment to supporting health through standard protocols and guidelines for each resort.

Downhill skiing or snowboarding is a low-risk recreation opportunity where you'll spend the majority of your day outside wearing protective gear including face masks and gloves, naturally distanced from other visitors as you spread out around the ski hill. 

The upcoming ski season may look a bit different but resorts are excited to welcome us back!

Standard Resort Procedures for 2020-2021 

While there may be some differences between resorts, there will be standard procedures that you should notice everywhere you visit this winter.

  • Face coverings will be required at all resorts, inside buildings and day lodges, and while riding on chairlifts or in gondolas. Once in a day lodge you will be allowed to remove your mask once you are sitting down at a table with your snack or lunch.

  • All resorts will have policies in place to accommodate physical distancing around the property, in lift lines, and in buildings.

  • All resorts will have cleaning and disinfection policies in place to keep high touch areas sanitized regularly.

  • Most resorts are encouraging guests to purchase their lift tickets online in advance. Most season passes will be upgraded for direct to lift access and even rental gear can be reserved ahead of time at many resorts this year. 

  • Communication will be key at resorts this winter and there will be signage at all resorts highlighting all new policies and rules.

  • Employees will be trained in COVID-19 safety and cleaning protocols. They will also be screened daily for symptoms.

  • Guests will be expected to stay home if they are showing any COVID symptoms and asked to wait until they are feeling well before visiting the resort.

Follow this link to Panorama Mountain Resort's website to read more about the Ski Well, Be Well Ski Area Best Operating Practices for 2020-2021 that most resorts should be following.

Ski Well, Be Well with your family this winter

The Good, Clean, Fun Promise

Castle Mountain Resort has come up with their own promise to their guests based on the same practices outlined above.

"We make a pledge to you to provide GOOD, honest, and frequent communication on COVID-19 Related changes to our operations. 

To maintain a high standard of CLEANliness, in all of our indoor and outdoor spaces.

To create a FUN, family friendly environment all the while respecting local, provincial, and national health guidelines and recommendations." - Castle Mountain Resort

Read more about the Good, Clean, Fun Promise here.

Skiing offers your family Good, Clean, Fun!

Winter Operations at Calgary's Closest Mountain Ski Area

Nakiska Ski Area has released their safety measures and protocols that they plan to follow for the upcoming ski season.

You can read about them here: 2020-21 Winter Operations for Nakiska Ski Area

Most of their policies are similar to the others you'll read about in this guide but pay special attention to the "Preview Weekend" requirements if you plan to ski before the official opening day. You won't be able to just "show up" this year without a season pass or an online ticket purchased in advance.

Nakiska has also said they will require guests to answer Covid screening questions upon entering the resort (something I haven't seen mentioned for other resorts yet.)

Read about the operations at other RCR resorts here:

We plan to spend lots of time at Nakiska this winter, Calgary's closest mountain ski area!

Mask Requirements at Ski Resorts this Winter

Masks or face coverings will be required everywhere on ski hills this winter from the second you park your vehicle until you leave the resort. (Which means you'll be wearing a mask while carrying your equipment to the ski racks, while standing in lift lines, and while riding the lifts, including magic carpets.)

The two exceptions are that you will be able to remove your face covering while skiing and you'll be able to take it off while sitting at a table (much like we do now when we go to a restaurant.)

Children under the age of 2 will also not be required to wear a face covering. 

Practical suggestions for mask use at ski resorts this season:

  • Bring a dry mask to wear inside the day lodge so you can remove your wet ski mask or balaclava. 

  • As always, you may want to bring extra outdoor face coverings so that you have something dry to wear on the slopes in the afternoon ( I know my balaclava is usually soaked by noon.)

Wearing a face covering is pretty normal when skiing or playing outside

What to Expect in Lift lines, on Chairlifts, and on Gondolas

Regular cleaning and disinfecting will take place on all lifts and gondolas. Natural ventilation occurs on chairlifts and windows will be kept open on gondolas to increase air flow.

Physical distancing will also be easy to maintain in a natural way unless you're standing on top of somebody's skis. 

Most resorts will "try" to load groups as a cohort or family rather than making strangers share a lift. That being said, some resorts have said it just won't be possible at peak times.

Sunshine Village has the following on their website:

"We will load our lifts and our gondola at full capacity during busy periods. Loading our lifts at capacity will allow us to prevent large lift lines." - Sunshine Village Ski Resort


This is what you can expect to see at most resorts this season unless it's a busy day

For families planning to visit Panorama Mountain Resort this winter, know that the Monster X Snow Cat will still operate, allowing easy access to the Taynton Bowl for steep and deep expert skiing. They plan to load the cabin to capacity with face coverings mandatory for the 10 minute ride. Tickets must be purchased in advance and no Monster X season pass is being offered this year.

BIG NEWS - Early Chairlift Loading! 

And definitely one of the coolest things I've read so far in my research from the Lake Louise Ski Resort: 

"Our lifts will open earlier on certain weekends and holidays to get guests up the mountain and reduce the number of people that are in the base area at one time." - Lake Louise Ski Resort

Some resorts are considering opening lifts earlier to reduce crowds at the base

MORE BG NEWS - Cohort and Family Bubble Loading!

Nakiska Ski Area has the following posted on their website: 

"There will be two maze areas for the following guests: 

Cohort Groups or Family Bubbles – those willing to ride the lift together. These groups will be loaded onto a lift up to the capacity of the carrier as their own group. No one outside these circles will join these groups.

Individuals who are willing to ride with other people: These people will be loaded onto lifts on the following basis/capacity

2 per Quad chair (Gold Chair, Silver Chair, Olympic Chair)

1 per Double chair (Bronze Chair)" - Nakiska Ski Area


Special loading mazes at Nakiska should mean we won't see this for the upcoming winter!

