How to plan the ultimate Western Canada ski holiday
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Out of every struggle comes an opportunity. The risk and hassle of COVID restrictions has cast a big gloomy cloud over any winter sun, sand and sea getaway. But the silver lining is you and your friends can embrace our glorious winters and rediscover the joys of an authentic Western Canada ski vacation.
There’s never been a better time to cook up an extended ski trip with friends. And if you don’t know where to start, we’re here to help make your ski holiday escape a peak experience.
Careful planning will ensure you get the most out of your vacation. Key things to consider include: how much time you have, budget, accommodations, gear rentals, other nearby activities (for those who don’t ski) – and of course, après good times.
Perhaps there are people in your crew who want to downhill one day, cross-country ski or snowshoe the next. Maybe your group consists of beginner to intermediate cruisers but also those who like to shred the gnar on the double-blacks.
There might even be a few in your group who like to ski hard all morning and then hang out in the pub socializing and hearing live music.
Dan Healing has “selfishly” organized a few trips for friends and families with a range of interests and ski abilities over the years. Though he claims he’s no expert, he’s learned a lot.
“I just want to go skiing and hang out with a bunch of friends at a nice resort town. Totally selfish,” says Healing, who lives in Calgary.
Which ski resort should I choose?
The first order of business is figuring out where you want to go and how far you want to travel. Nice that we’re spoiled for so many ski choices in Western Canada.
Do you want a road trip holiday, or would you rather fly in to the ski resort community? Need lessons, rentals and a lively après vibe, too? It all depends what kind of experience you’re looking for – and of course your budget.
If you want a slow travel, uncrowded experience, there are lots of options at Alberta and B.C. community ski hills with nearby accommodations. These destinations are often much less expensive than the big ski resorts, and are perfect for all ski abilities, but especially newbies.
Meanwhile, here’s a checklist and tips for planning your next ski holiday escape.
Booking ski area accommodations
Know your dates and how many people are in your crew before you start an internet search. Commit as early as you can, because the longer you leave it the more expensive it’ll get – and there will be a lot fewer choices.
When you plunk in the dates, number of people and geographical area, you’ll find a wide range of possibilities, which may seem a little overwhelming at first. But based on your budget and time and knowing where you’d like to go, you can easily narrow it down.
Healing says he simply starts by booking accommodations in the location he wants to ski, then reaches out to his gang of friends to see who’s interested and can go.
“The longer you wait for people to commit, the fewer choices there are. At some point, you have to accept the risk of a financial loss and put a deposit down. And also accept the possibility that you will have a last-minute scramble to fill an empty room.”
Nearly every ski hill has a ski school and/or gear rentals. If you’re just taking up the sport, it’s a good idea to get a lesson or two under your belt, for your own safety.
Even if you’re a more advanced skier, lessons can help you improve your technique and break some bad habits. And if you’re in need of skis, poles and boots, getting kitted out for your day on the slopes is seamless at most ski resorts.
It’s a good idea to rent gear the day before you hit the chairlift, leaving you more time on the slopes.
Lift tickets and ski-and-stay packages
Ski-and-stay packages come in a range of options. Some include lift tickets, while others don’t. Multi-day ski passes which often come with up to 20 to 30 per cent discounts, sometimes include discounts at restaurants and ski shops. There are so many to choose from.
Ski-in, ski-out experiences
Do you want a snow globe experience, where you can get instant ski-in, ski-out gratification and first tracks in the morning? Some resorts have limited accommodations and dining options, while others are full-on ski town experiences.
Alberta has a few slope-side accommodation options. But for the most part Alberta’s resorts and hills are located a short drive to nearby towns or villages where you can easily find a wider range of restaurant and accommodation offerings, including Airbnbs – and plenty of après options.
Slope-side accommodations can be found at two resorts in Alberta – Sunshine Village with its slope-side Sunshine Mountain Lodge, (including a hot tub, spa services and a couple of restaurant/pub choices), and Castle Mountain Resort has an onsite hostel, hotel and condo options, along with a pub/restaurant.
Want a B.C. ski holiday? Search “ski resorts with hotels in B.C.” and you’ll find dozens of options, including full-on ski villages. Each has its own personality and activities.
You might say that après ski is the second best part of your snowy holiday, besides the fun on the slopes. If you’re serious about kicking back at a pub, chowing down on nachos, craft beers, watching a hockey game, fireworks – or even ice skating or ice climbing – when you kick off your ski boots, then you need to do a little more recon.
Call on an expert
If you don’t have the time or inclination to plan your trip, there are a number of expert trip planning websites which specialize in ski package holidays. Expert trip organizers (like Ski TDS and the Skibig3 First Timers Guide) can arrange stays directly with property owners to save on booking charges.
They can also arrange discounts for food, beverages, transportation, and even sometimes bring homemade cookies. They post a schedule of events and investigate alternative activities.
In the end, remember that weather can be unpredictable and going with the flow is half the fun. In other words, powder days! Having options and being flexible will go a long way towards ensuring you can match your plans with the weather, yours and your group’s interests.
It may start out as a “selfish” endeavour, but with the right place and people, it can turn into a wonderful getaway with friends.
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