One of the greatest things about skiing and snowboarding is that they’re sports you can do together as a family. Even with varying skill levels and interests, every member of the family can have fun — cruising, jibbing, schussing, dropping or just plain schmearing pow.
But the key word there has to be “fun”. And, for the littlest members of the family, the ones just finding their feet in a cold, windy world of fast-moving obstacles sliding down a slope, it’s important to select runs they can enjoy.
So, to suss out the best runs for your mini rippers, The Insider turns to Feet Banks, who grew up skiing in Whistler and is now reliving his youth by touring his own son around Whistler and Blackcomb Mountains. Take it away, Feet.
“The main thing to remember when selecting runs for little kids is that they don’t do well on the flats — they’re just too light and don’t carry their velocity as well,” Feet says, adding that if you’re on a snowboard, it’s really difficult to drag them around. “For this reason, I like to start the kids over on Blackcomb as it’s got a more consistent fall line.”
(Skill Level: Green Circle)
This one is good times because the pitch is mellow and sustained, but doesn’t get too busy because it starts off from a traverse entry. From the Rendezvous Lodge, you can get the kids comfortable on the super mellow slopes of Expressway and Easy Out before sliding into the goods on Big Easy. You end up at the bottom of the new Catskinner Express, so the kids can watch the terrain park excitement on the way back up, or link back into Easy Out all the way down to the mid-station of the Blackcomb Gondola, or even Excelerator Express (via Easy Out and Green Line). Big Easy is the little green run that could.
INSIDER TIP: For lap two, stay on Easy Out and get the kids into the Magic Castle and Terrain Garden, a group of monkey trails through the trees that end up at a full-on castle and play area complete with bridges, slides and snowball fights. Good luck getting the young ones to leave this spot though.
(Skill Level: Blue Square)
This is a bit more advanced, perfect for when the kids start eyeballing the edges of every run for side hits. Off the top of Crystal Ridge Express, there is a high entrance that starts with a bit of a traverse and offers a bit of a steeper, chute-like feeling, or a lower, easier option to drop in from Crystal Road. Either way, once you’re on the “Double R,” it’s cruise gliding all the way, with jumps, rollers and plenty of opportunity for kids to dip in and out of the trees if they want. The only thing to consider is the secret has been out on Ridge Runner for a long time. It’s a wide run, but it’s popular. So, if your kids traverse from one side of the run to the other before turning, it could be a bit nerve-wracking.
Blackcomb High Alpine
Riding 7th Heaven Express offers the best views on the mountain. The steep, rocky ridge of Blackcomb Summit opens into the magnificent pow fields of Lakeside Bowl, with Fissile Mountain looming in the distance. But, there’s a good cruiser in there too. Cloud Nine starts at the end of the long traverse, skier’s right off the top of the chair, and whisks young rippers right down to treeline and into some perfectly sustained, intermediate-level, fall-line shredding. Watch for side hits and let the kids get some airtime.
For little ones who want to get the 7th Heaven experience, but might not be as comfortable on the intermediate runs, Green Line is a straight-up traverse that weaves through the upper flanks of the 7th Heaven zone and back over to the Rendezvous Lodge.
For the ultimate alpine experience, however, the Blackcomb Glacier is the be-all and end-all. Intermediate terrain requiring a short hike to access (from the top of the Showcase T-bar), “The Glacier” is pure mountain magic. There’s usually a nice line groomed into it, but early arrivals will also enjoy a huge bowl of perfect powder. One of the longest and most awe-inspiring runs on the mountain, the Blackcomb Glacier, does flatten out at the bottom before it hits the traverse back over to the Crystal Ridge Express, so keep your speed up kids!
Blackcomb Lower Mountain
The lower mountain runs are often ignored as keen skiers head for the peaks, but in good, cold weather or spring slush, there are good turns to be had down low, albeit for faster, more intermediate rippers.
School Marm stays in the shade almost all day and has big, smooth corners and a steep, fast run out. When the groomers have been in there, Lower Gear Jammer is the best speed run on the entire mountain and a lack of crowds make it a fun place to take the kids and let them open’er up a bit (just dump that speed when you merge back onto Greenline and the ski-out to the valley).
Whistler Mountain Alpine
The final approach to the top of Peak Chair is a must-see stomach clencher for kids and adults alike, as you whisk up over a steep cliff and into 360-degree views. (On clear days, this is where you get your requisite photo of Black Tusk and / or the rime-blasted, frozen inukshuk.)
The easiest way off Whistler Peak is also one of the most jaw-dropping. Scoot around the back of the peak and follow the cat track to the top of Harmony Express. On clear days, intermediate skiers can drop into The Saddle and zip through Glacier Bowl back to the Peak. But, the easier route is actually more amazing. Burnt Stew Trail is a super-mellow green run that meanders over into the Symphony Zone and Burnt Stew Basin before linking with Sidewinder for a long traverse back to Harmony Express. This is wide open, high alpine skiing accessible to anyone. Kids with a bit more skill / speed will want to dip down into the glades that lead to the Symphony Express, but make sure the lift is running or you’ll have to hike out.
Ego Bowl and most of the Emerald Express area is designated as a family zone and a perfect place for kids to hone their skills on easy terrain. (There’s also a trio of terrain parks in there for young jibbers and jumpers.)
On the other side of the mountain, Pony Trail is a classic that leads to the Big Red Express. (It’s also literally the trail that pack horses used to get supplies up Whistler in the early days.) Hidden in the forest between Pony Trail and Bear Cub is the Tree Fort, another instant-pleasure play area for young kids. It’s easy to miss the entrance though, so look for the signs.
One thing to note on this side of the mountain is that although Highway 86 has a number of kid-approved side hits and jumps, it can get busy — especially on big pow days with all the pow hounds coming out of West Bowl. Lesser-known, mid-mountain cruising can be found on the other side of the mountain, in the area near the old Olympic Chair. Take the Garbanzo Express and link Lower Whiskey Jack with Upper Olympic, then cut right over to Upper Fantastic. These are all green runs and should be spacious and fun.
And this is just the start. One thing about kids is that most of them love maps, so grab a Whistler Blackcomb Trail atlas (or download the kid version here) and spend some time planning your adventures. Kids also love to explore, so don’t be afraid to just follow the signs and find some secret spots of your own. Have fun and don’t forget about the free activities and fun at Family Après at Whistler Olympic Plaza on Mondays and Wednesdays from 3 – 6 PM and the always entertaining Fire and Ice Show on Sunday evenings.
Want more family time Whistler style? Head over to Whistler.com for family-friendly itineraries, guides and more.