It’s snack time for Boo the Bear. Ross Prather approaches with a bucket of fish carcasses and kitchen compost. It’s a hot summer’s day and Boo has found a shady spot among the fir trees to laze away the afternoon. However the scent of a snack gets his attention; a grizzly’s sense of smell is so acute it can detect an animal carcass more than 30 kms away upwind. Under normal circumstances such proximity would be perilous – man with bucket of food, hungry 275 kg grizzly bear steps away – if it wasn’t for the electric fence separating the two.
Boo the Bear has made his home at Kicking Horse Grizzly Bear Interpretive Centre since first arriving in 2003, when he was orphaned after his mother was shot by a poacher. Over the years Prather, refuge manager, has gotten to know this wise old bear well. The specially built, 10-hectare fenced enclosure, found on the Eagle Express Gondola lift line and accessed in summer via the Catamount chairlift, provides a natural habitat for Boo, with forest, meadows and a running stream.
Ursus arctos horribilis – the grizzly’s Latin name is enough to strike fear into the hearts of even the most seasoned wilderness traveler. However the opportunity to observe this animal up close is a thrilling experience, enabling visitors like my family and I to better understand grizzly behavior and ecology with the help of Prather and his staff. At times Boo stays deep within the confines of his enclosure, perhaps eating dandelions and digging for springtime bulbs in a meadow, or hunting for squirrel or marmots. However when curiosity gets the best of him, or the dinner bell rings, he approaches the fence. We’re lucky today. Boo lumbers out of the forest, snout pointing upward, his powerful shoulders rippling, lustrous silver-brown fir gleaming in the sun. It’ hard to overcome the urge to retreat as Boo comes close, but the fence keeps us safe.
A male grizzly typically ranges a territory of between 350 and 800 square kms, but Boo seems content with his home at Kicking Horse Resort – for the most part. Occasionally his urge has gotten the best of him.
“Boo gets a little randy in springtime,” Prather says, adding that he has left his enclosure a few times in the past in search of a mate.
However he always comes back.
Meal time is over. A horsefly buzzes courageously nearby and Boo shakes his massive head. Oblivious to my family and I observing from a few metres away, he strides the fence line before angling back into the forest and finding a nice muddy pool in which to cool himself. He lowers into the brown water, rolls from side to side, then emerges again, fir dripping with water, then disappears into the cool of the forest. Life is good for Boo and we’re thrilled to share a few moments with him.
Disclaimer – Andrew visited Kicking Horse Mountain Resort to see Boo in 2016, Ross has since left his position with Nicole Gangnon taking over as Grizzly Bear Ranger Manager. Visit Kicking Horse this winter to see Nicole and her team caring for Boo.
Thirteen hundred vertical meters is a pretty daunting mountain of vertical for four year old legs. I’m sitting in the Black Diamond Cafe at the base of Kicking Horse Mountain Resort with my wife Lisa and two daughters Sabine and Zola, one soon to turn four, the other a few months shy of her seventh birthday. I point to the trail map unfolded on the table in front of us and pinned down with a few steaming mugs of espresso coffee.
“You see that green line that snakes down from the top of the mountain? That’s what we’re going to ski,” I tell them.
My kids are used to Mount Washington vertical, our home mountain – 505 metres. They look at me with those profoundly trusting expressions that can melt a parent’s heart. Moments later we’re sitting in the Eagle Express Gondola scraping frost off the windows so we can see the spectacular view of the Columbia Valley below. I point out the snowed under enclosure that’s home to a hibernating Boo, the resident grizzly whom we visited the previous summer. Then higher up the aforementioned green snake, otherwise known as It’s A Ten, crosses beneath the gondola lift line.
“There it is again,” I say.
“What?” Zola asks.
“The green snake,” I reply.
“Oh,” Zola says, shrugging her shoulders.
Before long we’re shuffling out of the gondola at the top station beneath high clouds and patchy blue sky. My goal was modest; to take my kids on an adventure from the top of the Eagle Express to the bottom. Like all adventures with kids, it had to include a small package of incentives. First stop would be the Heaven’s Door Yurt Cafe for a hot chocolate.
