Family fun for all at ski resort
Don't hesitate to take the kids to a laid-back winter wonderland ski resort in British Columbia.
Teenage girls giggle as they ski past brightly coloured timber buildings. Instructors and mountain guides laugh and joke with a group of younger children outside the ski school, which is a picturesque red cottage with a snow-covered roof.
The sun is shining and there's a holiday feel in the air as parents tow toddlers on skis past the snow-covered Disney-like streetscape.
A ski resort near Vernon in British Columbia, Silver Star Mountain Resort's village centre has a cheerful 19th-century mining town theme that looks like a page from a children's picture book.
Not only does it look the part, but this winter wonderland is well and truly equipped to deliver a fun family holiday.
Here are some things to which families can look forward:
Silver Star's owner is a member of the Schumann family, which once owned Victoria's Mount Hotham.
There's a laid-back atmosphere and hearing Aussie accents everywhere will make you feel instantly at home. The workers in the restaurants, bars, shops and hotels are genuinely helpful and warm. You could say that Silver Star has the friendliness of a country town and the one-street village centre makes it easy for parents to keep an eye on children.
The skiing instructors are a jovial lot. My instructor, Spike Kenny, is a skilled and patient teacher who was nominated as Canadian Ski Instructor of the Year in 2012. Like many of the other instructors I observe, Kenny has a natural knack with children. His jokes and light-hearted banter puts big smiles on the faces of the young ones.
SKIING AND SNOWBOARDING
The average daytime winter temperature of about minus five degrees Celsius is cold enough to maintain light fluffy snow, but the resort doesn't have the bone-chilling temperatures experienced in ski fields at higher altitudes.
Silver Star's main drawcard is the quality and amount of snow it receives. An average of 700cm of dry powder snow blankets the 1240 hectares of slopes.
The high snowfall is a natural asset that makes it easy for the resort's management to organise a host of winter activities and there is plenty on the program for families, including family snow sports clinics, races and relays.
The Star Kids centre has day care for children aged 18 months to five years old and skiing programs for those between three and five years of age. The Snowsports Adventure Centre has skiing and snowboarding programs for children up to 12 years old.
The Kiddie Park has small boxes and rails for the little ones and is a stepping stone to the Rockstar Terrain Park, which is a thrilling training ground with corrugated tubes, large pole-jams, combo boxes and street rails.
Family members who are keen skiers or snowboarders are also well catered for, as there is enough challenging terrain to satisfy those with advanced skills.
The ski school has excellent instructors available for those serious about improving their skills. For a small ski resort, Silver Star attracts an unusually high percentage of professionals.
According to resort services manager Robin Baycroft, who is also an instructor, 10 of Silver Star's 110 ski instructors have Level 4 CSIA certification, compared with only 3 per cent of the total population of instructors in Canada. On the team are former Canadian national ski team coaches, Powder 8 champions and Level 4 examiners.
"Silver Star has always been more than just a ski area. It's a community you want to be part of. The skiing is incredible, so for personal ski enjoyment as an expert skier there is a lot on offer," Baycroft says.
FUN OFF THE SLOPES
Away from the slopes, there's a daily line-up of events and activities such as family games nights, the "Silver Star Idol" singing competition, movies and family bingo nights. Guest appearances from the Silver Fox and Silver Star Bear mascots are reminiscent of Disneyland.
The challenging seven-metre-high indoor climbing wall is a fun way for kids to burn up energy.
Rugging up in a horse-drawn sleigh and riding through the wilderness to the Wild Horseman's Cabin is an enchanting evening for all the family. The Sleigh Ride Dinner Tour includes dinner served at the cabin served by a real Canadian cowboy, Stu, who loves telling tales about his experiences working ranches.
The newest family-friendly attraction is Pinheads, a ski-in ski-out bowling alley owned by The Block: Allstars contestant Duncan Miller. The high-tech facility has four computerised bowling lanes with automatic bumper rails for children, large LCD screens and touch-screen scoring pads.
