Ski-tastic fun for the family
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.
It’s snowing quite heavily, but we’re not worried, as there’s no traffic, no danger of anyone spinning out of control and careering into us. But then Highway 33 is no ordinary carriageway.
In fact, it’s just one of the 118 runs which make up the ski haven of Big White, a little-known gem of a family resort with plenty of snow all season, even at Easter when we visit.
Tied to school holidays, in Europe we’d been used to packed pistes, teeming with out-of-control skiers.
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.
An hour’s drive from Kelowna Airport, the resort was built in the Sixties and centres around a single main street.
It’s a magnet for powder hounds, with an annual dump of more than 24ft of light, fluffy, champagne powder - no snow cannons here because they simply don’t need them - while 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, we’re told, are now busy polishing their boats and servicing their camper vans in preparation for summer, having long since packed away their skis.
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, from its gentle blues and greens to the more challenging powder bowls.
Byron eagerly leads us to Telus Park, an area comprising jumps and obstacles suitable for skiers and boarders alike, and the kids can’t wait to leave the starting blocks.
Even the designated chairlift for this daredevil park is designed with families in mind, displaying a sign requesting people to refrain from smoking or swearing while using it.
On another day, we enjoy a family ski lesson, and as the week progresses, my children - William, 13, and Grace, 12 - both competent skiers, decide to try a snowboard taster session.
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!
There’s also a mini skidoo track, and bigger snowmobiles for grown-ups - fantastic if you want to feel like James Bond for an hour. We come away shaken, but not stirred!
Other activities include ice skating and a climbing ice tower. More sedate is a horse-drawn sleigh ride through the peaceful, tree-lined terrain.
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Weather for Ripley
Saturday 25 May 2013
Temperature: 5 C to 16 C
Wind Speed: 9 mph
Wind direction: North
Temperature: 7 C to 18 C
Wind Speed: 8 mph
Wind direction: West