BC’S SKI SECRETS
Where Vancouver locals go for snow
Come the Canadian winter, one of the greatest drawcards to Vancouver, BC, is the pinnacle of North American ski resorts, Whistler Blackcomb. Just 130km north of Vancouver International Airport, this easily accessible, dual-mountain resort receives about 1.5 million visitors every winter.
With 37 lifts, more than 33sq km of terrain, more than 11m of annual snowfall, let alone an ever-popular array of bars, restaurants, shops and other après entertainment, Whistler deserves its hype as the continent’s leading ski resort. However, like all great tourism enterprises, high demand goes hand-in-hand with high prices and long queues. But for all the ballyhoo surrounding Whistler (now under management by Vail Resorts), what travellers often miss is that just down the road is a medley of other local mountains to explore, which come underrated and uncrowded.
All within three hours from Downtown Vancouver (often less), these picturesque peaks may be smaller and less renowned to the international market, but come with their own appeal.
CYPRESS MOUNTAIN RESORT
Barely a 30-minute drive (by car or shuttle bus) from Downtown, Cypress is a hot favourite among the city’s experienced skiers and snowboarders. As the largest of Vancouver’s three North Shore Mountains, Cypress encompasses 53 runs, as well as the most skiable terrain, vertical drop and lifts compared to neighbouring peaks, Grouse and Seymour. With stats like this, it hasn’t always slipped under the radar, having been the official freestyle skiing and snowboard venue for the 2010 Olympic Winter Games.
Adding to its resume, Cypress Mountain offers one of the largest cross-country areas in North America, with 19km of track set trails. There’s also 10km of self-guided snowshoe trails – ideal for non-skiers who want to explore the mountain – plus the family-friendly Snowtube Park. Equally as stunning as the mountain itself are the breathtaking vistas over the surrounding coastal mountains, erupting out of the ocean, as well as the city.
But if you were waylaid sightseeing during the day, Cypress offers night-time riding until 10pm throughout winter.
FULL DAY ADULT LIFT TICKETS FROM $C75 (ABOUT $78); CYPRESSMOUNTAIN.COM/
Just 15 minutes north from Downtown Vancouver, Grouse claims to be the most easily accessible of the North Shore Mountains, as well as the most family friendly. Coupled with an unparalleled selection of mountain entertainment beyond skiing and snowboarding, it’s also an especially tourist-friendly peak. Expect snowshoeing, zip lining, ice skating and sleigh rides, as well as impressive dining and shopping options in this wintry wonderland, catering to outdoorsy and indoorsy types alike.
There’s also the Grouse Mountain Refuge for Endangered Wildlife, where you can learn about (and perhaps meet) some of the locals that call Grouse home, including grizzly bears, owls and hummingbirds.
But if you’re solely visiting for the slopes, Grouse delivers 33 runs across its scenic terrain – 15 of which remain open and floodlit for night skiing until 10pm. There’s also outstanding groomers, five terrain parks and nine kilometres of snowshoeing trails to explore. But unlike other mountains, you can’t drive to the slopes – you must take the Skyride tram to the top, which makes for a welcome opportunity to take in the alpine views and contrasting cityscape beyond. FULL DAY ADULT LIFT TICKETS FROM $C63. GROUSEMOUNTAIN.COM
Forty minutes northeast of Downtown Vancouver, Seymour is known for its gentle, contoured beginners’ slopes and technical terrain for advanced riders (all are equipped with night lighting). You can expect to keep things cheap and cheerful at Seymour with affordable prices and packages. Popular with locals is Ladies Night at Seymour which allows women of all ages to ski or ride on Mondays, 6pm10pm, for just $C15. Guys pay $C33.
But if you’d rather something milder, Seymour features an extensive network of snowshoe trails to explore on a tour or at your own pace, taking in frozen lakes and oldgrowth forests. If you’re visiting with little ones, check out Snow Tube Park.
FULL DAY ADULT LIFT TICKETS FROM $C47. MTSEYMOUR.CA
SASQUATCH MOUNTAIN RESORT
You’ll find little-known Sasquatch Mountain Resort 125km east of Vancouver, on the edge of the Fraser Valley. Formerly known as Hemlock Valley Resort, Sasquatch is the quiet achiever of the region, with major expansion plans under way.
Being further inland than Vancouver’s North Shore Mountains, it also receives reliably good, dry snow. With steep, expert runs and open alpine bowls, there are plenty of options for intermediate and advanced skiers and snowboarders here. There’s also a terrain park sectioned into four levels, with a solid selection of jumps, ramps, rails, half pipes and the like, depending on conditions. For a more laid-back experience, check out the extensive snowshoe trails, or take advantage of the resort’s epic new eight-lane tube park for kids (and big kids at heart).
But to really unwind (or relax any tired muscles), take a day trip to Harrison Hot Springs, a 45-minute drive south of the resort, where you can soak in the town’s healing hot mineral waters.
FULL DAY ADULT LIFT TICKETS FROM $C60. SASQUATCHMOUNTAIN.CA/
MANNING PARK RESORT
Even further east of Vancouver, 220km in fact, Manning Park Resort lies in the heart of the Cascade Mountains. While it is further afield compared to Vancouver’s other local ski hills, its inland location, away from the ocean, means the mountain receives even better powder. It also makes for a great overnight ski stay if you’re planning to visit British Columbia’s Okanagan wine region.
Averaging 546cm of snow each year, Manning Park offers great downhill skiing and snowboarding, as well as over 60km of groomed cross-country skiing and snowshoeing trails. For the extra adventurous, there are about 160km of serious back-country trails, too.
But if you’d rather keep things relatively low key, check out the Polar Coaster Tube Park, or try your hand at Canada’s national pastime, ice hockey, at the resort’s picturesque outdoor ice rink.
FULL DAY ADULT LIFT TICKETS FROM $C57. WINTER.MANNINGPARK.COM
MT BAKER SKI AREA
Crossing the US border into Washington (remember your passport and ESTA visa), Mt Baker is a two-hour drive southeast from Vancouver. A dream for experienced powder hounds, this local gem boasts the record for the most snowfall in one season (an incredible 29m in 1998-99). Last season Baker also received the most snow of any ski area in North America, with almost 21m.
But with such reliably deep powder, groomed runs can be scarce and white-outs relatively common, so this is a destination typically enjoyed by more advanced skiers and snowboarders.
FULL-DAY ADULT LIFT TICKETS FROM $US57 (ABOUT $77) . MTBAKER.US
EQUALLY AS STUNNING ARE THE BREATHTAKING VISTAS OVER THE SURROUNDING COASTAL MOUNTAINS
Cypress is a hot favourite among Vancouver skiers and snowboarders; last season Baker received the most snow of any North America ski area; and Grouse is family-friendly.