Snowshoeing Lightning Lakes

After Shadow Lake, Lightning Lakes is one of my favourite places to snowshoe in Manning Park. Unlike Shadow Lake, this trail is outside of the resort managed trails and is free to snowshoe, so subsequently is attracts more traffic. The Lightning Lakes Trail is part of a 24km trail network that goes around both of the Lightning Lakes and then continues on to 3 other lakes. However, in the winter I recommend you just stick to the first two lakes as there’s low avalanche risk on this trail.

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Usually you can park right at the lake day-use area, but pending whether it’s recently snowed and how far into the season it is, they don’t always plow the road to the parking lot, in which case you can park along the main road and snowshoe in. The trail goes around first and second Lightning Lake, which are connected by a small river that runs between the two. There’s a beautiful bridge constructed over the two lakes and you can customize your trip to do either lake (or both). The second lake is my favourite (with the view from the bridge being the highlight), so I usually head clockwise around the first lake, which is the shorter route, to get to the second lake much faster.

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In the winter, the lake usually completely freezes over and most people will snowshoe right across the lake. Be careful if you opt for this route – check the weather the week before visiting to ensure it’s below freezing all week and make sure it’s not too early in the season to cross. I prefer only to cross in January or February. If in doubt, make sure to check the depth of the ice before crossing or just plan to stick to the trail in the trees. Also note that the river between the two lakes rarely ever freezes, even in the middle of the season, so always plan to go back to the summer trail in the trees before getting to the river.

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If you decide to go the long way around both lakes on the summer trail, the distance will be about 8.5km. If you just do the second lake using the summer trail, it’s about 7km. And if you cut across the lake and head to the back of the second lake, it’s about 6km, so there’s lots of room to customize your trail. My preference is usually to walk the summer trail to the back of the second lake and then come back along the edge of the lake (I’m too chicken to go across the middle of the lake, so I’ll walk on it, but stick close to the treeline). I’ve never done the entire first lake in the winter, only in the summer.

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To date, I’ve now snowshoed the lake twice. The first time was a real treat because my parents had come to visit and it was the first year I got to spend Family Day doing an activity with my actual family. We snowshoed to the back of the second lake, had lunch and made some hot chocolate, and then snowshoed back. More recently, I returned and went snow camping in the woods at the back of the second lake, but more on that later because I can definitely write a whole post on that adventure!

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Snowshoeing Shadow Lake and 3 Falls Trail

Now that I’ve written about all the snowshoe trails I’ve done on the North Shore, it’s time to move on to Manning Park! There’s a lot to explore in Manning Park in the winter and it almost always have great snow. Unlike the North Shore, Manning Park reliably stays below zero for most of the winter, so you don’t get the same freeze-thaw cycles as the North Shore. I think I’ve snowshoed there 4 or 5 times and only once did I not get fresh powder.

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I’ve only done the beginner trails in Manning, but there are lots of more advanced trails for backcountry skiing and a nordic trail that extends right through the park. To date, Shadow Lake is my favourite winter trail in the park. The trail leaves from the strawberry flats parking lot, meandering through the forest to the lake and ending at the bottom of the downhill ski resort. Strawberry flats is a large parking lot with the nordic trail running parallel, so make sure to enter the trail at the outhouse. From there, you just have to cross the nordic trail once and then you should see the trail continuing into the woods (don’t follow the nordic trail). The first part of the trail winds through the trees and is the most beautiful winter wonderland! I’m sure it would have a different feel without fresh snow, but both times I’ve done this trail it has been snowing, making the snow covered boughs of the surrounding trees extremely scenic.

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Most of the trail is in the forest, but there are a few small meadows along the way where you can jump off the trail if you want to frolic in the snow or cut fresh tracks. It’s only about 4.5km from the parking lot to the base of the ski hill and back, so it’s a short trail, probably around 2 hours in length. The trail crossing the nordic trail once more, just before the ski hill, but you should see the trail continue into the woods on the other side. I prefer to stop and have hot chocolate at the lake, so we usually spend closer to 3 hours on the trail. Shadow Lake is located shortly before the end of the trail and depending on the time of year you may be able to walk out onto the lake and get beautiful photos of the surrounding mountains. The first time I did the trail was in January or February, so we were able to access the lake, but the second time I did it in December and the river running into the lake hadn’t quite frozen over yet, so we couldn’t cross the marsh to get over to the lake. Either way, there’s still a nice view even if you can’t get on to the lake.

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From the ski hill, it is possible to extend the trail if you’re looking for something a little longer. If you cross the bottom of the slope, you’ll see a narrow trail going back into the woods along 3 Falls Trail. In the summer there are 3 waterfalls that you can view from the trail, in the winter you can still see the first frozen waterfall, but depending on the conditions you may not be able to see the other two. It’s not a difficult trail, but it does run along a very steep slope on the North side of the trail, so you do have to be careful and prepared along this trail as it does run through avalanche terrain. The first stop along the trail is the Shadow Falls viewpoint, which was in my opinion the best viewpoint, so you could just go as far as the first lookout. When we went we couldn’t even get to the third viewpoint because the snow conditions were too sketchy and we turned around instead. If in doubt, just stick to the Shadow Lake Trail. If you do extend to include 3 falls, you’ll double the trail length to 10km round trip.

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The important thing to note about the Shadow Lake trail is that it is one of the trails in the Park that is managed by the resort. Most of the trails are free to snowshoe on, but there are a collection of trails that are flagged by the resort. From a safety perspective this is great because the trail is well marked and easy to follow, but it does cost $10 to use. In the past you could get the trail pass right at the lodge for $10 (where you can also rent snowshoes), but with covid you can now purchase the pass online and redeem in the lodge when you arrive in the park. In my opinion the $10 is well worth it and I always have a great time on this trail!

