Whistler will be coming alive with family fun this weekend in an effort to enjoy B.C. Family Day as it was intended — taking advantage of all B.C. has to offer.
Now in its fourth year, the day has been a boon for ski resorts like Whistler.
"The B.C. Family Day has increased visitation to B.C. ski resorts on that weekend," says Cynthia Thomas, marketing and communications manager at Canada West Ski Areas Association. "Destination ski areas are experiencing fantastic bookings. With 50 per cent off lift tickets at many B.C. ski areas on B.C. Family Day, it also attracts many new skiers and snowboarders as well as people returning to the sport."
The numbers confirm it. In the first year of the stat holiday, Whistler Blackcomb drew 85,000 skiers and snowboarders to the slopes over the four day weekend — the kind of daily visit numbers it sees over its busiest time period like the Christmas holidays and Presidents' Week.
But the day is supposed to be about more than dollars and numbers. Family Day is also the perfect time for families to pause and simply enjoy each other.
"From the drive up to the hill, quality time on the chair lift and sitting down for lunch, sharing the experience with your family is a great opportunity to connect," adds Thomas. "Personally, family time on the mountain has created some of our best memories."
One Whistler counsellor suggests this is also the perfect time to unplug, whether it's for the weekend, the day, or even just a few hours.
"Family Day off is a great opportunity to have a technology-free day," says local counsellor Greg McDonnell.
But before you start plotting ways to hide their iPads, their video game controllers, and the remotes, consider this: McDonnell isn't just talking about the kids. He's talking about you too. A technology-free day for the family means the whole family. Put down your phones. Turn off the computer. Tune in, instead, to one another.
"It really offers an opportunity to participate with your kids in what I call 'wild play,'" adds McDonnell.
It's this idea of inventive play — solving problems at play, working together on activities, engaging in an authentic and fun way.
And there's no better place than Whistler to do all that. This place was built for play — built for kids of all ages from the young to the perpetually young at heart.
This week, in a nod to B.C.'s fourth Family Day, Pique offers a family-fun, unplugged guide for what to do in Whistler over the long weekend. It's not an exhaustive list. These are just a few ideas and tips to get you going.
Keep your eyes peeled for special guests on the mountains this weekend. At Whistler Blackcomb this will be BC Family Day presented by Nintendo. The video game company will be animating the mountains with mascots and giveaways. There will be ballot boxes for draw prizes at their Whistler Blackcomb lounges — at the Rendezvous, the Roundhouse and at the Wizard Grill, base of Blackcomb.
While the chance of seeing Mario and Princess Peach is enough to tempt the kids to Whistler Blackcomb, B.C. parents will be equally tempted by the lure of the 50 per cent off lift tickets.
Once up on the mountains, here are a few things to do to make the most of the 8,100 inbounds acres — the largest ski resort in North America.
Terrain Parks — There's no getting around this. Kids these days want to jump. They want to feel the wind in their hair and the experience of floating on air, whether they're getting two centimetres or two metres! Check out the terrain parks. You won't be disappointed. You can ski and snowboard down the sides of the features and get a feel for what the terrain parks are all about. There are five parks at Whistler Blackcomb with more than 150 features. Check out the Big Easy Terrain Garden on Blackcomb and The School Yard on Whistler — that's where it all begins. Your kids will love it. And you just may find that you like a little air too.
Ski School — You may think you're patient. You may think you're explaining it properly. You may even think you've missed your calling as a teacher. Don't be a hero. Leave it to the pros. These guys know what they're doing. All you have to do is look to the groups of kids charging around the mountains Pied Piper-style. They're having fun. They're trying to keep up with their peers. And, arguably, best of all, you're free to hike up Spanky's Ladder for some powder laps on the glacier while the kids do their own thing.
Tube Park — A tube park may seem like a mellow fun way to spend the afternoon, sliding around on the snow, but at Whistler Blackcomb there's 1,000 vertical icy feet to shuttle you to the bottom on a plastic inner tube. It's really fast. It's really fun. It's family-fun at its finest. There is a conveyor to take you to the top and a fire pit to keep you toasty. There are tunes to keep your toes tapping. And seven long lanes. Just like the ski runs, the tube runs are graded for the faint of heart to the wild child.
Tip 1: Parents — With the kids in ski school, don't imagine that this is now the best time to share tips and little lessons with your partners. It's not. Not even when they ask.
Tip 2: If little legs are starting to get sore and hands are getting a bit chilled, change up the pace. There's a Magic Castle on Blackcomb and a Tree Fort on Whistler, which will be open based on conditions, and offer a chance for kids to get a break. Let's be fair — there's only so much yelling of "Pizza!" (snowplow) and "French Fries!" (parallel turns) that kids, and adults, can take.
Tip 3: Since the introduction of Family Day four years ago, this weekend has been very busy in Whistler. Timing is everything. Go in for lunch early, or late (11 a.m. or after 1 p.m.) There's more than the Roundhouse and the Rendezvous — Crystal Hut, Horstman Hut, Chick Pea, Raven's Hut. Or do a quick lap to the bottom and grab lunch in the village.