Near Pinheads is Tube Town Adventure Park, where kids of all ages squeal in excitement as they spin, slip and slide downhill on truck-sized tubes. Next to it is the ice-skating rink and a fire pit, which is the spot to huddle around while sipping hot chocolate.
SNOWMOBILING AND SNOWSHOEING
Zooming through a corridor of sky-high spruce and pine trees on a snowmobile is one of the adventures to which families with older children can look forward. The guided tour is a fun way to explore the surreal back country of the Okanagan Valley.
There are mini snowmobiles available for those under 12 to drive safely around a fenced track.
Another activity families can do together is snowshoeing. The activity has become so popular that Silver Star began hosting snowshoe races last season.
Marked snowshoe trails are available to anyone wanting to showshoe on their own, but the best way to learn about the
sub-alpine wilderness is to join a snowshoe safari.
Guide Roseanne Van Ee offers an educational and fun tour that appeals to anyone with a thirst for knowledge. She shows us tracks from squirrels and snowshoe hares, deep gashes on tree trunks made by bears and ecosystems where mice, shrews, pocket gophers and snow weasels thrive.
Children will love sliding down natural chutes in the snow and learning "avalanche running" downhill across slopes covered with slushy snow.
FAMILY FRIENDLY ACCOMMODATION
Accommodation options at Silver Star range from budget to luxury. There are plenty of family-friendly serviced apartments and holiday homes equipped with cooking and laundry facilities.
When travelling with children, being able to prepare a home-cooked meal and having the facilities to do laundry can help with the budget.
Silver Star's accommodation is on the mountain and the convenience of staying near the slopes reduces the stress of getting the family ready for their day out. Most of the accommodation offers ski-in ski-out convenience.
My apartment at the Snowbird Lodge is conveniently located at the edge of the village and a short walk to the shops. It has one bedroom, a separate dining area and cosy living area with queen-sized fold-out sofa. The kitchen has a fridge, stove, oven, dishwasher and microwave. There's a washing machine and dryer and a family-sized hot tub on the balcony.
Accommodation rates, lift tickets and lessons are more affordable at Silver Star than in other larger ski resorts. Day tickets at Silver Star are C$77 ($90) for adults and C$41 ($47.7) for children. What's more, last winter, Silver Star introduced the My1Pass system, which offers added savings as tubing, skating, snowshoeing and Nordic skiing are included in the price of a lift ticket.
Silver Star has 55 kilometres of Nordic trails and has hosted two World Cup Nordic events. Several teams trained there before the 2010 Vancouver Olympics.
Many of Silver Star's 15 restaurants have menus for children. The Saloon has a lively atmosphere and the Den is a cosy bistro with comfortable couches and live music.
The writer was a guest of the Canadian Tourism Commission and Tourism British Columbia.
Another British Columbia ski resort that caters for families, Sun Peaks, is located near Kamloops and a three-hour shuttle transfer from Silver Star. The resort has a number of initiatives that make it suitable for families.
The Sun Tots program (C$78 / NZD$90.8) provides young skiers (age three to six) and snowboarders (three to seven) with a one-hour lesson and half-day child minding. Teenagers will love the Mascon Hangout at Sun Peaks' Sports Centre, which has Xbox, Wii and movies.
Last winter, the resort opened a new Nordic Centre with a rental and retail section, attracting families with the "Full Moon Nordic Ski and Chocolate Fondue" tour.
The guided tour is a Nordic skiing and interpretive stargazing adventure under the light of a full moon, with a break at McGillivray Lake log cabin for wassail, (hot mulled cider) hot chilli and fruit chocolate fondue.
The rate for a family of four is C$168 ($195.6).
Tourism Sun Peaks sunpeaksresort.com.
STAYING THERE Silver Star Mountain Resort has family accommodation including Snowbird Lodge, The Bulldog Hotel and Firelight Lodge, see skisilverstar.com.