March 15, 2018
If you’re craving a Mother Nature reconnect, you’ll find it in the mountains of British Columbia—a quick flight or scenic drive from the American West….
By Destination British Columbia November 8, 2017 #php comments_number('0 Comment', '1 Comment', '% Comments'); ?> #php echo wpb_get_post_views(get_the_ID()); ?>
Guest post by Andrew Findlay
Night lights sparkled like diamonds almost as though stars were plucked from the clear cold sky and placed among the ancient cedars of Vancouver’s North Shore Mountains. A cold rain fell on the city for most of the day; but thousand metres higher this precipitation was falling as snow—lots of it. That was my cue. I should have been hitting the books for mid terms at Simon Fraser University, but sometimes you have to answer the call of Vancouver skiing.
I was now immersed in a dreamy world of nighttime skiing, gliding through 30 cm (12 in) of deep powder, buttering the edges of Top Gun, a steep double black that plunges from the summit of Mt. Strachan at Cypress Mountain Resort. Euphoric hoots and hollers from my two ski buddies—and fellow delinquent students—rang out through the forest. That was, in a nutshell, the story of my university years in Vancouver.
Being a lifelong skier, necessity turned my attention toward the trio of North Shore mountain ski areas, Cypress, Grouse, and Seymour, which I had up until then overlooked. What I found was magic. Where else in the world can you access three ski resorts all within a half hour of a thriving metropolis of two million people on the edge of an ocean? Ski night and day, and gaze down at ocean freighters anchored in English Bay or the glittering office towers of Howe Street, yet feel as though you’re in a peaceful winter wonderland, miles away from the bustle. That’s the magic that I discovered as a skiing obsessed college student, looking for an accessible and affordable snowy fix.
And it’s also what inspired the North Shore’s early skiing pioneers to catch a boat across Burrard Inlet a century ago and hike up logging trails to Hollyburn Ridge. Folks like Swedish immigrant and avid skier Rudolph Verne who made his way with fellow adventurers to the abandoned Nasmyth Shinglebolt Mill. Finding deep snow and great terrain to boot, Verne sensed an opportunity and by January 1925, he had repurposed the old logging camp and opened a ski rental shop and lodge. It would be the beginning of many Hollyburn skiing memories leaving a legacy that keeps the skiing stoke strong at the three ski resorts that would eventually take root on the North Shore. The stoke burns bright in people like Deep Cove resident John Irvine, who heads up global community marketing for Arc’teryx and views the North Shore as his backyard playground.
“Skiing on the North Shore is truly special. There are incredible views of the city from each of the resorts, and they all have unique terrain with consistent snow and big trees,” says Irvine, who grew up in Fernie then studied at the University of Calgary before moving to Vancouver three decades ago.
“For ski touring, you feel like you are in a Lord of the Rings forest with the giant old-growth cedar, spruce, and hemlock trees cloaked in snow. Best of all is the easy access from the city.” Irvine loves the fact that within 30 minutes from his front door he can be in a different world of real mountains. Proximity to the city allows Irvine to pounce on powder conditions, skiing under the lights at night, before work or after. “I love it because I can get a quick hit of mountain air and exercise,” says Irvine.
Though the North Shore has plenty to offer experienced backcountry skiers and boarders, it’s the vibe of places like Seymour that add to the North Shore’s signature appeal. Living at the base of Mt Seymour, Irvine has watched his daughter, now 10, grow up shredding at this family owned and operated ski hill.
Each of three North Shore mountains has its own character. Mt Seymour is family-friendly to the core. Owned and operated by the Wood family since 1984, Seymour’s five lifts serve 200 acres of rolling terrain on a rounded ridge of Mt Seymour perched above Deep Cove. Grouse Mountain’s skiing history is also tied to the dedication of early Scandinavian immigrants who first hauled planks for a lodge up a rough trail that would become the now famous Grouse Grind. The first chairlift was built in 1949 to access The Cut, Vancouver’s most famous ski run that gives skiers the surreal sensation of cruising above the city lights. Grouse Mountain’s varied terrain is where Olympians Ross Rebagliati and Georgia Simmerling honed their skills that would eventually place them on the Olympic podium. Today the Skyride gondola is a bucket list experience for visitors and locals, an exhilarating trip that shuttles you from the city to mountain top. Then there’s Cypress Mountain, the grand daddy of North Shore skiing adjacent to legendary Hollyburn Ridge, now the epicentre of Nordic skiing. Cradled in a basin between the peaks of Hollyburn, Strachan, and Black mountains, Cypress serves up 600 acres of downhill shredding on everything from gentle groomed slopes to black diamond runs, not to mention 19 kms (12 mi) of groomed cross-country trails.
To put it simply, on the North Shore, there are enough wintry options and opportunities to excite even the veteran skiers with decades of experience in these mountains notched on their ski poles. Just ask Dennis Begley, Mountain Equipment Co-op‘s Digital Engagement and Ambassador Program Specialist, another seasoned North Shore snowboarder and skier. He grew up on the North Shore and has close to 25 years of ripping it up on the local hills.
“I’ve held season passes to Cypress, Grouse, and Seymour at different stages of my childhood,” Begley says. Though he lives on the other side of the bridge now, he says it’s still less than 30 minutes from his front door to the chairlift , bridge traffic permitting.
“I’ve always wanted to do the Howe Sound Crest Trail on skis. I’ve run it a few times in the summer and the views looking out over Howe Sound are unparalleled. The idea of doing the traverse on a bluebird day is near the top of my North Shore bucket list.”
Think about Vancouver’s North Shore as skiing with added benefits. It’s where towering ancient forests become blanketed in winter’s coat of white, and where you can indulge in an afternoon of skiing or boarding, and still be in time to meet friends for some après enjoyment at a downtown craft brewery or restaurant. It’s a winter wonderland on the doorstep of a metropolis, a magical skiing experience that I was lucky enough to discover as a dirt bag university student years ago.
For information on skiing in BC and ski offers, visit winterwithin.ca.
Alpine resorts are bordered by uncontrolled wilderness areas. Respect the boundary lines and don’t ski out of bounds. Make sure you know the Alpine Responsibility Code and learn about the danger of tree wells. AdventureSmart is a great resource to help you get informed before heading outdoors. Skiing in backcountry areas means severe weather and avalanches are real hazards. You and everyone in your group must be self-sufficient—carrying all the proper gear (transceiver, shovel, and probe) and have avalanche training.
Opening image: Grouse Mountain Resort. Photo: Pierre Leclerc/Getty Images
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