Whistler olympic park — callaghan valley
A whole new world awaits south of the resort in the heart of the Callaghan Valley, one of Whistler's most beautiful wilderness spots.
It used to be that the Callaghan Valley was for those adventurers looking to get into the heart of nature in all its wildness. It still is. But now, thanks to the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Games, there's a state-of-the-art Nordic Centre and outdoor adventure land kilometres away from civilization. Adults can rent fat bikes. Or, kids ages eight and up can try baseboarding. Or the whole family can go "old-school" and have some good old-fashioned fun at the toboggan hill or on snowshoes or cross-country skis. Best of all, it's really easy to get there, just follow the signs from the highway.
Cross-Country Skiing — Don't let the word "Olympic" intimidate you! This facility is geared to all ages and all abilities and for all family members.
You can rent your gear at the day lodge, including Chariot attachments to pull the smallest members of your family. There are even dog-friendly trails.
You can take longer loops along tracks set deep in the coastal rainforest or go for short jaunts around the track. The view, and the feeling of being in nature, does not disappoint. Tickets are 50 per cent off on Family Day — $12.50 for adults, $7.50 for youth.
Biathlon — Older kids, those ages 10 and up, can test their aim at the biathlon facility. The Biathlon Experience (from 11 to 11:30 a.m. on Sat/Sun/Mon) is a half hour marksmanship lesson to learn about the sport of biathlon. And, you get to shoot a real rifle at the Olympic range. Teenagers can take it one step further with Discover Biathlon. Two-hour lessons from 9 to 11 a.m. — shooting and cross-country skiing.
Tobogganing and Baseboarding — There's good old-fashioned tobogganing fun here, and you can get free toboggans and helmets at the day lodge. And then there is baseboarding — a new kind of sliding fun. All you have to do it take the ski jump chairlift up to the baseboarding slope and get ready to slide. You ride headfirst, like in a skeleton. And the sleds are steered by dragging your feet.
Tip: Bring marshmallows to roast by the fire cauldron at the toboggan hill.
out and about
Village skating — Family fun seems to get even better at the mention of the word "free." Believe it or not, you can skate for free in the heart of Whistler Village. The village skating rink at Whistler Olympic Plaza is a great way to burn off some extra energy and have fun too. Skate rentals are free for kids on Family Day when the adults rent skates for $5. There are tunes and a disco ball, hockey sticks, and skating "walkers" to help you get around the ice for those just beginning.
Tip: Don't rush home back down the highway at the end of the ski day on Family Day. Rather, enjoy Family Apres at Whistler Olympic Park, just beside the outdoor rink, from 3 to 6 p.m. There are kid-friendly activities and entertainment. And once again, it's free.
Lost Lake Park — This is a little gem of a park close to the village where you can take advantage of the cross country tracks around the lake and beyond, as well as snowshoe through the forest. There will be 50- per-cent off day tickets on Family Day. You can rent gear on site.
Tip: There is also night-time cross-country skiing at Lost Lake. It's a beautiful experience to ski through the park under the stars.
Zip — There is arguably no better place in the world to zip high above the forest than in Whistler, getting a bird's eye view of B.C. Ziplining is one of the top things to do in Whistler. It's fun and you get to learn about our environment along the way. So, just take a deep breath and get ready to step off that ledge.
Snowmobile — There is no faster way to get into the backcountry than snowmobiling, where you can experience a whole new side of B.C. — the wild, rugged, remote side of this province. Not to mention, snowmobiling is just really fun too.
top five rainy day activites
Bounce — This indoor trampoline facility in Function Junction can provide hours of entertainment for toddlers right through to adults, jumping and bouncing and practicing their tricks.
Always best to call ahead and make sure the facility isn't booked out for a private function.
Meadow Park — Kids can be entertained for hours at the Meadow Park Sports Centre with its kid pool and the main pool. There is a full-size indoor arena open for public skate at select times. The entry fee for families is 50-per-cent off on Family Day.
Village 8 — Sometimes there's just nothing better than hunkering down and watching a good movie at the theatre. Grab your popcorn and drink and get transported to another galaxy, far far away.
Climbing Wall — Kids can scale the climbing walls at the Whistler Core Climbing & Fitness Gym in the heart of the village. Here they can take classes with trained teachers and find their way to the top. The most popular program for ages four and up is a one hour guided session.
Escape! — Older kids be warned! This takes brain power and team work. Escape! Whistler is the latest fun activity in the resort — an escape room where groups are trapped inside a room and must work together to solve the problems to get out.
Whistler knows how to do this best. There are tours with dinner, tours with breakfast, tours for all abilities.
And now for a well-deserved après. You've been skiing, sliding, snowmobiling, zipping, skating. It's time to relax and top it all off with the quintessential Whistler afternoon activity — après. And the kids can come too. The mountain bars for example — GLC, Merlin's and Dusty's — welcome kids until 10 p.m. There are tons of options throughout the village too.