Practical suggestions and what to expect on chairlifts and gondolas this season:

  • Be prepared to handle your own gear when loading and unloading from gondolas. At Sunshine Village, staff won't be assisting guests with their skis/boards this year because it puts their employees at an increased risk if they're touching everybody's gear. (Exceptions will be made for those who require special assistance.)

  • Ride with a buddy whenever possible so that you don't have to try and fit onto a lift as a single (when many people will prefer to ride with their own group.)

  • Be polite at all times with resort staff! I know you might not want to share a chairlift in busy times or you might not appreciate the single skier squeezing their way into your gondola. Regardless of how you feel about the policies, employees are trying their best in challenging times and will appreciate a friendly wave. (Remember they're wearing masks too and can't see your smile, or smile back at you.)

Physical distancing will be expected in all lift lines this season 

Your Vehicle is your Ski Locker this Winter 

Most resorts are encouraging guests to leave their bags, shoes, and all personal items in their vehicles rather than in the day lodge this winter.

BIG NEWS - Leave your bags IN your vehicle this winter!

Lake Louise has the following on their website:

"This year, one big difference is that we ask guests not to bring their bags into the lodges unless they have purchased a seasonal locker or will be using our limited number of day lockers.

We’ll have benches in the parking lots to facilitate you getting ready at your vehicle. We encourage you to do so and leave your bag in the car. Alternatively, you may boot up in the morning in the lodge, but please return your bags to your vehicle once you are ready.

This year, the operating protocols required for everyone’s health and safety do not allow bags to be left randomly inside lodges. Plan to use your vehicle as your locker." - Lake Louise Ski Resort

If you usually bring a backpack with snacks and lunch items in it, you'll have to plan to ski with your pack rather than leaving it in the day lodge.

Marmot Basin in Jasper also has the same policy:

"Personal belongings are to be stored in lockers, cubbies, or in your vehicles. Leaving bags and belongings under tables or on chairs is prohibited." - Marmot Basin

Note that the "no bag policy" will be resort specific so contact your local resort before visiting to make sure you're prepared.

Your vehicle is your ski locker this winter. Plan to leave personal gear in your vehicle this season

What to Expect in Day Lodges and Restaurants at Resorts this Season

There will be reduced seating in all day lodges and restaurants this winter, and tables will be spread out to allow for physical distancing. You can also expect to see a maximum number of people allowed per table. (6 is the limit most resorts have posted.)

Expect to see more grab and go food options at resorts, new temporary tent facilities with additional bathrooms, increased picnic areas, and fewer shared amenities (microwaves for example.)

BIG NEWS - Priority Access in the day lodge for those purchasing food!

The Lake Louise Ski Resort specifically mentions on their website that priority seating in lodges will be given to those that have purchased their lunch or snack. 

"Guests that have brought their lunch will be directed to designated areas. As capacity allows, those areas will continue to be in our lodges or outdoor tents. If necessary, you may be asked to go old school and eat the lunch you’ve brought outside. 

We will have chairs, tables, heaters and fire pits outside for a real Canadian experience. Microwaves will continue to be provided if possible but may be temporarily paused this season. If you are bringing your lunch, consider packing items that don’t require a microwave." - Lake Louise Ski Resort 

Marmot Basin in Jasper also suggests that guests return to their vehicles to eat (if possible.)

"Our four parking lots are uniquely tiered alongside one of our novice runs called “Home Run,” which has always made skiing in and out directly to lifts possible at Marmot Basin. We suggest bringing your own lunch and eating at your vehicles due to restricted seating capacities inside our chalets.

Table space in cafeterias and restaurants will be reserved for only those purchasing food and beverages. Please be courteous by minimizing your time in these spaces to make space for other guests." - Marmot Basin 

Expect to spend more time outside this winter 

BIG NEWS - No camping out in day lodges this winter!

Castle Mountain Resort has taken a firm stance against camping out or lingering in their day lodge this winter when not having a quick snack or lunch break.

"Given current restrictions on indoor gatherings, we expect to limit the number of people in our base area buildings. Time limits could be imposed, ensuring that day lodge visits are kept to essential visits only.

“Camping out” in the day lodge just simply will not be an option this winter. In order to minimize indoor visits, and to help us manage capacities, please consider treating your vehicle as your own personal lodge & ski locker." - Castle Mountain Resort 

Spend more time skiing this winter and less time hanging out in the day lodge!

Other specific day lodge changes by resort:

Sunshine Village - They have transformed the top floor of the Old Village Gondola Station into a picnic area for guests. It will be heated and will be furnished with tables and chairs. Sunshine has also secured two new sprung tents, one beside the Goat's Eye Lodge and one in the main Village area beside the old gondola station.

Lake Louise - They will be adding temporary heated structures at the base area, at Temple Lodge and at Whitehorn Lodge to provide more space to eat and warm up, and adding additional outdoor tables, patio heaters and fire pits. Heated washroom trailers will also be available.

Expect to spend more time at picnic tables outside the day lodge this winter 

Recommendations and suggestions for day lodge use this ski season:

  • Since lodge space is limited, all guests are encouraged to pack their own food rather than relying on cafeterias and restaurants. 

  • Don't expect microwaves or anything fancy inside the new tents or picnic areas. Bring a backpack with your lunch and plan to spread out around the hill for your snack and lunch breaks. By packing your own lunch with you, you can pop into warming huts or tents whenever you ski by one and need to have a break.

  • Time your breaks for non-peak times. Don't try to get into the main day lodge at noon for example. Time your meals for before or after the lunch rush.

For more tips, check out my previous story: Ten Tips to Escape the Crowds at Ski Resorts this Winter 

Carry a backpack with you loaded with snacks and lunch items for rest stops

Rental Procedures for the 2020-21 Season

Resorts will continue to rent out skis, boards, boots, poles, and helmets. All rental equipment will be disinfected between each guest. And as with all buildings at the resorts, masks will be required while renting equipment.

BIG NEWS - Reserve your rental gear ahead of time!

Panorama Mountain Resort specifically encourages guests to pre-purchase their equipment package before coming to the resort. 

