Big White ski resort in British Columbia, Canada, is one of Scout’s Picks for family-friendly resorts. It’s up there with the best in the world. But Big White isn’t just for families; it’s perfect for all skiers and boarders wanting an easy and enjoyable ski vacation.
- The high standard of grooming.
- The layout of the slopes ensures crowds (if there are any) are dispersed around the mountain.
- A dedicated beginners area.
- Hot tubs a plenty. Almost every condo has a private one.
- The convenient ski-in ski-out village with everything you need in one place.
- The eerie and spectacular snow ghosts (trees completely encased in snow).
- The ski school equips each kid with a GPS tracking device … perfect for parents wanting to know where their kids are and what they’ve been skiing.
- Complimentary helmet rentals for kids.
- Some accommodation choices are more convenient to the slopes, while others are more convenient to the village. A few are both.
- The village is fairly small. If you’re dining out every night and here for a while you may get tired of the choices.
- The weather at Big White can be miserable; icy cold, foggy and windy (there’s a reason the snow ghosts form so well here).
- The first-timer area is quite separate from the main mountain, so can be a bit of a trek to see your kids during the day.
Located near the city of Kelowna, Big White ski resort has undergone an explosion in popularity over the past decade. As a result, so has development of resort facilities and lodging options. Scout first visited Big White more than 15 years ago and the changes since then are amazing. We would estimate there’s been more condo development in Big White than any ski resort in North America.
There are plenty of reasons why Big White is so popular. Sure, it can’t stake the claim to being the biggest ski area in Canada. Nor can it boast the most snow (even though its motto is “It’s the snow”). Its steeps aren’t the most challenging, and the village is small. But Big White is about the whole package – it takes all the singular elements that other resorts claim, and does all of them really well, yet still maintains the charm and friendliness of a small resort. (There are some statistics that Big White can rightfully claim – including the biggest night-skiing area in Western Canada (38 acres/15ha), the highest resort village and highest ice-skating rink in Canada.)
It’s the proliferation of convenient condo-style accommodation as well as endless amounts of beginner and intermediate slopes that make Big White an excellent choice for families. Plus, a family of mixed abilities will be able to ski together – there is a green run from every lift in the resort. There are excellent facilities, including a great ski school, dedicated beginners area and some casual dining options. And it’s easy to get around – there’s no need for a car and mostly you’ll never need to use a shuttle bus to get around the resort. If your kids are in ski school, they’ll even come to your condo to pick them up!
But groups without kids in tow shouldn’t be put off. Big White has something for everyone. There are a few good restaurants and the nightlife is buoyed by hundreds (if not thousands) of Australians employed at the resort who enjoy après work as much as they enjoy après ski.
Big White has an extensive amount of terrain (7355acres/3052ha) that has something for all abilities. There are 12 lifts – with five of these being express lifts and one gondola that connects the Happy Valley beginners area with the main village. In addition, there are two magic carpets and two tubing lifts. A total of 18 per cent of the terrain is for beginners, 54 per cent is intermediate, 22 per cent is advanced and 6 per cent expert. A good deal of the terrain is groomed, but there’s also a huge amount that’s gladed.
The majority of the mountain funnels down to areas around the Village Center or the Ridge Day Lodge. The western side of the mountain features long runs off the Gem Lake Express. This side can have variable snow in poor conditions, but it can get some of the best powder after a storm.
Big White is an intermediate skier’s dream. There is enough to keep them happy for days on end, including a lot of gladed areas in pockets throughout the resort. There are also lots of black runs that intermediates could get down without being scared out of their minds.
Beginners are also well catered for. First-timers will enjoy their own dedicated learning area at Happy Valley, but once they’ve found their feet there are lots of easy beginner runs spread throughout the mountain.
Advanced and expert skiers will find some runs, including a few cliffs and chutes, to challenge their skills, however it doesn’t have the same extent of extreme terrain found at some Canadian resorts.
Thanks to its inland location, the snow at Big White is relatively dry compared in particular to Whistler, which often has heavier snow. Big White receives on average 8m of snow each year – not a huge amount, but with the dry consistency it’s enough to make the resort market itself with the tagline: “It’s the snow”. Unfortunately Big White does get exposed to some pretty nasty weather, including fog – hence the popular nickname: “Big White Out”. When this happens it’s best to stick to the trees. Though many of these up the top will be big “snow ghosts” (trees covered in ice and snow that form ghost-like sculptures), which prove useless in guiding you through the fog. It can get pretty cold at Big White, though not as frigid as resorts in the Rockies.
Big White has some excellent terrain park features and its own dedicated chair. The resort is the home to X Games champion and Olympic silver medalist in ski cross, Kelsey Serwa. She even runs private training sessions!
We’ve said it a few times, but we’ll say it again; Big White is perfect for families. Although it takes a bit of effort to get to (a flight to Kelowna and then a 1-hour shuttle to the village), once you’re there everything is easy to get around. There really is no need for a car. Many condos are close to the Village Center and if you can’t walk there, you most probably can ski there relatively easily. The Village Center is home to most of the services, including ski school, rentals, retail and restaurants.
The ski school is well organized and has a cute clubhouse, where there are other activities for young’uns apart from skiing (such as a climbing wall) and where they are served lunch. All children in ski school wear GPS tracking devices, which is not only a great safety precaution in case they get lost, but it means parents can check at any time of the day from their phone to see where their child is and what they have done. We’ve no doubt kids love looking at their statistics at the end of the day!
Apart from skiing there are some other activities for families, including an ice-skating rink (Canada’s highest) and ice-climbing tower, tubing, horse-drawn sleigh rides and mini Ski-Doos.
If you want a condo in Big White you are going to be spoilt for choice. Plus, we would estimate it has the most private hot tubs of any resort, anywhere in the world. Seriously – every single condo seems to have one. The hot tub maintenance teams must be doing very well for themselves.
From basic value studio to the most luxurious, kitted-out five-bedroom condo - whatever style of condo you want you can get in Big White. Some are in serviced buildings with facilities such as a reception desk and swimming pool, while others have no extra facilities. There are also a couple of hotels (most of which have a combination of hotel rooms and studio-style apartments).
Almost all properties in Big White are conveniently located to the slopes. Many are ski-in ski-out while others are “ski-to ski-from”, meaning that it might require a few side steps and a bit of a push to get to or from the ski slopes, but you can generally keep your skis on most of the way to the building.Search Hotels and Deals Get your
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Most of the additional activities to be found in Big White are targeted at family fun. An ice-skating rink, 60ft ice-climbing wall, tubing and Ski-Doo track are located in Happy Valley.
For the energetic, there are some beautiful, groomed cross-country trails through the forests. It’s possible to explore the area for backcountry skiing, however we would recommend getting a guide, and obviously having the right safety gear and knowledge – avalanches do occur in the area.
As far as après activity goes, Big White has a small selection of about 10 restaurants and bars. The new Sessions Taphouse is a popular place for après … and on into the evening, and there’s one late night bar/club.
For more details consult your Scout Field Guide for Big White, free with any booking.
The fastest way to get to Big White is to fly to Kelowna and catch a shuttle up to the resort (55 mins). There are daily direct flights from several Canadian and US cities, including on Air Canada, West Jet and Alaska Airlines. The resort runs on-demand shuttles from Kelowna Airport where it’s also possible to rent a car.
If you want to make it a road trip, Big White is about a five-hour drive from Vancouver or 7.5 hours from Calgary.
More details are available in our Scout Field Guide and transfers can also be booked via Scout as part of a Big White Ski Package.
Big White’s ski season runs from mid-November until mid-April. The most reliable snow conditions are in January and February.
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