Before kids, I was the kind of person who loved the occasional spontaneous travel experience — booking a flight and maybe a hotel at the destination and figuring out the rest on the fly.
But with demands on my time at a premium and four people to book and pack and get on their way, I revel in the simplicity of one-stop-travel-shopping.
When Air Canada Vacations launched its 2019 Canada Collection featuring ski vacation packages to resorts such as Tremblant, Fernie, Whistler and more, I all but begged to get on board to find out what kind of value these almost-all-inclusive trips could offer families.
So Miss Q and I packed our gear and set out on an Air Canada Vacations ski trip to Big White just outside of Kelowna. Our package included roundtrip airfare from Toronto to Kelowna on Air Canada Rouge — and don’t forget that if you’re travelling with kids 12 and under, you can call the airline after you book to ensure you’re seated with your kids at no extra charge — lodging at the Inn at Big White, lift tickets for both of us and shuttles to get us to and from the resort.
Why Big White?
First of all, Big White is less than an hour from the airport. You can take a morning flight and catch a couple hours’ worth of runs not long after touching ground.
The resort’s tag line is “It’s The Snow” and ain’t that the truth. Big White’s snow is the best I’ve experienced so far in Canada and rivals the champagne powder in Utah. (Yet you get to stay in Canada. Score.)
It’s the kind of snow that expert skier Powder Matt called “buttery” during our shared visit to the resort. No ice anywhere — not even little granular bits broken up by a groomer. And that’s a gift to those of us from the east where skiing over icy patches is commonplace.
Better still, Big White caters to families. It’s family-owned and being family-centric is as much a part of the resort’s identity as having killer snow.
Miss Q had no trouble getting on and off chairlifts on her own here, and the onsite Kids’ Centre was outstanding, with small-group lessons tailored to each child’s ability and daily written progress reports by way of a checklist attached to the kids’ ski jackets.
The ski lessons had instructor consistency and my kid was pretty thrilled about having snack-time built into her morning session. Oh, and a half-day (9:15-11:45 a.m. with two hours of lessons) is only $74. You can spend your morning in your own ski lesson, shopping or enjoying some me-time in the spa! I may have done all three…
Big White is a great intro to big-mountain skiing for little kids who may not be able to conquer a 45-minute run in one go. There are plenty of lifts that lead to runs that can be done in just 15 or 20 minutes, making it super manageable for little legs. And with “base camp” at around 5,000 feet, you’re already in the mountains before you step into your skis.
One of the coolest things about Big White is that it feels like two resorts in one thanks to upper and lower areas connected by a free gondola ride. While all of the skiing is done in the upper section, the lower one houses the Happy Valley Day Lodge, skating rink, ice-climbing tower, horse-drawn sleigh rides, tubing and more.
Our favourite evening activity was tubing. SO FUN, and dare I say the best tubing we’ve ever tried. There are several long channels that run alongside a massive magic carpet, which means you can lazily ride back up to the top with your kid and your tube(s) rather than hoisting them with elbow grease. Single or double tubes await and the guys at the top will gladly give you an extra spin before they push you over the edge. Warning: they don’t mess around.
There’s a huge outdoor skating rink, and if you have your own skates it’s free to use; skate and helmet rentals are available, too. You can hit up ice skating any time of day, but we loved it at night with a bonfire and free hot chocolate on the sidelines.
There are daily and weekly activities built for families, from crafting to live music, with a kid-friendly après-ski event every afternoon. And we simply ran out of time before we could try the ice tower, dog-sledding, mini-snowmobiling, yoga, snowshoeing, Nordic skiing and so, so much more.
And even though food wasn’t part of our Air Canada Vacations package, I have to note how impressed I was with the restaurants at Big White. We made it to the Blarney Stone (have the Irish stew), Kettle Valley Steakhouse (have the wagyu steak), Black Diamond Bar & Grill (have the stuffed French toast), Clocktower Coffee Co. (have the mocha), Globe Café & Tapas Bar (have the quinoa breakfast bowl), Gunbarrel Grill (have the burger and Gunbarrel coffee), Moose Lounge (have the gargantuan nacho board), The Bullwheel (have the lobster chowder) and The Woods (have the short rib) — phew!
There is clearly a strong emphasis on food at Big White because there wasn’t a bad meal to be had across the entire resort. That said, there are still nine or 10 other eateries we didn’t get to in the time we had.
Is a ski vacation package worth it?
All Air Canada Vacations ski packages come with round-trip flights from various Canadian cities operated by Air Canada or Air Canada Rouge, as well as hotel accommodations, lift tickets and airport shuttles.
If you think about all-inclusive travel, the only thing missing here is food. The convenience of having everything planned together — especially when you’ve got a million and one other things going on at the same time — cannot be understated. It’s brilliant.
Look at it this way: if you booked everything separately, and you have a flight delay, your shuttle driver might be completely unaware and you’ll risk having no one waiting for you when you arrive. This way, one hand is talking to the other. Lift ticket deals are usually priced better in a package deal, too. And having ONE bill for everything with an itemized list and one set of taxes is a lot easier for a busy brain to manage, in my opinion.
Air Canada Vacations travelers can also benefit from free seat selection, a $100 future travel credit and 2,000 bonus Aeroplan® Miles per couple. Canadians can book on aircanadavacations.com, by calling 1-866-529-2079 or through a local travel agent.
How much is a ski vacation to Big White?
That’s a tough one because prices change all the time and depend on where you’re travelling from, how many people are in your party, how long you stay and a whole whack of other factors.
However, to give you an idea, I priced out the Inn at Big White in a superior room for five nights with four days of lift tickets. Again, this also includes return transfers from the Kelowna Airport to Big White and airfare (flying from Toronto direct to Kelowna). As of January 4 — when I wrote this — departing on March 15, 2019, it’s priced at $1,179 per adult including all taxes (and around $810 for kids).
That means a five-night ski vacation, for a family of four with two kids around the 6-11 age range, comes to less than four grand ($3,969 to be precise) all in. That’s a very, very good price. By comparison, we have done ski trips by car that cost about the same.
Bottom line: I’m already saving for an Air Canada Vacations ski trip for all four of us next season!
DISCLAIMER: Air Canada Vacations invited me on this trip to experience a typical ski package to facilitate this post. All opinions my own, per usual.