Lake Louise also asks guests to make an online reservation for rental equipment, and they will be introducing pick up and drop off stations outdoors.

Check with other resorts individually to check their specific policies.

You can still rent gear at ski resorts this winter! Check resort procedures before you visit

What to Expect with Ski and Snowboard School this Season

Lessons will continue as normal but teachers will be required to wear a face covering while teaching and to practice physical distancing with their students. Instructors will not be allowed to join students for lunch this year and there will be no supervised lunches.

Below is the protocol that will be followed at Panorama Mountain Resort:

"Programs will run daily with pre-registration required, this will be available online soon. You can expect staggered start times and smaller groups. All day and special programs will not include lunch or après ski components this year. Face coverings will be required for all participants at all times during a lesson, including when skiing and riding." - Panorama Mountain Resort


Ski school will proceed as usual with a few small changes this season

No Daycare at Ski Resorts this Winter 

Sadly there will be no daycare operating at ski resorts this winter. It's just not possible to keep the young children outside all day where it's safer and easier to physically distance. It's also not possible to create a cohort situation for the daycare facilities.

Suggestion if you regularly rely on daycare at resorts:

  • Plan a ski getaway and stay slopeside if possible. Take turns as parents skiing with older children and staying in the condo with the baby or toddler.

  • Recruit a friend or grandparent to watch your youngest child/children back in the city for the day. If you have friends that are part of your close bubble, consider taking turns with childcare (one weekend one of you stays with the younger kids in the city and then switch places the next weekend.)

  • Take turns skiing/staying in the city with your spouse or partner (which I know sucks, but it allows one of you to ski with the older kids while the other stays home with the baby.)

  • Choose a ski resort close to home where there are other activities nearby or perhaps where there is a hotel nearby that would let you spend time there with a younger child. For Nakiska, we've spent many hours at the nearby Pomeroy Resort where there's always plenty of space for physical distancing in their large lobby area. You'll also find walking trails around Kananaskis Village where you could pull a young child around in a sled while the rest of the family skis.

  • Look for ski school programs that blend childcare and ski lessons for preschoolers that can't ski for a full day (some resorts will offer this service.)

BIG NEWS - Shared parent passes will be available at select resorts! 

Lake Louise is offering a parent pass this winter. One pass can be purchased, and the parents can share it – one can ski or snowboard while one looks after the kid(s), then trade off after a few runs. Click here for info.

Note it is a season pass so you'd have to commit to making Louise your home hill for the winter.

With no daycare at resorts this winter parents will have to get creative with the little ones

Slopeside Resorts will be Open

Plan for your own private day lodge experience!

Plan a ski getaway, book a slopeside condo, and experience the safest ski experience possible with your own private day lodge. Retreat to your own space for snack or lunch breaks, cook your own meals, and hang out in your condo when not skiing (great for families with babies or young children.)

As normal, masks will be required inside common areas, hallways, the lobby, etc. 

Practical suggestions if booking a ski vacation: 

  • Expect reduced capacity in hot tubs so you might want to leave the slopes a bit earlier rather than trying to squeeze in a soak right before dinner. Some pools and hot tubs might also have time restrictions. (At Panorama Mountain Resort for example, there is a one hour time limit for the hot pools.) 

  • Most resorts will have relaxed cancelation policies in place but check with your resort directly for their specific policies.

Book your ski vacation today and experience your own private day lodge this winter! 

What to Expect with Lift Tickets, Season Passes, and Discount Cards

Reservations will not be required to access the slopes at resorts throughout the Canadian Rockies. Guests are encouraged though to purchase their lift tickets online in advance or to have a season pass purchased for their local resort. By doing so, lines at guest services will be reduced.

Most resorts are mailing out season passes this year so if you haven't heard from your resort yet, it might be time to contact them to check on the progress (some resorts hope to be open by early November!)

Unique policies by resort:

Sunshine Village - Sunshine Village will be offering a mobile lift ticket that can be purchased through their free Ski Banff app. Once your cell phone is scanned, you can head straight up the gondola.

Panorama Mountain Resort - Lift tickets will not be sold at the resort unless part of an external program (i.e Lake Louise Plus Card or the Grade 4 / 5 Snow Pass.) 

"Panorama's RFID enabled ticket system, means that day tickets, season passes and SNOW+ Cards can be reloaded online, allowing you to go straight to the lift, all you need is a Panorama Advantage Card. If you already have one, log into our online store or give us a call and we can add products directly to the ticket/pass you already have.
Don't have an Advantage Card? No stress, you'll still purchase you ticket online and then collect your unique RFID card from the Guest Services ticket window before heading to the lift, after that you're all ready to reload online for next time."     

Castle Mountain Resort - Day ticket sales and online ticket pick-ups will be facilitated through the outdoor ticketing windows only. Resort staff will also be getting out into local nearby communities this fall for season pass / direct-to-lift card printing days to minimize line-ups for passes and WOW cards. You can find more information on their website.

Lake Louise Ski Resort - Guests are asked to visit the outdoor ticket windows and self-serve kiosks to pick up a pre-purchased day ticket, or purchase a ticket the day of skiing. Lake Louise Plus Card Direct-to-Lift upgrades will be processed in the North Face Bistro, which has been temporarily converted into a season pass and Lake Louise Plus Card processing space.

Resorts of the Canadian Rockies (Nakiska, Fernie, Kimberley, Kicking Horse) - Guests will have access to outdoor ticket windows and self-serve express kiosks to pick up pre-purchased lift tickets only. Guests will not be able to purchase lift tickets at the resort this winter.

It's recommended that you purchase your ticket online well in advance of your visit because the resort could reach capacity at peak times. (Season pass holders however will always be able to show up to ski without worrying.)

Direct to lift cards and passes will be your best friend this winter on the slopes!

What to expect with Discount Cards:

Discount cards (Example Sunshine Super Cards or Louise Plus Cards) can be purchased online and the resorts recommend that you upgrade to a direct to lift pass this season.

