Tag Archives: family ski trip

Marvelous Mount Norquay a hit for families

Back in the days before kids my husband Blake and I happily drove past local Banff ski hill Mount Norquay in favour of chasing powder and longer vertical at Sunshine Village or Lake Louise. But now that our two children are skiing we see the charm and practicality of a smaller ski hill. So, we happily accepted an invitation to Mount Norquay this past weekend for a family ski day.

Posing at the top of Cascade chair at Mount Norquay.

Posing at the top of Cascade chair at Mount Norquay.

Our first clue the skiing was going to be great was the icy road conditions driving west from Calgary to Banff. It turns out Norquay had received 20 cm of snow overnight — more than the other Banff resorts. After handing the kids over to their ski instructors for a morning lesson we got busy tracking up the powder.

We were helped in this endeavour by Canadian ski great Ken Read who, along with five other Alberta partners, owns Mount Norquay. Read helped us find some powder stashes off the Mystic Express chair and pointed out areas where the resort is widening runs to make them more race-course friendly. He also talked about why he loves Norquay: it’s friendly, intimate, and easy to navigate thanks to its small size. It feels like a local hill, and families that ski here regularly or enrol their kids in the racing program really get to know each another and the mountain.

Ken Read skis me and fellow writers Kim Gray and Lisa Monforton around Mount Norquay.

Ken Read skis with me (far left) and fellow Calgary travel writers Kim Gray and Lisa Monforton at Mount Norquay.

But what really impressed me is that Norquay looks after newbie skiers while also offering some gnarly terrain for experts. Not all ski hills strike a good balance between these extremes, and few have black runs right next door to the bunny hill! The fall line at Norquay is also stellar — most runs cut right down the fall line making it easy for skiers to follow gravity and stay on the run.

Our son Bennett, a beginner, was in great hands with Phil, his instructor, during a two-hour private lesson. Phil was incredibly patient and encouraging with Bennett, who has autism, and regularly praised how well he was doing. He even took Bennett on some tree runs (!) and over two jumps (!!). Bennett had such a fun time that when he saw me on the hill he told me to “Go away.”

Bennett shreds the pow-pow at Mount Norquay.

Bennett shreds the pow-pow at Mount Norquay.

We saw Bennett tearing up the pow-pow on a green run called Temptation as we booted over to the adjacent North American chairlift so Blake could hearken back to his mogul-munching high school days. From the top of the chair you get a bird’s eye view of Banff townsite and it’s a steep 1,300-foot vertical drop down bumped-up black runs to the bottom. Luckily (or not?), the Volkswagen bug-sized moguls were covered in snow to cushion me every time I fell.

A view of Banff townsite from the top of the North American.

A view of Banff townsite from the top of the North American.

After lunch we skied Cascade as a family, with one of us traversing the green runs with Bennett while the other hit the terrain park with our daughter Avery. She killed it in the park, catching some jumps and skiing her first rail without crashing — way to go!

Finally we headed up to the tubing park to finish the day on an adrenalin high note. Avery is a natural thrill seeker as well as a roller coaster aficionado, but I worried Bennett would chicken out at the top (the seven tubing tracks are steep and long). Before he knew what was happening our four linked tubes were careening down a wide, super-fast bobsleigh-like track, leaving our stomachs at the top of the hill. “It’s too fast!” Bennett shrieked, only to demand we “Do it again!” at the bottom.

The tubing park at Mount Norquay is awesome.

The tubing park at Mount Norquay is awesome.

In fact, “Do it again!” could well be our motto for the entire Mount Norquay experience. Our family of four skiers of different abilities all had a blast. Perhaps we’ll hit Norquay again Easter weekend, before it closes for the season April 21.

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Family-friendly Jasper wows in winter

It had been 10 years since I’d travelled up the Icefields Parkway for a trip to Jasper, a drive I’d sworn I’d never again do in winter. But it’s weird how raising children can make formerly daunting tasks look easy-peasy, so I bundled our ski gear, the kids and my husband into the car and we hit the open road.

The reason for our trip? We’d been invited to Jasper for the Jasper in January media weekend, an annual event that showcases the town and nearby Marmot Basin ski area to writers and broadcasters in the hopes we’ll have a great time and spread the word. The weekend is also always held in advance of Jasper in January, a two week promotion that features discounted rates on hotel accommodations and ski passes. It runs this year from Jan. 13-29.

