Ski Resort Series: Cypress

Cypress is probably my most skied resort in BC after Whistler-Blackcomb, but I’ve never found the time to write about it because I rarely ski there in the day. When we first moved to Vancouver, we made a few trips up the mountain for Saturday skiing, but it’s such a popular place, it hardly seemed worth it. Since then, I’ve been up on the occasional weekend, but always for snowshoeing. Unless you get there super early, you will have to walk a long distance to get to the resort, so come prepared. I once did the whole walk from the lower lots in ski boots and my feet just about died, so bring a bag to pack your other shoes with you, it’s worth it.

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This might lead you to believe that I don’t really like Cypress, but in fact, I do actually really like skiing there. There are three resorts located in very close proximity to the city: Cypress, Grouse, and Seymour, of which Cypress is the largest. Cypress actually spreads across two mountains: Black Mountain and Mount Strachan, with the ski resort nestled in between the two. I like Cypress because even though it gets busy, it’s large enough to spread out the skiers and boarders, unlike the smaller mountains like Seymour, which can become very congested.

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Mount Strachan is the higher of the two mountains and has two key chairs: Lion’s Express and the Sky Chair. There are some smaller chairs that service the bunny hill, but Lions and Sky are the key lifts. Sky Chair is obviously popular because it goes up to a phenomenal viewpoint looking out towards both Howe Sound and the backcountry. It also has the added fun of being a rare 2-person chair, so it feels kind of vintage and is fun to board. It’s one of the best places to catch sunset on the mountain. I also like the Lion’s Express, which I find tends to have the shortest queues because it’s the fastest chair (although the queues often look very long, they just move quicker).

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Black Mountain also has two chairs, Eagle Express and Raven Ridge. I’m a little embarrassed to say I’ve never actually skied the Raven Ridge chair – it’s the last part of the mountain they usually open and it doesn’t have any lightning, so it’s not open for night skiing either. I can’t recall ever skiing Cypress when it was actually open. But I do really like the area accessible from Eagle Express. There are lots of intersecting runs from this part of the mountain. You can also ski the green run, Panorama, which has great views looking down into the city.

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So why do I like Cypress so much, even though I’m loathe to go on the weekends? As my photos indicate, it’s mostly for the night skiing. Cypress is pretty expensive for a lift pass given its size, but it is one of the best value for money if you want to ski from dawn ’til dusk. A full day pass allows you to ski all the way until 10pm! Generally I will just get an evening pass, which starts at 5pm, and ski after work. Being able to hit the slopes when you finish work for the day is one of the coolest parts about living in Vancouver. Pre-pandemic, we would night ski and then grab a beer in the resort around 9pm before heading home for the night.

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The only downside to night skiing is the conditions are often not all that great. There’s no chance to groom the runs during the day, so they’ll either be pretty tore up, or they’ll be very slippery from heating up in the day and then freezing again overnight. But occasionally you get a visit where it’s either snowing while you’re there, or you get above the clouds and get a beautiful inversion down over the city. I love skiing there in March, when there’s enough daylight that you can catch sunset from the skychair on your first run.

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If you don’t have a car, Cypress is accessible by bus, but I think you might be limited to the daylight hours. I have taken the bus in the past, but it’s not a city bus, so it is rather expensive if you’re already shelling out for a full day of skiing. My preference has always been to carpool or take an evo or modo up the mountain. If you drive, just made sure you have snow tires or chains, which are required on Cypress Mountain Road in the winter.

So overall, despite the crowds, I do really like Cypress and try to ski there at least once a year. Definitely recommend it since it’s so close to the city and does have some truly beautiful views! Sorry for the low quality photos, they’re all a few years old and taken on crappy cell phones, one day maybe I’ll lug my night camera up there for sunset!

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Snowshoeing Bowen Island Lookout

The last snowshoe trail I’ve done on the North Shore to date is the Bowen Island lookout trail at Cypress Mountain. We got a ton of snow in the city in 2019, right at the moment my friend Sean was visiting from Newfoundland. I’m not sure he was entirely thrilled about it given that he had just left a lot of snow behind, but either way we had the perfect conditions to go snowshoeing up to the lookout.

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We’d had a late night out the evening before, so we didn’t have the earliest start to the day and as a result had to battle the traffic to get up to Cypress. I don’t think I’ve ever parked so far away from the base (seriously, we had to park on the side of the road just past the turn-off for the nordic area), but despite the 2km walk to the trailhead, I had the best time! I’m inclined to thank the company since Sean is one of the most appreciative and enthusiastic guests.