With any discount cards, make sure you check for black out days. Panorama Mountain Resort sells a Snow + Card at a fabulous price, but you can't use it over the Christmas - New Year's period or over the Alberta Family Day long weekend this winter. (And while disappointing for sure, these are peak times at the resort and crowds need to be managed while we navigate a safe ski season in the midst of a pandemic.)

Plan to ski mid week or at non-peak times this winter (and skip holidays!)

Redeeming Ski Cards and Lift Tickets from Last Year 

Have a discount card with free days left on it, or even an unused lift ticket that you purchased last year? Contact your resort directly to find out how you can use these ski days this coming season.

Specific policies by resort: 

Sunshine Village: If you have an unused lift ticket for Sunshine Village the ticket can be exchanged, and will be valid until December 24th, 2020. Get your new ticket at their Calgary Snow Central Office, at any Sunshine Ticket Window, or at Guest Services. (Exchanges will be processed after October 31st.) 

If you have a 2019-20 lift ticket for Sunshine Village that you purchased through their mobile app or e-store, and you did not pick it up last year, email them at for an exchange.

Resorts of the Canadian Rockies: Any unused BC add on passes are eligible to be exchanged for a 2020/2021 BC add on, if presented in conjunction with a 2020/2021 Nakiska season pass. 

Purchased, unused, single-day lift tickets or vouchers from the 2019-20 season will be valid for the upcoming ski season. You can find more information here

Lake Louise Ski Resort: All unused 2019/20 Lake Louise Plus Cards are eligible to be exchanged for a new card for next season. Lake Louise Plus Cards from last season that have been used, have been extended until December 17, 2020 at Lake Louise. (So if you still had a free day on your Louise Card, you have until the 17th to claim it at Lake Louise!)

Check your resort directly if you have ski days or tickets from last year to use up!

Services, Events, and Programs you will not Find at Ski Resorts this Season

Don't expect to find these services available at the majority of ski resorts this winter:

  • Any group events with more than 50 people

  • Après ski programming like DJs, live music, and dance events

  • Programmed kids' activities at resorts with on hill accommodations (so don't evening activities for the children after they finish skiing.)

  • Buffet-style banquet dinners for holidays

  • Fireworks on New Year’s Eve and possibly on Family Day at Panorama Mountain Resort 

  • Music Festivals 

  • Some dining options (resort dependent)

  • Night Skiing at some resorts (It will not operate this year at Panorama)

  • Weekend youth ski races at some resorts. Lake Louise has specifically said they will be moving these races to mid-week days this year. 

This winter will get us back to the pure love of skiing and riding!

Refund Policies for the 2020-21 Ski Season

Every resort will have its own refund policy this winter so check with your resort specifically. 

Full Refunds: 

The most common policy I've seen for season passes is that there will be full "no questions asked" refunds issued for all unused passes. This means you'll get a full refund if you are not able to use your pass this coming winter. (If you use it even one time though, you will not be eligible for a refund.)

Partial Refunds:

Sunshine Village has a special refund policy that allows for partial refunds based on the date that you request your refund  (even if you got a few ski days in.) Visit their website for more information

Panorama Mountain Resort also has a partial refund policy in the event guests are unable to use their pass during the core winter season because of government restrictions or closures The refund is determined based on the number of days you were able to ski with your season pass prior to requesting the refund. Visit their website for more information

Most resorts will have generous refund policies this winter. Check directly with your resort.

Forced Closure Refunds:

Sunshine Village also has a forced closure refund:

"Our forced closure refund will be applicable to all 2020/21 Sunshine Season Passholders and will be applicable if we are forced to close due to COVID-19 before March 21st. 
In the case of another mandated closure, all 2020/21 Season Passholders will be eligible for a refund on their season pass that will be calculated based on subtracting the passholders usage at our regular priced window rate of $127 from the passholders purchase price." - Sunshine Village 

Castle Mountain Resort also has their own 100 Day Season Passholder Guarantee

"Buy your Castle season pass with confidence with our 100 Day Season Passholder Guarantee. If this season is shortened to less than 100 days, due to a government mandated resort closure related to COVID-19, you’ll earn a prorated credit towards your 2021-22 season pass." - Castle Mountain Resort

Thursday, October 01, 2020

Treat your Family to a Ski Getaway at Panorama Mountain Resort this Winter

Ski getaways at Panorama Mountain Resort are one of the things I look forward to all winter. On our last visit, I skied down 9000 vertical metres in a single day (roughly the same height as Mt. Everest.) I did top to bottom laps all day adding up to 41 km total distance (which still amazes me!)

My boys love hiking out to the double black chutes in the Taynton Bowl where they get a backcountry experience fully within resort boundaries (patrolled and monitored for avalanche risk.)

Top to bottom laps at Panorama for a vertical drop of 1300 metres summit to base

Not an "expert" skier? No worries! Take the kids to find the Secret Forest tree house (complete with a slide that's fun to navigate in ski boots,) spend an afternoon cruising around the mellow intermediate terrain in the Sun Bowl, or plan a "hut to hut" traverse around the mountain stopping at each of the on-mountain restaurants and cabins for snacks, a gourmet lunch, or hot drinks.

Not a skier at all? This is one resort where you'll find more than enough opportunities to entertain the entire family. Try fat biking around the village, rent snowshoes or cross-country skis for a tour of the resort trails, or spend an afternoon in the slopeside hot pools (included with all lodging options at Panorama.)

Life doesn't get much better than afternoon cruising in the Sun Bowl at Panorama

Introduction to Panorama Mountain Resort

Panorama Mountain Resort is located 20 minutes outside the Community of Invermere in the Columbia Valley. From Calgary, it is approximately a 3.5 hour drive across the border into British Columbia. We've found that we can easily make it to the resort Friday night for a quick ski weekend, but that it's definitely more fun to make a long weekend of it.

