Your family has fallen in love with the snow fields, and now you’re considering venturing further afield for some different terrain. Which destination would suit your family best? We’ve road tested two cracking destinations to unearth everything you need to consider when choosing the best holiday for your family.
It’s tough to get my whole family up and out onto the ski fields some mornings. Which destination makes it easiest?
If you have young kids, then you know the easier things are, the better the day goes. You know that feeling, when you are under time pressure to get everyone ready and out the door, then arrive at the bus stop only to find you are minus one glove, or someone needs to go to the toilet. There will inevitably be tears (in my family they’re usually mine when I see the bus drive off without us).
For our family, the perfect ski holiday has always included waking up beside a window where I could check to see if it was a fresh tracks or blue bird kind of day. Staying on-snow generally means a much more leisurely start to the day in getting the family out the door and on to the slopes. When you have kids in tow, you need an easy get up and go. Equally convenient is the opportunity to quickly dash back if items are forgotten (or little people discover they’re too hot, cold or itchy!).
If this kind of morning is part of your ski holiday dream, then Big White in Canada will not disappoint. Most accommodation options offer ski-in ski-out locations, and they have the added advantage of being fully self-contained – many with the bonus of an outdoor spa!
Comparatively, New Zealand Ski resorts have little to no on-snow accommodation options (Cardrona is the only mountain boasting accommodation on site). This will mean traveling to ski fields each day by bus, or navigating the mountain drive yourself. Given the hazardous nature of the roads leading to Mt Hutt and The Remarkables, this may not be the most relaxing plan for your family!
Our family loves eating out, but we have some fussy eaters. Which destination gives us the best dining options?
One of the best things about staying in Big White in Canada is the village life. Although small compared to the breadth of offer at Whistler, Big White Village has a wide array of dining. From a quick counter lunch to fine dining degustation, to tapas, traditional Irish food, and all your Canadian favourites, you can enjoy great food anytime day or night when you need a break from the slopes. And very few little ones will be disappointed by the Bullwheel’s famous heavenly hot chocolates and pink donuts!
New Zealand ski resorts have limited food offerings, so on-snow dining can sometimes get a little crowded. However at the day’s end, the dining options in town are vast and varied.
We find travel days to be very challenging. How much flying and driving will we need to do?
Getting to the resorts within BC, Canada involves a full day of travel. Flight times to Kelowna International Airport are a minimum of 17 hours and may include multiple stopovers, combined with another hour’s drive up the mountain.
On the other hand, Queenstown, New Zealand is only a direct three hour flight from eastern Australian states, and then it’s around a 30 minute drive to your accommodation. So if your family isn’t keen on lengthy travel days, New Zealand may be a wiser option.
Our Family ski and board at different levels. I like it steep and deep, but my kids are just starting out. How do we find a mountain we’ll all enjoy?
If you’re a more experienced skier or boarder, then Big White in Canada is for you. With 119 runs to discover, there is terrain for the absolute beginner all the way up to the most advanced skier or boarder. Big White boasts over 28% advanced or extreme terrain, with The Cliff Run taking the number two ranking for ‘must ski runs in BC’. The resort’s longest run is 7.2km, allowing you to ski further and longer without needing a lift.
While New Zealand doesn’t boast the same depth or breadth of terrain in their resorts, with their longest run at Coronet Peak only 2.4km, they do offer some fun and interesting terrain. There is just not as much choice for all the family members, but you can ski different resorts on different days. Coronet Peak offers 27 runs, and The Remarkables 20 Runs, and of these 30% are advanced.
I visualise our family swooshing through the trees on a bluebird powder day. Where can I achieve this dream?
New Zealand is above the treeline, which means no glades to play in. This may not be a deal breaker, but trees bring definition and reference points to the terrain, as well as being fun to play in! Without trees, when the weather turns cloudy and the light goes flat, those bumps and troughs can become difficult to see.
Big White has arguably the best tree skiing from easy glades for beginners to the tight and steep for the advanced. Tree skiing is great for your skills, teaching you to turn and react as the terrain changes, plus you can find lots of stashes. Kids love the ups, downs and go-rounds with Bumpy Alley and Ogo Pogo Glades being some of the most beloved runs at Big White. Every run can bring you something new to find.
We love POW. Where and when can we get it?
New Zealand’s average annual snowfall is around two metres for Coronet Peak and up to five and a half metres for Treble Cone, with the season running from June to October.
Big White’s annual snowfall (blissfully known as ‘champagne powder’) is up to seven and a half metres, with the season running from late November to April. It is hard to argue with the figures. Big White, Canada has the pow race run and won.
We love skiing. But is there anything else we can do off the slopes on our holiday?
New Zealand is all about adventure on and off the slopes, with many activities to experience. Our family favourites include burning up the go-kart track, zip-lining through the trees above Queenstown, ducking and diving like dolphins inside Hydro Attack, and the thrill of the Shotover Jet. For a more relaxing day you can even take a cruise across the lake onboard an old-fashioned paddle steamer. New Zealand is undoubtedly a winter destination that’s more than just ski fields.
Big White, not to be outdone, also boasts a plethora of adventures. A day off the slopes can have you ice climbing, checking out the backcountry on a snowmobile, or enjoying a dog sledding adventure. There are shuttles to take you to Kelowna for shopping or even a winery tour. Our family favourites have included exploring the cross country trails, an evening forest sleigh ride, and the adrenalin-pumping thrill of tubing.
Our family enjoys seeing as much as possible on holidays. How easily can we visit more than one ski resort?
New Zealand has the appealing prospect of visiting multiple resorts all from the one accommodation base. From Queenstown, you can make a choice to either ski at The Remarkables or Coronet Peak, or for a slightly longer drive, Cardrona or Treble Cone. You can even stay in beautiful Wanaka where you’re right at the base of Cardrona or Treble Cone. The great thing about New Zealand’s South Island is on any given day the choice is yours.
From Big White, skiing at another resort for the day is not any easy thing to do. It involves many hours of travel. It is possible, but it’s a huge day. The benefit to having on-snow accommodation at Big White is designed to avoid daily travel to enjoy the spoils right at your door.
Our life revolves around school holidays. Where can we best fit in a family ski trip?
Are you locked into school holiday travel only? Don’t worry. There are plenty of us in the same boat. New Zealand ski season starts in late June, and although July school holidays do generally offer snow, it is not the best part of the season with some resorts only offering limited terrain.
Conversely, January school holidays are much longer and align perfectly for a great ski holiday in Canada’s peak snow season. With their season starting late November, by January there is usually a great base and good, consistent snowfalls.