Whistler, British Columbia

The Ski Family
Photo: Frank Schwere for New York Magazine

For the past eight years, the Leavitts have gone to Taos to ski. Taryn, a goldsmith, was decidedly unsporty until she met Mark, an investment banker raised in a family of hard-core schussers. And so, at 29, Taryn learned to snowplow. When the couple’s own kids, Perry and Alec, turned 3 and 4, the Leavitts enrolled them in bunny-hill lessons. Now the Upper West Side preteens carve double-black diamonds. But Taos isn’t easy to get to, and after so many treks to the same spot, there are whispers of change: “We love Taos. It’s comfortable. It’s low-key,” says Taryn. “But sometimes we all sit there and we say, ‘Maybe we should try something else.’ ”

Try Whistler

Photo Credit: Greg Griffith/Courtesy of Tourism Whistler

Whistler, British Columbia

Our second morning in Whistler, George threw a tantrum at the snowboarding school. Not that he didn’t want to go snowboarding—at 10, he’s a passionate snowboarder and was desperate to learn new tricks on Whistler’s impressive half-pipe and terrain park. He was just balking at a group lesson ($78 for the day) because he was holding out for a $395 private session. We were learning a basic rule of family ski vacations: Let your kids get a taste of luxury, and your life is ruined.

Whistler, we had been told, lies well within the boundaries of good but not excessively pampered vacations, yet it was confounding us at every turn. Ski trips usually begin nightmarishly, with missed flights and hair-raising drives along icy mountain roads. But we breezed through the shiny new airport in Vancouver—part of a regional face-lift for the 2010 Winter Olympics—after an easy nonstop flight from JFK, and the sunny, 75-mile drive to Whistler (stunning water and mountain views the whole way) was a surprisingly relaxing commute. No wonder Canadians are always smiling. Whistler had us at hello.

At the base of its two mountains, Whistler’s pedestrian-only ski village is a kids’ paradise. Not only because of the hip snowboard shops, but also because parents tend to feel safe letting children wander by themselves. Big mistake. After our two kids headed out on their own for pizza and a movie—so the wife and I could actually enjoy some West Coast–style fusion fare at Araxi, one of Whistler’s best restaurants—we discovered that newfound independence quickly morphs into willfulness and escalating demands. Hence the tantrum at the ski school.

Whistler offers on-slope day-care facilities, along with an avalanche of ski and snowboard programs for kids. But the mountain is also a magnet for professional and aspiring boarders and skiers, so a lot of cool young athletes work as instructors. What did us in was the overly generous instructor-to-kid ratio. On his first day, George was in a group class of one, because there weren’t enough other kids. The next day, he expected similar treatment, and we escaped paying the $300 premium only by promising him gifts and other blandishments: Face it, all happy families are coalitions of the bribed, the coerced, and the bought.

In the midst of all the negotiations, we did manage to ski. Whistler has the greatest vertical rise in North America, and the largest skiable acreage. It has spectacular bowls and chutes, with whole swaths of accessible but unmarked terrain with an unregulated, backcountry feel. It has excellent beginner and intermediate trails. It even has a glacier. So after a day or two, it was obvious that we were in trouble again. Every other place in our children’s world was going to seem smaller after Whistler. We’d never hear the end of it.

The ultraluxurious Four Seasons Whistler opened this year (604-935-3400 or fourseasons.com; from $194). The remodeled Sundial Hotel, just steps from the gondola, has clean, comfortable suites with kitchens, outdoor hot tubs, a climbing wall in the basement, and a sushi restaurant (800-661-2321 or sundialhotel.com; from $158).

Whistler, British Columbia