Enhance your stay with overnight accommodations in the village and experience why ski in/ski out vacations are the absolute BEST! Panorama is unique for ski resorts in the Canadian Rockies in that it has its own alpine village, complete with accommodations, restaurants, après ski activities and nightlife.

Stay in one of the properties on the hill and you'll also receive access to Canada's largest slopeside  hot pools! The pools are located in the Panorama Springs Lodge and are walking distance from everywhere in the Lower or Upper village (a small gondola connects the Lower and Upper Village and is free to use.)

Soak in Canada's largest slopeside hot pools at Panorama Mountain Resort 

A Ski Resort for the Whole Family

We've been skiing at Panorama Mountain Resort for a few years now, and the biggest thing that continues to impress me is how easy it is to progress as a skier or snowboarder at this resort. Families can start on the magic carpets and the beginner platter lift, work up to four other beginner-friendly chair lifts, and then keep moving up the mountain towards the summit (where there's enough terrain to keep the whole family challenged for a lifetime of skiing or riding.)

Read more on progression from beginner to expert terrain here:

Read: Magic Carpet to Monster at Panorama Mountain Resort 

The Taynton Bowl kicks things up a notch for advanced skiers in the family

More than just Skiing at Panorama Mountain Resort

My family loves downhill skiing but we've also visited Panorama to use the 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 Lower Village below.)

We also discovered that the nordic trails are a lot of fun on bikes, and you can rent adult fat bikes or plus sized youth bikes right at the resort.

Rent fat bikes and explore the trails around Panorama this winter

We took my mother with us on one of our winter getaways and she enjoyed going for walks along Toby Creek. She also enjoyed the variety of restaurants and coffee shops in the village. On another trip with a group of girlfriends, we chose to explore the trails on snowshoes and had a great time hiking up to the Hale Hut for lunch.

Read more on winter activities at Panorama Mountain Resort here:

Read: Panorama Mountain Resort (much more than downhill skiing)

We love skiing up to the Hale Hut at Panorama Mountain Resort

Plan the Perfect Covid-safe Ski Getaway at Panorama 

I know we're all anxious about what the winter will look like for 2020-21, but slopeside accommodations allow you to plan the perfect Covid-safe ski getaway.

  • Stay on the ski hill and retreat to your own condo or "private day lodge" for lunch, physically distanced from the other visitors at the resort.

  • Enjoy your own private retreat when you stay in a condo on the hill. You can cook your own meals and hang out in your own space away from other groups at the resort. Once you're skiing, you'll be spread out all over the mountain from the other guests and you'll enjoy your own personal space for miles in all directions.

  • Panorama has relaxed their cancelation policy at this time on all bookings for lodging at the resort as long as you make the booking directly through Panorama Reservations or through one of their partners.

More information on Panorama's commitment to health and safety will be released later this fall but below are a few key notes I received directly from the resort:

Masks/face coverings required: A mask or face covering that fully covers your nose and mouth is required on the chairlift, in the lift line, in the village and in all indoor spaces. (Best to have both on you so you can take off a wet buff when heading indoors and pop on a dry mask.)

Purchase in advance: Lift tickets must all be booked in advance. No daily lift tickets will be available for purchase at the ticket window unless as part of a reciprocal program like Lake Louise Plus, Mountain Collective, Grade 4/5 etc.

Panorama’s online ticket system allows you to purchase tickets right up to the day of arrival so guests can wake up, check conditions and purchase a ticket online while heading to the resort. The RFID enabled tickets and passes are fully reloadable. Once you have a Panorama lift ticket it can be reloaded online from home and guests can go direct to the chairlift.

No childcare: Wee Wascals will not operate this winter as they won't be able to cohort the children. 

Capacity on the mountain will not be restricted: Panorama is big and there is plenty of space to explore. However, the village is small and guests will be directed to use alternate points to access the slopes such as the Sunbird chairlift. Parking is plentiful and will not need to be reserved in advance. 

Book your ski getaway now before November 30th for the best savings. Follow this link for more information on winter early bookings.

Read more on Ski Getaways at Panorama Mountain Resort here:

Read: Family Guide to Panorama Mountain Resort 

We've been skiing at Panorama since my son was a preschooler and now he skies double black chutes!

Plan more “Amazing Ski Days” rather than just "more ski days" this Winter

Every day should start with a rollercoaster ride and that's exactly what you'll get when you ski at Panorama Mountain Resort. Ride the Champagne Express Chair first thing in the morning to the top of a fast and cruisy run called "Rollercoaster," and marvel in awe at the scenery spread out around you with the sun just rising over the peaks as you fly down the fresh corduroy, beaming from ear to ear.

Every day on the slopes is a "good" day, but to really "kick butt" on the family ski getaway this winter, you need to experience slopeside living and spend a few nights in Panorama's alpine village. 

And special for this winter season: Plan private experiences for your bubble to make your trip extra special!

"Over the past decade Panorama has become renowned for its small group, on-mountain dining and experiences. The resort’s three alpine huts are reservable for gourmet dinners of up to 12 people.

Guests can also rent a 12-seater passenger snowcat to take them to their on-mountain dinner or to privately shuttle their group to Panorama’s steep and deep Monster terrain area mid-week. 

RK Heliski, located in the heart of the resort, offers private day heli-skiing packages for up to nine people. RK also offers a private heli accessed fondue dinner at the summit of Panorama from February to April."

Read more on why my family loves Panorama here:

Read: Find it ALL at Panorama Mountain Resort 

Morning rollercoaster runs at Panorama

Save BIG with a Snow+ Card and pay $66/day to Ski!

Snow+ Cards work a little bit differently than your typical ski discount card. Purchase a 3 or a 5 day ski card and use as many days in a row as you want. This isn't a card where you have to pay for middle days in between your freebies.

Visiting Panorama for a 3 day weekend? Purchase a 3-day Snow+ card and use all three ski days on the same visit. 

