Tag Archives: family travel

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.

End of the road… trip

There’s always a sense of letdown coming home from a great holiday. Your excitement to sleep in a comfortable bed is tempered by your disappointment over trading scenic hikes and hot beach days for a predictable routine. So it was for us as we pointed the car east (no one ever says, “Go east,” do they?) from Vernon toward Calgary.

The climb up and the descent down Roger's Pass was the highlight of the final leg of our B.C. road trip, from Vernon to Calgary.

The climb up and the descent down Roger’s Pass was the highlight of the final leg of our B.C. road trip.

With six road hours (and eight tunnels) ahead, we had time to talk about our favourite parts of the B.C. road trip.

Avery most enjoyed the cabin up Indian Arm off North Vancouver. A budding naturalist, she’s in her element turning over rocks to find eels and crabs.

Avery catches one of many crabs up Indian Arm.

Avery catches one of many crabs up Indian Arm.

Bennett has graduated from water baby and is a bonafide splash kid. When he wasn’t paddling around a lake (or the Pacific) in his life jacket, he was imitating Piper’s doggy paddle in shallow water. Perhaps he’ll soon be swimming under his own power?

Bennett swims to his honorary auntie while cousin Jack enjoys the water too.

Bennett swims with his honorary auntie Simone and cousin Jack in the frigid Pacific up Indian Arm fjord.

Blake loved escaping the big city to be active outdoors as a family while hiking, swimming, kayaking and mountain biking in beautiful B.C. Oh, and stuffing his face with peaches, cherries and samosas (and wine!) in between activities.

Hiking as a family to BX Falls near Vernon.

Hiking as a family to BX Falls near Vernon.

I (Lisa) loved the heat. And being outside so much. And the way time seemed to slow down for two weeks. Though the places we visited were quite different from one another — small town Fernie; rustic, rainforest-tinged Indian Arm; smoking hot, lake-blessed Vernon — our theme of being active outside persisted throughout the trip. More than once I was amazed by our kids and their willingness to try new things (crab meat! paddle boarding!), hike several kilometres under the baking sun, or sit for hours in a car without complaint. They are turning into real little travellers and I couldn’t be happier about that. But if I had to pick one moment…

Sweet sibs share a moment at one of the most beautiful alpine lakes near Fernie.

Sweet sibs contemplate a beautiful alpine lake. They’ll always have each other, and share childhood memories of this family vacation.

My family-travel bucket-list

As I write this post we are five days away from a spring break trip to beautiful… Arkansas! I never dreamed I’d be packing our bags for the Natural State for the fourth time in seven years, but that’s what you do when Grammy lives near Hot Springs (Bill Clinton’s boyhood home, FYI).

Besides, the kiddos are excited about visiting the Arkansas Alligator Farm, where they can “pet a real live alligator.” Bennett is especially thrilled we are flying to Easter and is looking forward to all the eggs because when they hatch he’ll have baby bunnies (I know, so cute, right?). Perhaps he recalls how, during our visit three years ago, his second cousin Jackson received a real live bunny from the Easter Bunny on Easter Sunday.

Three years ago this little bunny hopped over for some Easter fun.

Three years ago cousin Jackson’s little bunny hopped over for some Easter fun.

Anyway, Arkansas it is. Before we had kids my husband and I fantasized about all the amazing trips we’d take as a family. We wouldn’t be like those lame-os who go to all-inclusives or opt for the safety of Hawaii or surprise their kids with a trip  to Disneyland. No, we’d be jetting off to Australia to rehabilitate koala bears, schussing in Zermatt and trekking to Everest base camp (evidently, in our travel fantasies we were also rolling around in fat stacks like Scrooge McDuck). Arkansas was definitely not on our family-travel bucket-list.

But the reality is that travel with young kids can be trying, especially when one of them has autism (it’s difficult enough when the kids are both typical). Truthfully, some days I’m amazed we ever leave town. But we do, though our destinations are the very places we used to scoff at: all-inclusives in Mexico, Maui and yes, Arkansas. But hey, at least we are getting out there and seeing new places!

I came across a beautiful Vancouver Sun photo gallery earlier this week: 15 places to see before you die. I scrolled through it and felt that old wanderlust creeping up as images of Petra in Jordan, the Salar de Uyuni in Bolivia and Pammukale hot springs in Turkey filled my iPad screen. A couple days later I read a story on making a parenting bucket list, about one mom’s parenting resolutions to her children. It got me thinking I should make a family-travel bucket-list, filled with trips we could realistically take in the foreseeable future that are bucket-list worthy for our travel style. No, not a trek to Everest base camp, but something adventurous and cool, like sea kayaking in the Sea of Cortez.

What adventures await our family of four?

What adventures await our family of four?

Avery went through a similar bucket-list exercise last year but, being six at the time, included things like “Climb a mountain (the highest one)” and “Go to Mexico and dance on a table.” So, in an effort to keep this list somewhat grounded, here goes…

Our Family-Travel Bucket-List:

  1. Raft through the Grand Canyon
  2. Go backcountry camping and swim in an alpine lake
  3. Visit Costa Rica and zipline through the rainforest canopy
  4. Go on a family African safari
  5. Climb a mountain together (not Everest; maybe a Colorado 14-er?)
  6. Sail around the Caribbean
  7. Go on a train journey like the Rocky Mountaineer
  8. Sea kayak in the Sea of Cortez
  9. Ski on a glacier somewhere (Alaska? Heli- or cat-skiing?)
  10. Road trip to Walley World (or, ahem, maybe even Disneyland), stopping in all the beautiful U.S. southwest national parks along the way.

How close are we to actually achieving any of these? Well, we recently returned from a trip to Arizona that saw us hiking in Sedona, exploring underground caverns and horseback riding at a dude ranch. It’s fair to say we’re on our way…

Hiking the Bell Rock trail in Sedona, Ariz. is a baby step toward realizing the travel dreams on our family-travel bucket-list.

Hiking the Bell Rock trail in Sedona, Ariz. is a baby step toward realizing the travel dreams on our family-travel bucket-list.