Panorama Mountain Resort is that brilliant combination of perfect snow and terrain for everyone – from never-ever beginners to Olympic-level experts. And it has more activities and restaurants than you could possibly try in a single visit. For the ultimate Western Canada road trip, Indulgent TravelingMom Andrea Traynor suggests flying into Calgary and boarding the Panorama shuttle to find a little piece of winter happiness in the mountains.
Panorama Mountain Resort
Nestled into the Purcell Mountains of the B.C. interior, a range much older than the Rockies, is Panorama Mountain Resort. And although it’s definitely in British Columbia, the area in which Panorama sits is still on mountain time, much like Alberta in the north and Colorado to the south.
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Getting to Panorama, if you’re not already within driving distance, is probably the trickiest part of all — but every bit worth the trek.
After flying into Calgary, there’s a shuttle all winter that takes guests directly from the airport to the resort. It departs twice a day from the airport to Panorama and back again, with adult one-way prices at CDN $104 and kids under 12 at $84 (plus tax). Be sure you and the kids have a really good pee before hopping on the shuttle, because the next rest stop is a solid 1.5 hours away.
Losing cellphone signals for at least half of your three-hour-plus journey along the Trans-Canada Highway means you’ll have no choice but to road trip like it’s 1986. Time to play car games, nap or just stare out the window at the jaw-droppingly beautiful scenery.
It’s snow-capped mountains for days, and we spotted big-horned sheep licking salt off the roads on our rides to and from the resort. Moose, deer and other wildlife are apparently not uncommon sightings either as you pass through Banff and Kootenay National Parks en route to Invermere — Panorama’s closest city.
It is, without a doubt, the most breathtaking drive I’ve ever taken.
And as you wind up the road to Panorama Resort, you know you’ve entered ski country. I described it when we arrived as “Edelweiss-y,” because it has a rather distinctly Austrian ski village feel. But staff was quick to point out that the buildings are meticulously crafted using local timber with architecture that’s as homegrown as the resort’s tag line: Pure Canada. (We Canucks are nothing if not proud of our Canadian-ness.)
Where to Stay
I stayed in one of the many family-friendly accommodations at the resort — Panorama Springs Lodge. With easy ski-in and -out access from the main floor that takes even the newest skiers and boarders directly onto the bunny hill, there’s no faster way to get onto the mountain.
An added bonus is the Panorama Springs Hot Pools. These are a series of three outdoor pools that range in temperature and depth. Staying in the Springs Lodge means you just walk down a hallway to reach the pools. No need to go outside until you’re steps away! Definitely huge with kids in tow. One pool is suitable even for younger kids because it’s not too hot and only 2.5-feet deep.
There are small studios and large two-bedroom suites available depending on your budget and the number of people in your family. Families of five or six will delight in the larger suites because they’re relatively inexpensive for a lot of space.
Where to Eat
You can save a lot of money if you take advantage of the condo-style lodging at Panorama, like Springs Lodge. Fully equipped kitchens and a free shuttle into town to get groceries will keep the budget-savvy folks happy.
But if you’re like me and you also want to indulge in some great foodie experiences onsite, then you have to check out T-Bar, Cliffhanger and Monticola.
In the upper village, you’ll find T-Bar. it’s one of the least expensive places to grab a bite at Panorama. The bowl of chili is enormous and to-die-for delicious. There’s often entertainment there at night, too, so if you want to après, this is a great option.
Monticola, also in Panorama Mountain Resort’s upper village, is more upscale so come in your nicer mountain duds. The menu is Alpine Grill-inspired and features a sort of modern comfort-food fusion. Entrees range from CDN $17 to $30. I had the duck wings and the Arctic char, as well as a bite of someone’s chili garlic prawns. Everything was cooked perfectly, arriving hot and with impeccable presentation. The artisan cocktails were also fab.
Cliffhanger — open Thursday through Sunday in winter — is over on the Greywolf golf course, which you can reach by ski or snowboard. Even though it’s one of the nicest restaurants I’ve ever seen at a ski resort, it’s still come-as-you-are.
Entrees are more eclectic (think wild boar and elk spaghetti) and prices are slightly steeper, with the most expensive entrée at $36. Everything I tried was YUMazing, but the arancini really stood out. The mountain views are unbeatable.
What to do at Panorama Mountain Resort
I crammed as much as I could into two days at Panorama Mountain Resort.
Skiing (and boarding), of course, tops the list. And if you’ve never skied out west, it’s such a treat. This was my first skiing experience outside of Ontario and Quebec, and both the mountain and the snow were — predictably — different.
Snow is more plentiful and grippier at Panorama than what I’m used to. However, the more popular runs tend to feel faster because the grippiest snow is flattened or pushed off to the side.
The mountain is huge at almost 8,000 feet and it takes three chair lifts to reach the summit. Each ride is incredibly picturesque.
The black diamond runs I’ve done before are more like blues out west, because every run is steeper and longer. Greens will challenge even intermediate skiers at times depending on the conditions and personal fitness levels.
If, like me, you’re not accustomed to skiing something so big, book a group or private lesson. Adult groups are a maximum of three students, so the teacher-to-student ratio is great. My lesson with Stu helped build my skill and confidence enough – in one day – to ski from the summit. Twice.
Kids’ lessons here graduate from a small bunny hill to a larger one, both encompassed in what Panorama calls the Discovery Zone. I saw parents sitting inside nearby to keep an eye on things, giving kids some independence.
Once newbies master both bunny hills, there’s a newish $3.5-million chair lift dedicated to the easiest green runs to keep learning gradual. I know my kids would thrive here.
If your thighs need a break, though, there are plenty of other activities.
We did a heli-fondue tour, which offers a five- to seven-minute helicopter ride by rk heliski up to the summit followed by a fondue dinner at dusk. You can chopper back down though brave, skilled skiers can descend by headlamp after dark. (I was not one of the brave ones!)
There’s also a super-fun snowmobile tour with Toby Creek Adventures. We climbed 8,000 feet along a winding (and sometimes narrow) path to a rustic cabin that offered insane views of the Purcell Mountains. We also got “play time,” where we could ride freely in what can only be described as a big bowl full of snow. Kids as young as four or five who are strong enough to ride behind you and hold on can join you on your sled for a nominal charge.
If you need to come in from the cold, I loved learning how to make glass-bead jewelry at Saffire Bead & Flameworks. This is not recommended for kids under 16, though, because you work independently with both propane and oxygen. But what a meditative experience! Once I learned how to melt my glass sticks without breaking them and roll the colorful goop into beads, I just tuned out the world. For two hours. Bliss.
At the end of it all, be sure to unwind after a day of hard work — or play — in those Panorama Springs Hot Pools. You won’t regret it.
TravelingMom Tips: Are you a first-time ski family? Then don’t forget to take a look at my newbie tips so you don’t make the same mistakes we did. Since you may pass through Banff National Park en route to Panorama Mountain Resort, consider getting your free 2017 Parks Canada pass before you go. And for more information about British Columbia, visit Destination BC.