Clicked in to our bindings, I give our youngest a ski pole tow across the flats to where ‘It’s A Ten’, begins rolling down the ridge into Crystal Bowl. I assume the blocker position skiing close behind Sabine while she locks into that sustained power snow plow that only young malleable knees can sustain for any amount of time. Zola, three years older and three times faster, zips ahead already impatient with the pace being dictated by her assertive younger sibling. I was the youngest in a family of four and therefore like Sabine started things early whether I wanted to or not. So far, so good. No tears. The run opens up in Crystal Bowl into a wide strip of corduroy with room for the girls to roam. Zola and her mom are waiting outside the yurt awaiting incentive number-one. Sabine and I slide to a stop next to them a few minutes later and we shuffle inside for a hot chocolate, preceded of course by the unwrapping of kids ski clothing that we will soon be re-wrapping again. After a lazy pit stop in the yurt, it’s time to resume the adventure. Back on the green snake, Zola and Lisa charge ahead. Sabine and I fall in with another father and daughter duo descending at a similar pace.
There is plenty of mountain to share, but it’s as if the two youngsters are magnetized, turning toward rather than away from one another. After a few near misses I urge Sabine to ditch pizza for French Fries and zoom past her rival to give herself some space. Speaking of French Fries, that’s our next incentive – chicken strips and fries.
“I love skiing,” Sabine says, looking up at me as we glide past the steep drop of ‘Bubbly’ and onto the wide open ‘Blaster’.
Music to my ears. By the time she power plows her way cross slope to where ‘Downshift’ rejoins ‘It’s A Ten’, the mood suddenly shifts the way it can unexpectedly with children. Sabine suddenly sprawls on the snow and refuses to get up. Lisa produces an emergency granola bar ration.
“We have to keep going Sabine. See the lodge way down there? That’s where we have to go,” I say, unconvincingly, realizing that is must sound like work to her.
It’s hard to imagine how far that must appear to Sabine at this point, bushed from a week of family Christmas late night celebrations. Lisa and I take shifts skiing ahead with Zola and coaxing Sabine down the last few pitches. By the time we reach the ski rack in front of Whitetooth Grill, she is flailing on the snow in a spectacle that would kill any aspiring parent’s desire for a family.
All is forgotten minutes later when we’re seated in the warmth of the Whitetooth Grill around plate of nachos and a basket of chicken strips and fries. Therefore, I’ll chalk it up as a successful family adventure.
Words & Photos by Andrew Findlay
Follow Andrew’s adventures on Instagram – @afindlayjournalist
Summer might be the best time to get outdoors and enjoy what the mountains have to offer in our amazing backyard in Canada. In recent years, ski resorts in British Columbia have made a series of additions, upgrades and updates to have family friendly activities for adults and the little’s as well as keeping the hardcore activities available for the summer thrill seeker.
Summer is a great time to escape the hustle and city bustle, to relax and recharge. The tranquility of fishing will help those kids forget all about the stress of making the grade at school and will help you take a real mental vacation from work. Fishing provides kids (of all ages) a great lesson about being calm and one with nature in an authentic environment. More information about fishing in Golden is on the Tourism Golden website.
- Take a Hike
No, we’re not telling you to get lost, but we are literally telling you to take a hike. Fernie, Kimberley and Kicking Horse all offer hiking in a mountain setting with amazing views at Fernie and Kicking Horse the lift accessed hiking provides some epic views you won’t on any regular old hike. For more information about hiking in mountain towns visit the Tourism Fernie, Tourism Golden or Tourism Kimberley websites and for more information about lift accessed resort hiking visit the Fernie Alpine Resort or Kicking Horse Mountain Resort.
- See a real bear up close (and learn too)
Perhaps one of the most unique aspects at Kicking Horse is Boo the Bear who lives year round at the resort and has made a name for himself as a local celebrity. Boo has an interesting story of how he ended up making his home at Kicking Horse, in the largest protected Grizzly Bear habitat in the world. While living at the resort he’s offered us humans a rare and special opportunity to learn about the life and practices of Grizzly Bears. Kids and adults of all ages will enjoy taking a Grizzly Bear Interpretive tour and learning about his life at the horse! Get more information about Boo and Interpretive tours on the Kicking Horse Mountain Resort.
- Monkey Around
The Aerial Park at Fernie Alpine Resort is a good introduction to find out how the little’s in your family feel about heights. They can try out the free kids aerial park, or if they meet the height restrictions can venture up in the trees. The lesson beforehand from our knowledgeable guides and extensive safety system will allow them to feel safe while far away from the ground! If you have a very adventurous little one (who is at least 10), use the Aerial Park as a stepping stone to trying the Via Ferrata at Kicking Horse Mountain Resort. Get more information and book the Aerial Park on the Fernie Alpine Resort website.
