I'm filled with pride as I watch my two young daughters leave the chalet. Their skis rest neatly upon their well-insulated shoulders, neither has complained of itchy socks and both appear to respect their snow-school instructor. (It must be the hair and/or accent.)
I, meanwhile, am savouring a second mug of coffee in my PJs.
Yes, I've never been more proud … of myself. A decade after embarking on the first of umpteen family ski trips, arranging the "Door-to-Ski Shuttle Service" at British Columbia's Big White Ski Resort represents the pinnacle of my vacation-planning powers.
Over the course of those 10 years, I've come to value certain resort amenities above all others. I'm not talking about slope-side accommodations, direct flights and snow-school lessons – those are no-brainers. Rather, the services revealed here – some of which are new to the ski scene – can make all the difference when it comes to ensuring a happy, relaxing and meltdown-free holiday on and around the snowy slopes.
Outsource the schlepping
Big White's Door-to-Ski service offers a unique alternative to corralling your brood and their gear outside the ski-school building (or hiring a nanny to do it for you). Instructors arrive at lift-accessible hotel rooms and condos between 8:45 and 9:15 a.m. to pick up preregistered students who can already ski or snowboard, and return them at the end of the ski day. The cost? A paltry $10 a head or $20 a family. Buckling my boots in peace? Priceless.
The same kind of door-to-mountain convenience is built right into "Own a Pro" at B.C.'s Revelstoke Mountain Resort. For a daily flat rate of $588, one to six guests aged 12 and up acquire the services of a ski pro who will meet them at their rooms in the on-mountain Sutton Place Hotel.
Another option: Let your hotel do the schlepping. At Colorado's Ritz-Carlton Bachelor Gulch, for instance, a "Ski Nanny" service escorts children aged 5 to 12 from the snack-filled Ritz Kids childcare centre to the nearby Beaver Creek Ski School. To let parents bag first and last tracks, drop off is as early 7:30 a.m. and pick-up as late as 4:40 p.m. The service costs $75 (U.S.) for one child and $50 for each additional child from the same family.
Because ski schools aren't always affiliated with resorts in Europe, many Alpine hotels serve as designated meeting points. You will have to leave your room to drop off the kids at Italy's Grand Hotel Piz Galin and Austria's Hotel Scesaplana – to give two of many examples – but you can do so in your slippers.
Renting equipment for a family ski holiday isn't quite a no-brainer, as there's nothing wrong with being particular about gear. But with high-performance rentals having improved by leaps and bounds over the past decade, choosing to lug multiple ski bags across multiple time zones adds unnecessary exertion and expense. That said, there are few places more hellish than a busy ski-rental centre the morning before lessons start. The solution: Sort out everyone's equipment in your room, chalet or hotel ski locker ahead of time.
It's easily done. Hotel concierges and condo-booking services should be able to arrange in-room or on-site fittings with resort or local outfitters (or at least point you in the right direction). Such was the case when I arrived at Utah's Park City Mountain Resort last December: I made up for missing the last chairlift of the afternoon by immediately getting fitted for top-notch rental gear in my suite at the Waldorf Astoria Park City. Combine this with the two-hour time difference, and I was all over first tracks the next morning.
In-room fittings have become so popular than several chains and large properties have moved the service in-house. "Ski butlers" have sprung into action around the world, from Wyndham Vacation Rentals in Aspen, Breckenridge, Steamboat, Sun Valley and Park City to Switzerland's three-year-old Chedi Andermatt hotel, where gear awaits guests in a luxurious "Ski Living Room."
These services should not be confused with SkiButlers.com, which delivers equipment to addresses at 37 U.S. resorts and B.C.'s Whistler Blackcomb. Rates are about 50 per cent higher than typical resort rentals.
Warm up while going up
A cold snap can put a serious chill on a family ski trip, especially when the brood has to sit still on an exposed chairlift. Gondola cabins have provided a welcome respite for decades – Whistler Blackcomb's record-setting Peak 2 Peak lift, for instance, shelters visitors for a full 11 minutes – but in recent years so-called "bubble" canopies and heated seats have turned chairlifts into prime places to shake off the cold.
European resorts led the charge, with Austria's Lech offering the first heated chairlift seats in 2004. Since then, dozens of bun warmers have opened across the Alps, with Park City unveiling North America's first heated chair, the Orange Bubble Express, in 2010. Vermont's Okemo Mountain Resort and Alberta's Sunshine Village followed suit in 2014, with the Banff operation's orange-domed TeePee Town LX becoming the first heated chair in Canada.
Embrace all those digital perks
One of the big benefits of a family ski holiday is the unplugged outdoorsiness of it all. These days, however, a wide range of digital tools actually enhances the experience when you do decide to plug in.
I've grown accustomed to little or no elaboration from my kids. "How was the first day of school?" "Good."
"How were your ski lessons?" "Good."
"How was the zombie apocalypse?" "Good."
But put a smartphone in front of them and they turn into little Graham Greenes. A case in point: GPS anklets from Flaik track their progress with the Big White Snow School, and produce daily e-mail reports on elevation gains, top speeds, trails taken and so on.
I point to a multicoloured squiggle on the digital trail map. "What kind of run is 'Ogopogo?'" I ask my six-year-old, and instead of "good" I am regaled with a turn-by-turn account of evading a lake monster on the slopes.
"But don't worry, Daddy," she concludes. "The Ogopogo can't eat me. He's made of painted plywood."
In addition to the wide range of third-party ski apps encompassing everything from snow reports to lift-ticket discounts, many resorts now offer free digital tools that help make the most of ski days. Using radio-frequency identification (RFID) technology built into its lift passes, Vail Resorts' EpicMix charts lift-line wait times at Vail, Beaver Creek, Breckenridge and Keystone. Like similar apps from Whistler Blackcomb (WB+) and Aspen/Snowmass (LivePass), EpicMix also charts vertical feet, daily runs and other alpine accomplishments, and lets users compete on the mountain and share photos via social media.
There's no feeling quite like opening your condo's fridge for the first time and finding it fully stocked. Grocery shopping is definitely no après-ski substitute, so it's worth noting that supermarkets in any city or town near a ski resort usually offer a delivery service, as do resort-based stores. Some will even stock your kitchen before you arrive.
A pound of Kicking Horse coffee, delivered by the Market at Big White: $18. That second cuppa in my PJs? Priceless.
The writer was a guest of Big White Ski Resort. It did not review or approve the story.