The Flash Sale Price (for the lowest pricing) ends on October 31st so buy your cards now (the price goes up in November.) 

A 3-day adult card costs $199.99 which breaks down to $66.33 per ski day. (The 5-day card comes to an even better deal.)

And you can also get children's or youth cards which work out to $33.00 (children) or $53.00 (youth)  per day of skiing with the 3-day card.

Note that there are blackout dates over Christmas, New Years, and the Alberta Family Day long weekend in order to keep numbers down at the resort during peak times.

You can also purchase additional days at a $20 discount once you've used up your 3 or 5 days.

Visit the Panorama Mountain Resort website for more information and to order your cards.

My boy in his happy place!

Beyond Panorama Mountain Resort: Explore the Columbia Valley this Winter

For families planning a long weekend trip or a multi-day getaway to Panorama this winter, I highly encourage you to spend some time down below in the valley exploring around the community of Invermere. 

We love skating on the Lake Windermere Whiteway, the world's longest ice skating path. The full track is 34 km long but for a shorter day, most families skate the 12 km long Windermere Loop which connects the communities of Invermere and Windermere. 

Read more on winter fun in the Columbia Valley here:

Read: Winter Guide to the Columbia Valley (Golden, Radium Hot Springs, Invermere - and beyond)

Skate the  Lake Windermere Whiteway (the world's longest skating track!)

Disclaimer: My family has received complimentary skiing and accommodations in previous winters. This story is not sponsored and all words/opinions are my own.

Tuesday, September 15, 2020

10 Tips to Escape the Crowds at Ski Resorts this Winter

My family has been perfecting our skills in "how to survive at a ski hill as introverts" for years now. Enter a brand new ski season where we're all encouraged to physical distance and to find the "quiet spaces," and I don't expect much will change for my family. We'll still continue to avoid crowds, we'll still say heck no to a Saturday powder day, and we'll avoid busy day lodges - as we always do.

Escape the Crowds at Ski Resorts this Winter 

Below are my best tips and suggestions that we've mastered over the years. 

10 Tips to Escape the Crowds at Ski Resorts this Winter

1. Ski Mid-week 

I pulled my son out of school a couple of years ago on a Thursday for a true mid-week ski day at Nakiska. It wasn't a PD day, it wasn't a holiday, and everybody else was still in school. - and it was glorious!! 

The day lodge was deserted and we had our choice of hundreds of tables to sit at. The runs were wide open and empty, and we were still skiing fresh corduroy at noon! (Can you imagine??) We finally went in for a late lunch at 1:00 and we'd already skied more runs than the average person skis in a full day on a weekend. 

It was my favourite ski day we've ever had, and I'd encourage every family to try this at least once this winter. (School is important, but so is mental health.)

Read: Yes, Take the Kids out of School for the Day - and Go Skiing!

Take the kids out of school for the day and enjoy your own private ski hill

Tips to becoming a mid-week ski family

  • Ski local. Nakiska is our closest hill and so that's where we always buy seasons passes. I love some of the bigger hills but realistically, it's hard to get out mid-week when there's a 3+ hour drive involved just to reach the resort.

  • Go out Fridays when the kids get off school at noon. Pull them out an hour early if you have to, or skip the morning. Eat lunch on the drive out and then ski for the afternoon without having to use the day lodge.

  • Take advantage of school PD days. It will be busier at your local hill than a regular mid-week day, but still much quieter than a weekend day.

  • Powder days call for mental health breaks. If you have the flexibility to catch up on work from home in the afternoon/evening, pull the kids from school on powder days once a month. Chances are you'll be done skiing by 1:00 if you arrive early and ski hard (easier if you have seasons passes) and so you'll still have plenty of time to log some work hours when you get home.

  • Discuss work flexibility with your boss. Many of us are working from home these days so ask if you can take your kids skiing once or twice a month mid-week and arrange a system where you catch up on the missed work outside regular office hours. Now is the perfect time to discuss the idea of a compressed work week as well where you'd work more hours/day but then get every second or third Friday off. (Perfect for those half days at school)

  • Take a day off work and create a long weekend for ski getaways. Sundays and Mondays are your friends. Avoid Saturdays. You'll have a lot more fun creating your own long weekend rather than skiing on an official long weekend with everybody else. Alternately, leave a day early so you get one quiet day of skiing on Friday before the crowds arrive for the weekend.

  • Book a condo on a ski hill with WiFi and plan a working holiday mid-week. For those of you working from home, consider relocating your office for a few days. Create a blended schedule of working and skiing. This works well for kids doing online learning or homeschooling as well.

Powder days call for a mid-week trip to the mountains

2. Ski Sundays 

I'll never forget the first time I skied at Kimberley Alpine Resort on a Sunday before driving home from our weekend ski getaway. It was like a ghost town! And while maybe that wasn't normal, I've definitely noticed that ski resorts are more quiet on Sundays. 

Most families like to get out of the city on Saturday to play in the mountains, preferring to stay home Sundays in preparation for another week at work (groceries, laundry, cleaning, etc.)

You'll notice less crowds at destination hills because many families have to drive home for school and work the next day, choosing either to ski for just the morning, or to not ski at all.

Big Tip: Try to add a vacation day to your weekend so that you can ski Sunday/Monday when you go away for the weekend. Drive home late afternoon Monday and grab dinner on the way home. Either drive to the hill Saturday morning, or spend Saturday pursuing a different winter activity (XC skiing for example.)

Sunday skiing at Kimberley Alpine Resort

3. Get First Runs

My son and I love skiing on PD days when hills are generally quieter.We head out to Nakiska aiming to arrive between 8:00 - 8:30am. This allows us to get rockstar parking, to enjoy a deserted day lodge for suiting up and preparing for our ski day, and then to be first in line for lifts. 

The first 5 runs of the day will always be your best runs if you're at the hill for opening. You'll get the best corduroy, the best powder, and the best snow before it starts to get icy in the afternoon. 