- Explore historic towns
Many towns in British Columbia have a strong history in mining and have museums or memorials in town to commemorative and conserve the memories. Along with learning about history, try out some of these unique town experiences;
- Visit Beanpod Chocolate (Canada’s Traditional Chocolate maker) in historical Downtown Fernie. Beanpod website.
- Walk the downtown platzl in Kimberley (also location of the Kimberley museum). More info.
- Walk with Wolves in Golden, a truly unique experience in the Canadian Rockies. More info.
- Visit the Heritage town – Fort Steele (near Kimberley, B.C). More info.
- Pop into the Clawhammer Press in Downtown Fernie. Clawhammer Press website.
- Take a golf lesson
Getting them started young is a great way to build impressive golf skills! Check out our websites to see about specials like ‘take a kid to the course day’, ‘family stay & play packs’ and family golf lessons.
- Sunbathe and Swim in the outdoor pools
Staying at ski resorts in the summer offers a full service experience! While many of our hotels have in house or nearby Spas to pamper, gyms to keep in shape and outdoor pools/hot tubs for the kids to keep entertained for hours! Shown in below photo – Lizard Creek Lodge at Fernie Alpine Resort.
- Eat all the food
It might be a bit of a hidden fact (although gaining more and more recognition), mountain towns are the best place to have great food! Each have their own unique restaurants, bars or cafes to check out – all come with an authentic mountain town vibe (guaranteed).
- Mountain Bike ON a mountain
Kicking Horse Mountain Resort is a great starting point to get the passion flowing for mountain biking, with a kid’s skills course in the base area set up each summer. Fernie Alpine Resort has also added a myriad of beginning trails over the last couple season to provide a gentle ride down the summer ski slopes. In addition to beginner trails, Fernie Alpine Resort along with the Fernie Trails Society and Fernie Nordic Club unveiled a new Peak to Park multi use trail last summer. Adding a different experience to the mountain biking game – ride the chairlift at Fernie Alpine Resort and bike your way back down to the town. More information about mountain biking at Fernie Alpine Resort and Kicking Horse Mountain Resort can be found on our websites.
- All the best fests
What’s your jam? Outdoor music? Farmers Markets? Hardcore racing events? There is something nearly every weekend in Fernie, Kimberley or Golden. Check out the online events calendars on the resort websites or town tourism websites to find out the schedule for this summer!
Photos: Tourism Golden, @calsnape, Cali Sammel and Patrick Majer.
Kicking Horse Mountain Resort has the reputation as a proving ground for big mountain skiers seeking out big vertical, steep chutes and alpine bowls. It’s true, Kicking Horse has no shortage of skill and fitness testing burly terrain – the mountain wears its reputation proudly.
However, much less known is the fact that this resort in the Dogtooth Range above Golden also has families in mind with a ski in -ski out philosophy that exemplifies its base area chalet and hotel accommodation. You can literally ski to the front door of the Palliser Lodge or Glacier Mountaineer Lodge, without even double poling or skating. The same goes for many of the plush rental condominiums and homes that are artfully constructed in the woods next to the ski area boundary – if it’s not ski to the front door convenience, then it’s the next best thing.
When I go to a ski resort with the family I want to park my car in the underground lot, hang up the keys next to the entrance of the chalet and never have to think about driving for the rest of the stay. At Kicking Horse , you can spend your time doing what you came to the mountain to do; ski and ride, dine and drink, and relax with a post ski Jacuzzi or sauna. Riding up the Eagle Express Gondola is an exhilarating feeling as it delivers you nearly
1300 vertical metres uphill to the crest of the Dogtooth Range. The vastness of the terrain below fills you with anticipation. One thing you thankfully don’t have to anticipate at the end of day, is a long walk to the hotel or condo, which can feel like a desert trek or an Arctic slog depending on the weather. It takes one trip to a ski resort with kids to realize that a winter experience is about much more than lifts and vertical, vibrant après ski diversions and a cozy place to put your down for the night. It’s about how all these elements work together to create a seamlessly enjoyable ski in-ski out experience. Kicking Horse Mountain Resort has it dialed. Trust me, I’m a veteran of the family ski adventure.
Words by Andrew Findlay