SnowSeekers Picks: Best beginner slopes

SnowSeekers Picks: Best beginner slopes

Nakiska makes a day of skiing with kids easy on the whole family. It's unloading zone is a snap for dropping off gear and the kids.
Photo courtesy RCR

JOANNE ELVES

Trail names like Concussion, Barely Legal, Parachute and Unnecessary Roughness could scare many a seasoned skier and snowboarder. So what would that do to the newbies who just slapped a slippery board or two under their feet?

No worries. SnowSeekers has found some tamer trails, gentle terrain, and great lessons to ease newcomers into an activity that will keep them happy in the snow for years to come.

First things first. Most beginners are tiny tots and just getting them into their winter coats, mitts, helmets, goggles, boots and snow pants is exhausting. Then there’s the gear to carry from the parking lot. Trust me – mom and pop are pooped, stressed, cranky and sweating before the first lift ride. Resorts that have areas to unload the gear and the kids with easy access to the first lift floated to the top of our criteria.

Nakiska – In Cree means “To Meet”

This resort, less than an hour from Calgary, let’s you spill the kids and the gear into the unloading zone that is a flat walk to the lodge and lifts. Two magic carpets in the Beginner Zone will amuse the little folks for hours. When they’re pooped and ready for a  “time out,” the new tube park is there to end the day on a positive note.

Nakiska offers 71 marked trails with nearly 15 per cent listed as beginner, 59 per cent intermediate and the rest as advanced. Almost all of the beginner slopes are within a short stroll to the lodge. When it’s time to move beyond the magic carpet, the Bronze chair is short six-minute ride to the green trails such as Sweetgrass and Chinook. There’s nothing daunting about those gentle names.

The reward at the top of the Silver chair are blue runs, including the Minute Maid Kids trails and the recently modified Homesteader with a bypass to eliminate one daunting pitch.

Nakiska’s Winter Sports School offers lessons for any level (including ladies only). That means while the beginners hone their skills, you can check out the new glade trails off the Gold Chair. That way everyone piles happily back in the car after a great day on the slopes. Or better yet, take the two-minute drive to the hotels in Kananaskis Village and make it a weekend. Those hot tubs are calling you.

Norquay – First for families in Banff since 1926

Norquay has always been there. And it has always put family first. Here’s some of what they offer:

  • The unloading area is flat, and a short jaunt to the lodge. If you choose to not use the unloading area, a handy tractor pulling a big flat wagon adds a fun adventure for the kids, takes you to the lodge, and back to your car at the end of the day.
  • You know you’re in the right place for beginners when you see just how many ski instructors are waiting for their eager students. Better yet, you know you’re in the right place because those eager students ditch you as soon as they see their instructors. The Little Rip N’ Rider and Wee Warrior lessons are aimed at 3 – 5 year olds and sell out fast! Other lessons are offered for every level of ability, including lessons called Freedom 55 for the older age group who finally found time to learn to ski.
  • Norquay is all about family fun time and offers enticing family ski packages. Check out its web page for the latest offers. Expect to find whole day pass packages for a family of four, including time in the tube park and a round of hot chocolates at the end of the day. But there’s no need to end the day. Norquay offers night skiing off the Cascade chair.
  • Norquay has a supreme location, just six km from the heart of Banff. Then there’s the Juniper Hotel down the road from Norquay. After a hard day on the slopes, why not stay over? The Upper Banff Hot Springs is a great place to rehash the day’s events and with so many lodging opportunities, you could be the first one back on the Sundance Conveyor making first tracks on Shenanigan.

Panorama ski and soak

Panorama – or for those of you in the know – “Pano” is great for the families who want that ski-in/ski out experience of a classic ski village. All you need to do is open the front door of your rental unit. Chairlifts drift above the condominiums, shops and restaurants take you to the action while trails will lead into the village bringing you back for lunch or the end of the day on the slopes.

With 120 named trails, 75 per cent cater to the beginner and intermediate visitors leaving 25 per cent to the folks who chase the steep and deep in Taynton Bowl.

You’ll want to be a kid again after you see the programs for beginners. The “PanoKids” camps introduce the newbies with easy terrain, fun obstacle courses and trips through the trees to build confidence. As that confidence grows, so does the terrain.

Pano has more than just slope activities to entertain the family. Also available at the resort are hot pools, cold pools, waterslides, saunas, heli-skiing, a tubing park,  snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, snowmobile adventures and yes, a spa.

Kimberley – Skip the yodel and give me a yahoo

Ahhh…Kimberley. It’s such a nice little town tucked into the Purcell Range of the Canadian Rockies, removed from the hubbub of the big city. What was once called the “Bavarian village of the Rockies” is changing its tune. Forget the yodel – it’s time to hoot and holler! Only minutes away is one big beautiful all-season resort offering tons of everything. Stunning scenery, 80 named trails and glades, entertainment, restaurants and on-slope accommodations in the resort village and half way up the front slope. Beginners and extreme skier/boarders love this place so it’s easy to please the entire family.

Unloading at the base is a dream. The ticket kiosk is right before the day lodge, which is only steps from the first chair that takes you up an amazingly long easy mountain face covered in blue and green trails.

Beginners will love staying at the Trickle Creek Lodge. You can sit on the deck and when five of the six people in your lesson are at the Owl Learning area, you can pop out the door and be on time. And with group lessons called “Little Rippers” you know the kids are in for a good time. For beginners looking for a decent terrain park,  Kimberley’s rocks. It will entertain you until you’re a pro.

When the day is done, gather at one of the on-slope eateries to indulge in some local’s favourites, including waffle poutine fries or the Buckhorn Burger at the Stemwinder, Honkin’ Beef Ribs at the Montana’s Restaurant at the base village or a Monster Dog at the Slopeside Cafeteria.

Sun Peaks – A destination worth an annual repeat

Just 45 minutes from Kamloops B.C., the snow just doesn’t quit and that’s where you will find Sun Peaks Resort. It gets buried under at least six metres of snow every year. The alpine village at the base of three mountains is perfect for families on vacation. Once you’ve unloaded the car – that’s it – no more schlepping the gear. The kids can roam around the village, the shops and slopes without a care in the world.

Accommodations are plentiful at Sun Peaks Resort with easy access to chairlifts or trails from almost every door. The resort is an all-season property but in the winter expect to find all the alpine terrain with 10 per cent beginner, 58 per cent intermediate and the rest listed as expert. The terrain park is nine acres with distinct districts laid out for all abilities. If you don’t have skinny skis you can rent some to take advantage of more than 30 km of track set Nordic trails.

Lessons for the 3-7 year-olds in the Sun Tots program are one-on-one for self-confidence building before advancing to the group lessons for 6-12 year-olds, which are offered in a variety of options from half to full day. Classified as a destination resort, Sun Peaks Resort can cater to any length of stay. And, since you have the kids enrolled, maybe it’s time for a bit of a refresher or “me-time” for mom. The Ski Sisters Program, and the Ladies Day, are hosted and taught by the resorts best female instructors, tailoring the day to what mom needs to get her groove on the slopes back.

If you’re done with the skis and snowboards for the day, there are dog sled tours, Cat Trax Groomer Rides, fondue dinners, horse-drawn sleigh rides, skating, an aquatic centre, snowmobile tours, bungee trampolines and of course everyone’s favourite – the tube park.

More information:

Nakiska 

Norquay 

Panorama Mountain Village 

Kimberley Alpine Resort 

Sun Peaks Resort 

The alpine village at the base of three mountains is perfect for families on vacation. Once you’ve unloaded the car – that’s it – no more schlepping the gear.
Photo courtesy, Sun Peaks

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