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Finally, keep in mind there is no cell service in Manning Park, so make sure to leave a trip plan and check the avalanche bulletin before you go. There is service at the lodge, so I usually park there before and after the trail just to update my emergency contact via text about my progress.

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Ski Resort Series: Blackcomb

Even though Whistler-Blackcomb is one big resort, I decided to write about them separately since it is two different mountains and I’ve spent so much time skiing both. I posted about Whistler first, so check out that post for more general info about the resort, like lift passes and parking.

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Creekside is not an option for parking if you’re skiing Blackcomb, but there is an upper parking lot for Blackcomb if you want to jump right on the Blackcomb Gondola – though I understand it fills up pretty quickly. We always park in lots 4/5 (no matter which mountain we’re skiing) and take the shuttle over to Whistler village, so we always take the Excalibur Gondola up to start. The benefit of the Blackcomb Gondola is it takes you right to Rendez-Vous, which is the main hub on Blackcomb. Excalibur only goes halfway up and then you have to switch to the Excelerator Chair.

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For a long time, Whistler was my favourite mountain. I loved going up the Peak Chair and eating at Creekside. I liked the long runs that swing you around the mountain and how many different lifts there are. But over time I’ve grown to really love Blackcomb. I don’t think I can say I like it more than Whistler, but they’re definitely tied and I try and alternate back and forth every time I visit.

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The most popular runs on Blackcomb are at the 7th Heaven chair and it’s easy to understand why. On a clear day you can see all the Black Tusk and the surrounding mountains. 7th Heaven is completely clear of trees at the top, so it has amazing views before branching off into a dozen different runs. There’s a small cafĂ© at the top and while it’s almost impossible to get a seat inside, Brandon and I have spent more than one occasion enjoying our home-packed lunches outside at the picnic tables or on the slopes. Otherwise, we usually hit up Glacier Creek for lunch. It’s large and the crowds usually clear out a bit by 1:30pm. I find it much busier at Rendez-vous and usually try and avoid eating there.

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Once we get to 7th Heaven we’ll usually spend half of the day skiing there. There are tons of runs and you can pop in and out of the glades when you reach the top of the ski-line. There’s almost always small ramps scattered throughout the top, so Grant and I usually like to play around and test our abilities (we get at most a few inches of air, but we love it!).

If the conditions are bad though, 7th Heaven can be a bit of a nightmare. With no trees to shield you from the wind and blowing snow, visibility can be really bad at the top and they’ll often close the entire chair if the conditions are dicey. But on a clear day its really the best place to hang out!

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After 7th Heaven, Glacier Chair is really popular, but it’s never been one of my personal favourites. A lot of the runs at Glacier are more advanced and though my skiing has improved in the past years, I still like to play it a little more cautious. However, I recently discovered something new in the Glacier Chair area that is totally worth checking out!

At the top of the Glacier Chair, there’s a small t-bar called the Showcase T-bar, which takes you just a little bit further up the mountain. I’ve always ignored it because I hate t-bars, but I recently learned that if you’re willing to do a short walk, there’s a run at the very top of showcase that goes down the back of Blackcomb Glacier to an ice cave! It’s shown on the printed resort map, but I guess it doesn’t see that much traffic because after the t-bar, you have to take your skis off and walk upslope about 5 minutes to get to the top of a bowl going down by Blackcomb Glacier. It only takes about 5 minutes, so it’s totally worth it in my opinion, but it is steep, so I was pretty out of breath from carrying my skis.

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Once you get to the top of the bowl there are gorgeous views looking out over the mountains. Advanced skiers will climb further up the bowl, but I think most people just ski down from there. It’s steep at the top, but nothing unmanageable. The caveat with this run though is that it does go through avalanche terrain. The resort has a warning posted at the top of the lift that you are entering avalanche terrain, so make sure to check the bulletin before going. Fortunately the risk was low when we visited.

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It’s a gorgeous run, we played it safe and followed the ski markers down the center of the bowl. When you get to the bottom of the first part of the bowl, if you look to the right, you’ll see the Blackcomb Ice Cave along the side of the run. We skied down to it and spent some time exploring and taking photos. This was my first ice cave, so it was a really neat experience, but I’m not knowledgeable about ice cave safety, so we ventured inside the opening, but not beyond as we had no idea what the risk was.

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It’s a bit of a climb uphill again after the ice cave, but no where near as steep, I was able to ski it, but Brandon walked his board out. The run continues down around the back of the mountain and connects in again at the Crystal Chair. We had perfect weather when we visited the ice cave, so it made for a really fun day. I couldn’t believe I had skied the mountain for 7 years before discovering its existence!

Crystal Ridge can be a fun place to ski and I’ll often do a run or two in that area, but Jersey Cream is probably my favourite chair after 7th Heaven. It’s a shorter chair with limited runs, but I really like the views. Otherwise, there’s a ton of fun blue runs to do around the middle of the mountain and that’s where I’ll usually finish out my day. Depending on the conditions, we will ski down to the bottom, but sometimes we’ll download the last section on the gondola. Just be careful when you ski down that you take the right run based on where you parked. One leads to Whistler Village while the other leads to Blackcomb base.

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And that about sums up my thoughts on Blackcomb and Whistler. It’s definitely not cheap to ski there, but I keep coming back every year because there’s such a wide diversity of runs, the snow is usually better than the local mountains, and it’s much closer driving distance than going all the way to the interior. I still ski Cypress a lot too, but I always have the best time at Whistler-Blackcomb! However, be aware that with covid, reservations are now required prior to arriving and all the restaurants are operating as booking only. So unless you bring your own lunch to eat outside, plan ahead! Otherwise, have fun!

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