My son and I ski hard, take short breaks, and then by 1:00pm we're ready to go. We've already had a full day of skiing by this point and we take advantage of seasons passes to leave early without guilt. We eat in the car on the drive home or stop at the Tim Hortons at the junction of Highway 40 and the TransCanada Hwy and run through the drive through.

Not a morning person? Me neither. Fortunately there are ways to make early morning starts for the resort "easier."

Read: Tips and Tricks for Downhill Skiing with Kids

You'll always get the best snow if you arrive at the ski hill for first lifts

4. Avoid Crowded Day Lodges 

Nobody likes a crowded day lodge. Learn to work around the crowds with these tips below:

  • Stay slopeside. Return to your own condo for lunch and fill your pockets with snacks for the ski hill 

  • Ski local and go home for lunch. Arrive at Nakiska for first runs, ski hard, and then leave early afternoon (eating lunch on the drive home in the vehicle.) Again, make sure your pockets are filled with snacks so you can have a late lunch or bring a backpack with you.

  • Ski local and arrive in the afternoon after lunch. Eat on the drive out and ski for the afternoon. Pack snacks and you shouldn't have to go near the day lodge other than for bathroom breaks. (And, it's usually warmer in the afternoon.)

  • Return to your vehicle for lunch. This is especially fun on warm spring days. Bring lawn chairs and a portable stove to grill hot dogs or hamburgers. And note it helps if you arrive early to get a good parking spot for this one. (note, please follow all resort protocol around this one regarding mask use, avoiding large groups with friends, and spacing of vehicles.)

  • Use warming huts and mid-mountain lodges. Carry a backpack with you and use warming huts or mid-mountain lodges for snacks and quick lunch breaks. 

    Each of the options below allows for skiers bringing their own lunch. 

    At Nakiska, you have the mid mountain lodge which has bathrooms, a cafeteria, and plenty of seating. Stagger your visit before or after lunch.

    Fernie Alpine Resort has the "Bear's Den" (a heated tent) at the top of the Elk Chair. You'll find bathrooms here and a selection of BBQ items to eat.

    Kimberley Alpine Resort has a mid mountain lodge at the top of the North Star Quad that most people don't even know about (and hence it's very quiet.) To reach the lodge you have to climb a short distance up to the left from the top of the North Star. The lodge doesn't have a cafeteria so bring your own food. You will find bathrooms though and a warm place to eat inside.

    Kicking Horse Alpine Resort has the "Heaven's Door" Yurt cafe at the bottom of the Stairway to Heaven Chair. Here you'll find food, a small amount of indoor seating, and bathrooms.

  • Choose a sit down restaurant on the hill. Restaurants with table service always feel less crowded and many take reservations as well so you'll be guaranteed to get a table. 

    At Kicking Horse, make a reservation for the Eagle's Eye Restaurant located at the top of the gondola. The food is amazing and the views are unparalleled for a ski resort restaurant. 

    At Fernie, we love the Cirque Restaurant located in the Lizard Creek Lodge near the bottom of the Elk Chair. Alternately, Legends Restaurant is located in the base area plaza and is another good option for lunch. And if you want a snack on the hill, the Lost Boys Cafe is perched at the top of the Timber Chair (Which I highly recommend!)

    At Kimberley, I'm a big fan of the Stemwinder Bar and Grill at the base of the resort. You can also grab lunch at the Buckhorn & Main Mountain Eaterie in the Trickle Creek Lodge.

The Eagle's Eye Restaurant sits perched at the top of the gondola at Kicking Horse Mountain Resort

  • Stagger your lunch and eat early or late. Ski hard with few breaks and then grab an early lunch at 10:30 or 11:00am. Alternately, load your pockets with snacks and have a late lunch at 1:00 or 1:30pm. This will not only get you a table in the day lodge, but it also means you get to ski when everybody else is eating. (For shorter lift lines.)

  • Choose warm sunny days for skiing. Warmer days allow for patio eating or parking lot lunches at the vehicle. Spring is ideal for this!

  • Pack lunches that don't require a microwave or hot water. I always bring instant soup bowls that require hot water for lunch and my son likes microwave lunches. This year we'll each be bringing soup or pasta in a thermos so that we can bring a backpack and use a warming hut or mid mountain lodge for lunch, or return to our vehicle. My son will even be able to eat his thermos lunch while driving to/from the hill.

    Alternately, bring a thermos of hot water and store it in your car for lunch. The same goes for coffee if you need a cup for the drive home.

The Lost Boys Cafe is a great place to warm up at Fernie on a cold day

5. Dress for Cold Days

Have you ever noticed how deserted the ski hill is when it's -30C? I have, and it's beautiful (as long as you can dress for the temperature.)

Learn to dress for cold weather and you'll enjoy quiet peaceful ski days while everybody else is huddled up in their houses back in the city.

And while I'm far from an expert here, it comes down to having really good ski boots with hot pockets inside, quality ski pants and jackets, warm gloves or mittens with hot pockets inside, and layer upon layer of clothing! 

Sometimes on cold days I wear two buffs over my face just to ensure I have no skin showing. I wear a second jacket under my regular ski jacket, and I add a pair of fleece leggings under my already lined ski pants. (It helps to have a pair of very baggy "cold weather" ski pants for layering.)

Plan for breaks inside between every run or two (possible because the day lodge will be empty) and consider "not" being first for the morning lifts. Wait until it warms up by an hour or two.

Below are a couple of reviews I've written for TOBE winter wear which keeps my child warm.

Read: TOBE Outerwear Review: Youth Novus Jackets and Bib Snow Pants

Read: Guaranteed Warmth with TOBE Youth Mono Suits

Layers upon layers of clothes will keep you warm on cold days

6. Show up Ready to Ski!

Avoid the rental shop when you arrive by renting in the city ahead of time, get dressed in your car, and buy your day passes online if you don't have a seasons pass. 

Need to get the kids set up with rentals for the ski year? Check out the RCR Wings Program where you can rent a ski or snowboard package for the season and upgrade as necessary if the kids grow. 

