A family winter getaway to Panorama Mountain Resort in southeastern BC is so… hmm, what’s the best word? Oh yeah… it’s so easy. Now, hold on a second, I’m not talking about the runs; there’s plenty of vertical for even the most daring of daredevil downhillers. No, what I’m referring to is how easy Panorama makes it for the whole family to have an amazing winter experience. Panorama has your family covered… and you can get to everything without needing to load everyone back into the minivan.
Panorama has long held a reputation as a fantastic family hill, and it’s only getting better. I feel confident saying that, despite having just visited for the first time. Why? Because – in 2014 alone – Panorama invested $10 million dollars in upgrades, both on and off the hill, and much of that cash was directed at improving their family offerings.
For Little Ones Who Aren’t Quite Ready for the Hill
There’s no doubt about it, life changes when you have kids. You love them more than you ever thought possible and wouldn’t trade them for the world, but… when they’re little and you still want to hit the slopes, it can be frustrating (for you and them) that you have to slow down to their capability or trade off childcare duties with your co-parent. With Panorama’s PanoKids programs, you can take a break from all the compromising and give everyone their ideal vacation day.
Panorama’s Wee Wascals childcare centre offers professional childcare in a fun environment for kids aged 18 months to 5 years. You can book your kids into their cheerful play centre for just half or a whole day. You can bring your own (nut-free) food or pay a little extra to have a nutritious and delicious lunch provided. Kids aged 3-5 years can also take a 1-hour, 1-on-1 ski lesson (rentals and lift pass included), and they get picked up from and returned directly to Wee Wascals. Mommy/Daddy not required.
Book your childcare well in advance, because strict caregiver-child ratios mean space is limited. For younger kids, or after hours, Panorama will happily provide you with a list of babysitters. This type of childcare is a private arrangement between you and the sitter and requires the same due diligence you’d exercise when choosing a sitter at home.
For the First Timer or Novice Downhiller
Last summer, Panorama undertook major construction to ramp up their first-timer and novice experiences. The result of all that investment and hard work is a fantastic learning area aptly named the Discovery Zone.
As a novice skier, I can attest to the smooth and non-threatening progression from the smallest carpet run (boy did I ever feel tall next to those 3-year-olds!) to the new, longer, carpet run, then on to a beautifully wide and gentle green run (with an easy-peasy platter lift). Finally, you have the thrill of graduating to the brand-new Discovery quad chair, which deposits you at the top of green runs significantly more manageable in length than the ones descending from the Mile 1 Express chair. These runs are also shaped and sculpted for maximum fun.
Panorama offers a cheaper lift pass just for the Discovery Zone, making it an affordable choice for families. If your skills progress, but you don’t want to upgrade to full price for access to the rest of the mountain, you can even try out a fun blue run, right within the zone.
Perhaps you’re already comfortable on the hill, but passing those skills to your kids… that can be a whole different ball of [ski?] wax. Whether your kids respond better to learning new skills from someone other than you, or you just really want to carve out some kid-free time to head higher up the mountain and challenge yourself, Panorama’s ski school has you covered.
Staffed by skilled, responsible and enthusiastic instructors sporting a wide variety of accents, Panorama’s kids’ lessons come in many flavours. With full-day lessons, the kids are provided lunch, and you are free to have yours high on the mountain or somewhere a little bit special. Heck, if you’re having too much fun on the hill, you could skip lunch altogether. I can’t personally wrap my head around skipping the opportunity for an adult-only meal, but to each to her own, I suppose!
Each child taking a group or private lesson at the ski school sports a Flaik, a real-time GPS tracking device. In addition to providing you with some added peace of mind, it saves your child’s data. Kids love going online later to show off which runs they did and how many vertical feet they accomplished.
Lessons are not just for beginners or kids; regardless of your ability level, Panorama’s instructors have something to offer. I’d like to give a shout-out to Stuart, who made my classes super fun, non-threatening and really, really useful.
For the Intermediate to Expert Downhiller
If you’re into stats, head to Panorama’s website for all sorts of pretty numbers. Suffice to say, it’s a really big mountain, with a wide variety of terrain and conditions and, for those who like some extra challenge, there’s the Taynton Bowl. Previously accessible only by helicopter, this bowl offers heli-ski conditions without the the hefty price tag and the need to carry backcountry gear.
Panorama is dedicated to continually improving their grooming equipment and, thanks to winch-grooming technology, they now groom runs in areas where it was previously thought impossible.
