Vancouver Island is famous for its mild winters. In fact, Islanders are notorious for bragging about their lack of snow (and grumbling through a few flakes). But if you gain enough elevation all that coastal rain turns to clouds of powder, so the Island has you covered when you want to walk in a winter wonderland.
What are you in the mood for?
1. When you’re starting from scratch
If you’re a beginner skier or a snowboarder (or if you need to shake off the rust), the safest place to start is Mount Washington. Grab your lift pass at the hut next to the parking lot, then keep going downhill past the tube park. At the lowest point on the mountain you’ll find Easy Street, a gentle bunny hill with three magic carpets.
2. When you want to return to the good old days
Are you one of those skiers who pines for simpler days? Mount Cain is your best bet for the perfect mix of lift access and peaceful runs that some call the ‘slackcountry.’ It’s way up Island (about an hour north of Campbell River) and with two T-Bars you get a free ride to the top — but nothing too fancy. The remote location and simple amenities attract a certain kind of snow-lover, reinforced by the fact that the hill is run by a non-profit society. From the top T-Bar you can access treed glades and two bowls, and since Mt. Cain is only open weekends (and select Mondays), the powder piles up all week.
3. When you want to ski for free
Anything for a free lift pass, right? There’s no guarantee the event will be back this year, but in years past Mount Washington has let elves ski free on Christmas Day! You really have to dress to impress though — to pass costume inspection you better be decked out from head to toe. Elf ears are optional, but definitely encouraged.
Another free option is to strike out in the backcountry and hike into the mountains yourself. If you have the right avalanche safety training and enough experience, Strathcona Park offers epic backcountry options. The easiest access is at the abandoned Forbidden Plateau ski hill on Mount Belcher, and mountains just get more wild from there. Be sure to prepare carefully for the conditions and changeable weather, know your route, and let someone know where you’re going and when you’re returning.
4. When you want to slow it down
If screaming downhill isn’t your style, strap on snowshoes or cross country skis for a different taste of winter wonderland. The only groomed nordic trails on the Island are at Mount Washington, but with 55 kilometres’ worth, you’ll be entertained for a while. Visit Strathcona Nordic Ski Club to join the community. If you’re willing to leave grooming behind, there’s plenty of alpine to explore, including at Mount Cain.
5. When you’re ready to try glades
Mount Washington will never give you a wild, remote experience, but if you’re comfortable on Black groomed runs and are keen to experiment with glades, it’s the perfect place to level up. Make your way up the Boomerang Chair, a lift with offloading on the front, peak, and backside of the mountain. Take your first turns on the front side Gold Rush Glades and if your skills allow, head to the flip-side for access to the ‘steep and deep’ in The Outback.
Enter to Win!
Ready to test your ski or board skills? West Coast Traveller and Mt. Washington Ski Resort offer readers a chance to win a pair of three-day mountain passes for the 2021 season. Two sets of two passes are up for grabs, with the contest closing Jan. 1, 2021. Enter here!
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