Note, 2020-21 information has not been released yet so please contact RCR directly if interested in this program.

Need practical tips to help get you out the door and on the lifts? Check out the story below: 

Read: Tips and Tricks for Downhill Skiing with Kids

First in line for the lifts and ready to go!

7. Sometimes it Pays to "not" be First 

I love being first in line for the chairlift but sometimes you have to change your strategy, especially when skiing at resorts that only have one main chair or gondola to get you up the mountain before you can spread out.

A couple of friends have told me that they like to wait till the keeners have already loaded the gondola or the main village chairlift, and then they wait another half hour until the lift line has died down. I've seen this in action at Nakiska when the ski clubs are all lined up for the 9:00 chair. Let them go because most of them aren't trying to steal the best powder. They have places to get to so they can begin preparing for their races and training runs that day.

Unless your kids are going to be upset if they miss out on first tracks, wait until everybody is spread out around the hill and not all crowded at the base area. You can still arrive early if you're concerned about parking, but take some time to enjoy finishing your morning coffee before rushing out the door to the lifts.

Hold off until everybody is spread around the hill before fighting to get on the gondola or chairlift

I've had several people tell me that they thoroughly enjoy the last couple hours of the ski day as well after the bulk of skiers have started packing up or heading in for their après-ski drinks. (And Sunday afternoons are extremely quiet!)

Special note for powder days: Everybody loves their fresh powder dumps and it's not uncommon for skiers to start showing up at 7:30am to line up for first tracks if there's been 30-50 cm of snow overnight! (Especially in mountain towns like Fernie.)

Unless you absolutely need to be first in line, you're almost better to show up at 10 or 11:00am. Locals will start to leave at noon as the hill gets "skied out."

Show up at 10 or 11 on powder days to avoid crowded lift lines at the base

8. The more Advanced the Run, the Fewer the Crowds

Ever notice how busy the green beginner runs are at a ski hill, but go off onto a double black mogul run and the crowds disappear. 

Learn to ski moguls, glades, and other advanced terrain and you'll see far fewer people on the ski hill. Even learning to ski intermediate runs helps immensely with avoiding crowds on a ski hill. 

You'll never be fighting crowds on a double black run with moguls!

Myself, I'm not an advanced skier, but I do like groomed black runs. And while they are busier than the ungroomed terrain, they're still far more peaceful than a groomed green or blue run.

Need some help getting off the bunny hill or graduating to the next level?

Read: Take your skiing to the next level in 5 simple steps 

Move up to groomed black runs to escape the crowds

9. Ski the Outside Runs at your Resort

Every hill has its "perimeter runs" that see less traffic. Maybe they're a little bit further to reach, they might require a long traverse to exit out of, and snowboarders may occasionally encounter flat sections that require a bit of speed to get through, but they are often very peaceful (and usually my favourite runs at any ski hill.)

Some of my favourite perimeter runs at our local RCR resorts are below:

Nakiska: Unfortunately most of the perimeter runs here are either used heavily for racing/training or else they're extremely busy (being easy blue cruisers.) 

I have found Lower Mapmaker to be quite peaceful if you're trying to get to the bottom of the gold chair, but other than that, Nakiska is where you'll need to up your game to get off the cruisers if you want to avoid crowds. 

If you can see some easy gladed runs, head for the trees off the top of the gold chair and you'll find plenty of space to spread out from beginners hanging out on the lower mountain.

It's easy to spread out in the Nakiska glades

Kimberley: Peace and solitude is easy to find at Kimberly as soon as you head to your left off the top of the North Star Quad and climb up towards the mid mountain lodge. Everybody else heads right towards the other chairlifts and the upper mountain. 

My favourite runs in this area are Moe's and Boundary. They're fun blue cruisers and beautifully groomed for intermediate skiing.

On the upper mountain, look for Notre Dame (off the Ridgeway Traverse.) There are several flat sections that snowboarders won't love, but you're guaranteed solitude if you make it all the way over.

The perimeter runs at Kimberley Alpine Resort are glorious!

Fernie: I could ski Falling Star all day! This run starts from either the top of the White Pass Chair or lower down from the top of the Timber chair. It's a fun blue cruiser and is the longest run on the ski hill at 5 km in length!

Off the Elk Chair look for Holo Hike, an easy intermediate run that passes through two tunnels at the bottom. 

Holo Hike is a fun intermediate run at Fernie Alpine Resort

Kicking Horse: I don't have any personal favourites to recommend here because I went with the crowd on my last visit seeking out easier terrain, but a good rule of thumb would be "the longer the hike, the fewer the crowds." With 5 bowls, 85+ inbound chutes (many requiring a hike,) and 120+ trails you're guaranteed to find a space to call your own here. 

You won't be fighting crowds when you have to climb a staircase to reach double black pitches

10. Get up and Away from the Base as Fast as you Can

Unless you're skiing with young children and need to stick close to the beginner area at the bottom, you'll want to stay clear of the closest chairlifts to the day lodge.

At Nakiska, head for the Olympic Chair and then load the Gold Chair where glades, moguls, and even some steep groomed terrain awaits you.

At bigger resorts, ski the backside, ski off the lifts that are the furthest away from the day lodge, and look for hikeable terrain where you'll leave 90% of the crowds behind. (Kicking Horse is amazing for this.)

Escape to the backside or remote bowls at ski resorts

A good long traverse works wonders for escaping crowds (and Kimberley Alpine Resort has two of these off the Easter Chair.)

At Fernie Alpine Resort, head to the Cedar Bowl where your only escape comes from a ride on the Haul Back T-bar. (guaranteed to thin out the crowds.) I also love heading to the North Ridge, a glorious steep black run (often groomed,) off the Boomerang Chair.

These kids love skiing the South Ridge at Nakiska, accessed via a long remote traverse

Recommended Reading 

Disclaimer: This story was written in partnership with RCR Resorts.