Tag Archives: ski holiday

Five magic moments at the Lake Louise Ice Magic Festival

I’ve been wanting to check out the Lake Louise Ice Magic Festival for years. It’s a celebration of winter whose crowning glory is the display of professionally-carved ice sculptures arrayed on the shore of Lake Louise beside the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise. This year the festival was extended because of demand, so we packed up yet again and drove west for the final Little Chippers weekend. 

It was a weekend of snow, ice, cold, smiles, more snow, wine, whine (kids), cold toes, brandy hot chocolate, a 45-minutes wait for a “parrot” balloon animal, more wine, lots of giggles and yet even more snow at Lake Louise Ski Area. Through it all prevailed a kind of ice magic, thanks to the Chateau’s fairy-tale setting and our kids’ awe over ice raptors, ice castles and ice queens. Here are the highlights.

1. Ice skating with the Ice Queen around the Ice Castle. She was carved from a block of ice and came to life … blah, blah, blah. Avery missed the finer points of her story but enjoyed skating with her highness.

Carved from a block of ice and forced to wear Cinderella's cast-offs, it's ... the Ice Queen.

2. The Ice Playground. Located in a corner of the Lake Louise Village parking lot, I didn’t have high hopes for this sad-looking outdoor ice rumpus room at first glance. But as ice makes things cooler and more slippery, the ice tunnel and slides were a hit. So was the Little Chippers ice carving station, where children could don goggles and a pick and attempt ice art. 

Yeah, I know it looks lame but Bennett went down this slide, like, 20 times.

3. Lakeside sleigh ride. Granted, at an hour, it’s about 40 minutes too long for my kids. But the jingle of bells and hypnotic sight of falling snow mesmerized us and prevented a melt-down. Tip: don’t sit near the front: Parks Canada stipulates Brewster (the company that runs the tours) catch the horses’ poop in a manure catcher lest it litter the national park. Hence a ripe smell accompanied the lovely sights and sounds.

Avery's favourite part of the sleigh ride? "Petting the horses."

4. Eating my son’s New York Steak. We ordered Bennett the $11 New York Steak “For the Young Adult” at the Glacier Saloon inside the Chateau. The server even asked us how our four-year-old “would like his steak cooked?” Why, medium rare, thanks. Predictably, Bennett didn’t like the meat, eating only his French fries. OMG it was delish, cooked perfectly for any parent to enjoy. Tip: always order steak off the kid’s menu to save money.

5. Riding the Lake Louise gondola. Ever since the magic carpet (MC) at Fernie last weekend Bennett has been talking about wanting to ride a chairlift. So, after making him take the Lake Louise MC — with skis on — and then “ski” down the bunny hill (with Blake’s help, of course) onto the gondola we walked. He quivered with excitement and said, “We go up mountain, mommy?” Forget the Ice Queen, he was King of the Mountain for 24 minutes.

Warmer than a chairlift, faster than the magic carpet, it's ... the gondola!

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!

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.