For Someone Who’s Ready For a New Challenge and Amazing Outdoor Experiences
Panorama is justifiably proud of being the only major alpine resort in North America to boast a heli-ski operation based right in their village. Offering daily scheduled and private heli adventures, rk heliski has been operating for over 40 years and they are experts in their field. It’s a myth that you need to be an expert downhiller to get in on the heli magic; rk staffers say intermediate skiers and boarders are welcome and teens as young as 14 can take part with a parent or other adult guardian (designated in writing by their parents). Even if you’re not planning on trying out this particular adventure, walk over to the rk base to watch a chopper take off or land – call ahead to find out when you have the best chance of seeing one – and enjoy a great family meal in Chopper’s Restaurant.
Friday and Saturdays after dark, Panorama offers night-skiing on lit runs and evening sledding on the bunny hill (sleds provided). Even your smallest family members can enjoy some snowy fun under the stars.
If you’re OK with getting back in your car just once, independently operated Toby Creek Adventures is a few minutes down the road and offers snowmobile adventures that can include kids as young as 5 years old. Check them out at www.tobycreekadventures.com.
For the Non-Downhiller, the Exhausted Downhiller or the Aprés-Downhiller
Not everyone is into downhill and even the most dedicated speed demon needs a break every now and then. Not to worry; there’s lots to do within the resort. From the Lower Village (conveniently connected to the Upper Village by a short, free gondola ride), stroll across the picturesque bridge over Toby Creek to the Nordic Centre. Explore on cross-country skis (bring your own, 20 km of trails to enjoy), snowshoes (rentals available, 4 km of trails) or a fat tire bike (2-hour or full day rentals). For a really special family experience, take the kids on a ‘Snowshoe Tour and S’mores’ adventure: $10 per person includes snowshoe rentals, a guided tour and of course the all-important sticky treats, er… sport recovery snacks.
In the Upper Village, try out your skills on the EuroBungy. It’ll be a highlight for the kids, but don’t let them have all the fun – get in there and show them how it’s done! You’ll all have a good giggle. You know what they say about the family that laughs [at their mother] together…
Need to warm up? There’s lots to do indoors, too. Take a class in cupcake decorating, jewelry-making, art or kid-friendly science experiments, take in (or perhaps take part in) a free dramatic play, or head to the Great Hall for a free movie night. Movie nights feature G or PG movies, popcorn is included and kids over 6 can be dropped off to watch without their parents.
Snow-savvy teenagers will keep themselves busy on the slopes during the day (though if you’re lucky they might deign to meet you for lunch), but once they’re done with the downhill and in need of some social time, they can head to a teen-only hangout by the bonfire on Saturday nights.
A treat anytime of the day, but particularly magical after dark, are the outdoor hot pools. Located near the base of the hill, within the Upper Village, there is one large warm pool with room for kids to swim and play, 2 super-sized hot tubs and a really toasty dry sauna. Your accommodation may also have access to its own hot tub, but these lovelies are for the use of anyone staying within the resort. If you’ve never had a hot soak under the stars during the winter, you’ve been missing out!
If your aching muscles are beyond the help of a mere hot soak, get yourself to Pure Massage, which offers massage and other spa services, right in the Upper Village.
For Foodies and Fussy Eaters Alike
We had some really delicious meals at Panorama (special thanks to the server at Monticola who recommended the stuffed tomatoes!). While preparing a few simple meals in your accommodation kitchen is always a great way to cut down on vacation costs, you do owe it to yourself to try some of the on-resort dining options. Whether you’re looking for a latte to get your blood flowing, a quick lunch just steps from the lifts or a cozy meal offering both gourmet choices and family comfort foods, it’s all available. Best of all, kids are cheerfully welcomed at any of the restaurants, with the exception of the T-Bar & Grill and Jackpine Pub after 8 pm.
Panorama boasts three mountain hut-restaurants on its hills and each offers something different at lunch, for a tasty break with stunning views. But the real magic lies in visiting one of these huts for aprés ski. Late in the afternoon, the Mile 1 Hut (can accommodate beginner-intermediate skills) and Summit Hut (expert skills required) both serve cheese and chocolate fondue, followed by a memorable run down. I was lucky enough to experience aprés-ski drinks and raclette (aka Melted Cheese Heaven) at the Elkhorn Cabin. Following our delicious meal, I was treated to a rescue-sled descent (sorry, this is not available to the general public unless you’re injured, but wow!). The lucky group of strong skiers and boarders that I was with made their way down the hill by head-lamp. With some low cloud forming an unearthly orange glow at the base of the hill and the stars shining bright overhead, it was an experience I’ll never forget. Reservations are essential, the experience magical. Provided they meet the skill-level requirements, kids and teens are welcome.
There you have them… a whole bunch of reasons why I think Panorama is perfect for my family and probably for yours too. And we didn’t even get to all the other amazing things you can do in the area. Perhaps I’ll write about those another time, because I know we’ll be going back.
In the end, we did find one thing about Panorama Mountain Resort that’s not so easy… it was pretty tough to head home.