We lucked out with the accommodation lottery and scored an amazing room at the Jasper Park Lodge, one of my very favourite Fairmont properties. The service there is so amazing, one call to the concierge before arrival ensured a toaster awaited us in our room, and it also secured babysitting for Saturday night (more on that later). Now all we needed was a good night’s sleep to prepare for all of Jasper’s great family adventures.

Here are my Top 5 things to do in Jasper with kids:

1. Ski at Marmot Basin (or if the kids are too little, put them in the Little Rascals Nursery). Avery loved skiing Paradise, going off jumps in the terrain park and beating me down the hill (it’s official: my six-year-old can ski faster than me). Meanwhile, Bennett was one of the only children in the nursery who didn’t cry (So. Very. Proud). (Maybe if they called it something other than a nursery fewer children would cry?)

Avery catches air in the terrain park.

2. Go snowshoeing at Pyramid Lake. If you can walk, you can snowshoe, the saying goes. Really, the hardest part is putting them on, and we had help from Paula Beauchamp of Walks & Talks Jasper. I wish I could say the powder flew in every direction as we floated across the lake while the theme from Chariots of Fire played, but in reality the wind whistled fiercely and our snowshoes scraped over ice and crusty snow. It was still fresh air and good exercise and the scenery is beautiful, especially Pyramid Mountain with its red bands of gog quartzite exposed to the elements.

If you can walk, you can snowshoe, and then you can snowshoe a dog.

3. Leave the kids in the hotel room at least one night. The Jasper Park Lodge arranged a baysitter for us for $15 a night (three hour minimum), which I thought was quite reasonable as the going rate in Calgary starts at $10. We hit the Jasper Brewing Company where I enjoyed a Honey Bear ale and we contemplated the unusual hanging portrait of Mark Messier goosing Gary Coleman (seriously, you can’t make this shit up). 

4. Be Canadian — go ice skating on a lake. We got Bennett out on ice skates for the very first time at Mildred Lake at the Jasper Park Lodge, where there are benches, a small learning area and a maintained skating oval that goes around the entire lake. By the end he was finally getting it a little bit! Pyramid Lake is another scenic place to skate near town.

Bennett ice skates for the first time!

5. Try toboganning, either at Whistler Mountain Hostel, one of the most popular tobogganing spots in the area, or beside Lac Beauvert at the Jasper Park Lodge (sleds can be rented from the main lodge).

While it’s true you can do all of these things in Banff, or at other ski resorts, Jasper’s appeal is its remoteness and the calming effect the small, quaint townsite has on outsiders. Plus, the fact you drove through freshly-cleared avalanches on a snow-packed road that had been closed for two days, spotting glaciers the entire journey, adds another layer of magic to the destination. Being trapped in a small SUV for five hours with children also makes you crave the fresh air that awaits. Enjoy!

Surviving a long car ride with little kids

A year ago I never would have believed my children would become long car drive champs — it was all we could do to journey the three hours to Fernie without a tantrum or constant whines of “Are we there yet?” But this past summer we took them all the way to Vancouver, stopping mid-way in Salmon Arm, with nary a sniffle. So when we were invited up to Jasper and Marmot Basin ski area in Jasper National Park for a Jasper in January ski weekend, I didn’t blink at the five-hour drive. The secret to our road trip success? A portable DVD player.

A portable DVD player: Don't leave home without it.

While technology is indispensable, I try not to rely on it as a crutch. Instead, I employ many of the same techniques suggested in this pre-Christmas story about getting through holiday family road trips. My tips include:

1. Pack non-messy snacks. Things like apple slices, granola bars and nuts are great. Refrain from bringing items such as apple sauce, but then forgetting a spoon (you can see how this scenario might end badly if your apple sauce-obsessed four-year-old spots the circular tub). Also, try and keep the eats out of their reach, or your kids will be forever pulling food out of the box and eating constantly during the duration of the drive. This could result in a lot of smelly gas.

2. Bring their favourite music CDs. As you listen to the chorus of The Wiggles’ “Hot Potato” yet again, you may curse this suggestion. But on the plus side, you’ll soon be able to sing along with Murray and the gang, and you won’t feel guilty because they’re listening to music while taking in the jagged peaks of the Canadian Rockies and simultaneously spotting moose, instead of rotting their tiny brains with repeat viewings of The Rescuers. I also like the idea of bringing story CDs, a tip from Direct Travel Insurance.

