TRAVEL: Hidden gem of a family resort

Cruising down Highway 33 in the heart of British Columbia, we stop to take in the fresh air and admire the snow-capped Monashee Mountains.

By The Newsroom
Saturday, 13th October 2012, 8:00 am

Highway 33 is no ordinary carriageway, it’s just one of the 118 runs which make up the ski haven of Big White, a gem of a family resort with snow all season.

We’d opted for Big White after hearing that, not only does it have the emptiest pistes when it’s half-term hell in Europe, but also lashings of snow and little slush, even towards the end of the season.

An hour’s drive from Kelowna Airport, the resort was built in the Sixties and centres around a single main street.

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With an annual fall of more than 24 foot of light, fluffy, powder more leisurely skiers can comfortably tackle the network of tree-lined groomed green and blue slopes to the village centre.

We arrive for the last week of the season, and the slopes are largely deserted as locals are now busy polishing their boats and servicing their camper vans for summer.

The region of Kelowna is actually better known as a summer resort, when families holiday around the stunning 80-mile-long Okanagan Lake, set against the ancient mountains of the Okanagan Valley.

While there are some more challenging runs, hard-core skiers in search of blacks can venture to the larger and more popular resorts of Banff and Lake Louise nearby, but they’ll be faced with bus rides, whereas at Big White you can ski to your hotel door.

From the minute we hire our equipment we feel we’re on another planet. The rental staff couldn’t be more accommodating, with an ethos of ‘How can I help you?’, rather than the ‘What do you want?’ attitude so prevalent in some European resorts.

We’re introduced to Byron, our mountain host for the morning and an ebullient, enthusiastic, larger-than-life ski guide, who shows us much of what Big White has to offer.

Byron eagerly leads us to Telus Park, an area comprising jumps and obstacles suitable for skiers and boarders, and the kids can’t wait to leave the starting blocks.

The beginners’ learning area is perfect for this, with a young, fun instructor and a magic carpet (a conveyor belt in the snow) to take the learners up the nursery slope.

There are plenty of other highlights for kids, too, including the Mega Snow Coaster - Canada’s largest resort tubing park, where you can zoom down specially built lanes in big inflatable rings!

The trademark cinnamon buns from Bugaboos cosy bakery, where ski guides share stories with visitors about the best runs and the snow conditions, are delicious.

Our accommodation here is at the impressive Snowbird Lodge. Situated right on the slopes, it’s a real luxury, with a hot tub on the balcony, fully fitted kitchen and spacious lounge.

Everyone knows everyone here, so you can’t get lost, and the ski school is easily-located in the centre of town.

The front of the mountain at Silver Star is ideal for perfecting those parallel turns on green and blue runs, but venture to the back and you have a more challenging playground, with blacks and fun trails which suit kids who like jumps and bumps amid the trees.

Both resorts are also havens for cross country skiers.

* Hannah Stephenson

Canadian Affair offers Big White & Silver Star Ski Holiday this winter from £1,399 including flights from Gatwick. For more information go to Canadian Affair or call 020 7616 9999