Sometimes it's worth going a little farther for a great snow experience...
The Okanagan area of BC has family-friendly ski resorts with excellent "champagne powder" (i.e. light dry powder) snow. A popular choice is Sun Peaks Resort, near Kamloops BC.
Sun Peaks: Background
Say "BC", and most skiers think "Whistler". But the gigantic province of British Columbia (the size of California, Oregon, and Washington combined ) has lots more skiing, in totally different climate zones.
The Okanagan region-- aka "the Interior" of BC --is about a 4-1/2-hour drive east of Vancouver, and about 5 hours west of the Rockies; the climate grows wine in summer and snows light, dry flakes in winter-time. Sun Peaks, near Kamloops, is one of four family-friendly ski resorts in the area.
Size: ski resorts love their mountain stats, and Sun Peaks has 122 runs on 3,678 skiable acres*, on 3 mountains; vertical drop of 2891 feet, the biggest in the region; 2nd largest skiable terrain in BC (-you know who #1 is).
For families, Sun Peaks is a manageable size, with three main lift areas, and a small village -- restaurants, shops, groceries, lodgings-- that's basically at the foot of all three mountains. Lifts for Tod Mountain and Sundance Mountain are right by the village; Mt. Morrisey is across the street.
Features for Families
On the slopes at Sun Peaks:
- lots of "whoopee trails" (-kids love 'em) and blue-cruiser runs
- beginner areas with magic carpets, one for very young learners
- 5-mile green run, on Tod Mountain
- free Sun Guide tours
Skiing with Nancy Greene needs special mention: often, guests have a chance to ski with Canada's Olympic Gold Medal winner, and you'd be hard-put to find a more enthusiastic pal on the slopes. She's funny, too. For example, this comment to my kids, about her "work" skiing with guests: "If you win an Olympic medal you can do that job too. 'Course the entrance requirements are kinda high…"
In addition to kids' lessons, Sun Peaks has child care, with indoor and outdoor play, for ages 18 months to 5 years. (Always check for updates; also check the medical documents required.)
Sun Peaks also has family events, such as Kids Casino Night and Slopeside Movie Night.
- Snowmobile Tour: a big hit, on a visit with two teen boys. We sampled Sun Peaks Adventure Tours, a 2-hour escorted outing with a chance to crank up the speed on a frozen lake. (Watch those turns!) Kids over 5 can ride as passengers; teens must have a driver's license to drive; under 5's can ride with guide.
First Trax: start the day with an early breakfast at Crystal Lodge (on-mountain restaurant); be the first to ski down.
International Fondue & Torchlight Descent: , end your day with a fondue dinner at Crystal Lodge (friendly, ski-lodge style); ski down with head-lamp flash-lights.
Lots more to do:
- tube park
- miniature snowmobiling for kids
- outdoor skating rink
- Sports Center by the village with heated outdoor pool, hot tub, kid’s play zone.
- cross-country skiing; dog-sledding; show-shoeing; back-country cat skiing tours; horse-drawn sleigh rides
Sun Peaks has a major hotel, the Delta Sun Peaks Resort, with sophisticated dining, and some family-friendly features: kids 17 and under stay free; kids six and under eat free from kids' menu, with dining with parent; dogs welcome!
There are several lodges in the Village, too.
Lots of families, however, prefer the convenience of chalets and condos, and Sun Peaks has many, with with full kitchen, multiple bedrooms, and perhaps a private hot tub too. See Bear Country Lodging for condo options. Some of this accommodation is ski in/ski out; otherwise, a complimentary Shuttle Service runs on weekends and holidays.
How to get there:
Drive: from Vancouver, the drive to Sun Peaks takes 4-1/2 hours (in ideal conditions, with no stops); route goes first to Kamloops, and then a 45-minute drive more. From Seattle, drive time is 5-1/2 hours. Remember: as with any winter resort, driving conditions will be affected by winter weather!
By Air: many visitors fly into Kelowna (which has flights from Vancouver, Toronto, Calgary...) and then take a shuttle to Sun Peaks -- about 2-1/2 hours. (Reserve in advance.) It's possible to fly right into Kamloops, but that airport is for small planes only. (Check the Sun Peaks site for updates.)
Keep in mind about Sun Peaks:
- catering is a nice option for feeding the kids in the condo, after a day on the slopes; see Upper Levels Catering.
- Sun Peaks is popular in summer, too, with hiking and mountain biking. Overseas visitors like the Jasper "fly drive": fly to scenic Jasper, in the Canadian Rockies, and drive to Vancouver, with Kamloops/Sun Peaks en route; hotels are part of the package.
- at time of writing: no teen programs
Photos courtesy of Sun Peaks Resort
*always check web site for updates!
As is common in the travel industry, the writer was provided with complimentary accommodation and activities for the purpose of review. While it has not influenced this review, About.com believes in full disclosure of all potential conflicts of interest. For more information, see our ethics policy.