3. Make time for pit stops. While it’s tempting to make your six-year-old squeeze into one of her little brother’s pull-ups and power straight through from Calgary to Jasper, this strategy is ill-advised. There’s something about long periods of sitting confined in a small car with a steady supply of processed snacks (hence the gas) and Barney videos that makes children go a bit wiggy. Try and find a place to use the bathroom, where kids can run around. We spent 30 minutes at the Lake Louise visitor info centre, which is like a small museum complete with a stuffed wolf, bear and caribou; faux rocks to climb on; and a video of grizzly bears. Avery and Bennett spent most of their time running through the dark theatre shrieking, “A monster’s gonna get you!” Better there than in the car.

4. Pack a few surprises. It’s amazing what a new colouring book or stickers can bring you: five minutes of silence during which you can read your People magazine.

5. Don’t forget new media. With still an hour to go on the Icefields Parkway, it’s wonderful to be able to pull out the LeapPad and Leapster Explorer and know you’ll complete the family road trip safely (though I can’t vouch for your sanity). 

Next post: family adventures in Jasper.

Fernie fun for the whole family

We just got back from our annual New Year’s family ski trip to Fernie, B.C. The snow wasn’t great this year but that didn’t stop us from making some turns.

A quick rest before the epic cruiser Falling Star.
 
Avery has now been skiing for three years, so she’s good enough to ski with us on greens and most blue runs. We enrolled her in two half day lessons through the Fernie Alpine Resort Telus Learn to Ski Camp. During the lesson she worked on her turns, tucking for speed on cat-tracks, and skating to propel herself forward on flat spots.
 
 

Avery joined her friend Alex for a ski lesson.

 
During the lesson Blake and I hunted for powder stashes in Currie, Lizard and Cedar bowls. It was slim pickings but we enjoyed the child-free time and beautiful sunny Fernie day with mountain views in every direction. After Avery’s ski lesson we ate lunch at Big Bang Bagels in the Snow Creek Lodge and treated Avery to a hot chocolate. Poor Bennett. No skiing for him this trip. He played at the Fernie Resort Kids Daycare and enjoyed a “snow hike” with me one day.
 

A walk along the Elk River is a lovely way to spend a winter morning in Fernie, B.C.

 
We were so busy eating mountains of food with friends at our condo, there was no time to visit our fave Fernie restaurants, like Yamagoya sushi and The Curry Bowl. Next time. Also, the new Polar Peak chair isn’t up and running yet but should be by mid-January, just in time for a return ski trip!
 

Here I am in Currie Bowl, with the new Polar Peak chair behind me. It's scheduled to open Jan. 14th.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 

The family ski holiday

We are a skiing family. Rephrase: my husband and I love to ski, and are therefore making our children learn the sport. Our daughter likes it:

Avery and I tackle a nice green cruiser at Sunshine Village.

Our son? Not quite ready to embrace slick planks on slippery snow. Maybe next year. At least he likes the gondola:

A cry-free moment during the family ski trip.

Our early forays as a skiing family rated high on hassle and low on satisfaction. On one incredibly long, New Year’s Eve afternoon drive to Fernie, hubby and I contemplated opening the 12-pack of Heineken to help us cope with the crying and whining (and the blaring Barney DVD) coming from the back seat. On another trip, to Sunshine Village, we almost left after one night on the mountain because our son woke up hourly throughout the night and cried inconsolably when we dropped him off at the on-hill daycare. I wrote about the experience, good and bad, for the Calgary Herald

Yes, it takes dedication, sweat and many, many tears to make the family ski trip a reality, especially during the early years. In this humorous New York Times Travel story, writer David Carr outlines the numerous obstacles: the gear, the drive, the painful learning curve when young children try new things. He also points out the main benefits: the unbeatable feeling of flying down a mountain on skis and watching your kids do the same with huge smiles. Skiing with kids is a thrill.

There’s also the bonding that takes place over hot chocolate in the day lodge to warm up frozen fingers, and the anticipation of taking off the ski boots and stepping into a hot tub at the end of the day. And of course, there’s the apres ski to ease the pain of sore muscles and the guilt over dumping the bawling son at daycare — and to forget that tomorrow brings a three-hour drive back home.

A bit of apres-ski, Fernie-style.

 We’re already planning a couple of this year’s ski trips, to Fernie over New Year’s and to Marmot Basin in Jasper National Park a week later. Wish us luck, patience, success on the slopes and a happy apres ski. We’ll need it, and a really, really long Barney DVD for both drives.