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I’ve been up to the lookout several times in the summer, but this was my first time going up in the winter. Like I said, we had excellent conditions – it was a beautiful day and there was lots of fresh powder on the ground. The winter trail takes a different route up than the summer trail, which involves winding through the meadows at the base and then switchbacking up towards the branch to the lookout.

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There was obviously a lot of people on the mountain, but the trail never felt too busy, so I assume a lot of the cars were skiers. I brought both snowshoes and spikes for the trip – I used my snowshoes at the bottom to frolic around in the meadows and climb up the switchbacks, but I switched to my spikes for the switchbacks on the way down because I found it easier to navigate. Overall though it was definitely a snowshoe day!

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We had our lunch at the lookout and took our time enjoying the view. Looking back at the pictures apparently Sean had the experience of feeding a stellar’s jay, which is rare indeed! Whiskey Jacks will take anything you offer them, but rarely will a stellar’s jay (we only fed them nuts that are good for birds to eat (jays love peanuts), never feed them human food like bread or crackers!). It had been a bit of a mixed week for weather and this was our last activity before Sean went home, so we both thought ourselves super lucky to have such a gorgeous day! Now I just have to work on getting Sean back for summer adventures! He had planned to visit April 2020, but of course, Covid messed up those plans. One day though!

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Snowshoeing Hollyburn Mountain

We’re now firmly into the winter hiking season, which means it’s time to take out the snowshoes! I’ve done a decent amount of snowshoeing over the past few years and I’m hoping to do lots of snowshoeing this season, but I haven’t written about very much of it. So I decided to kick off the season by writing about one of my favourite local snowshoe trails: Hollyburn Mountain.

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I have snowshoed Hollyburn on 3 separate occasions, so I’m pretty familiar with it. It’s one of the most well known snowshoe hikes in the lower mainland and with good reason. It’s not the easiest snowshoe trail, but you’ll be rewarded with amazing views and a good workout. I’ve hiked it every year since 2017, but the last time I hiked it was in January 2019, which stands out as one of my favourite times making the trek to the top.

The Hollyburn trailhead is located at the base of the Nordic Ski Area at Cypress (take the right branch before you get to the ski hill). You can rent snowshoes at the base, however if you rent them you will also be forced to pay the trail fee. If you snowshoe within the nordic area, you need to pay the trail fee whether you bring your own snowshoes or not, but since Hollyburn is located outside the trail area, you can snowshoe for free if you bring your own (or rent at the North Van MEC to avoid paying the extra cost)! It’s a popular trail, so you will be accompanied by lots of other snowshoers, but they usually disperse along the trail so it doesn’t feel too crowded.

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The trail started with a steep walk uphill and then flattens out somewhat as you walk along the edge of the cross country ski run. Overall it’s an uphill trail, but the middle stretch has a nice easy grade. It’s the last third of the trail that is the most challenging as you navigate up a wide corridor cut through the trees. Since Hollyburn is so close to the city, I tend to go with larger groups, so we take our time as we head up to the top. On this occasion I was also dogsitting Jordie the Australian Shepherd, so we had a bit of a slow start.

The hardest part of doing Hollyburn is deciding what equipment to use: snowshoes or microspikes. The first half of the trail is narrow and winds through the woods; it sees a lot of traffic so unless it just snowed, it’ll almost surely be packed down, making it ideal for microspikes. But once you reach the wide part of the trail, the defined track disappears somewhat and it’s a bit of a choose-your-own adventure up to the top, so it’s fun to have snowshoes. The last time I went I brought both.

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My backpack has straps for carrying snowshoes, so I carried them up the first half and then switched over. Its definitely easier in microspikes, but maybe not worth it if the rest of your group is wearing snowshoes anyways because they won’t be able to keep up with you. If there hasn’t been any fresh snow in a while, you might be able to get away with spikes on the whole trail, but you never know what it’s going to be like until you get up there and it does give you less freedom to explore.

On this particular day it was a bit overcast, so we couldn’t see much of the view, but it still made for some fun shots as the clouds moved around us. It did eventually clear out at the top and we got a glimpse of the city through the clouds. On a clear day you also get a great view looking back at Cypress Mountain and the uninhabited North Shore mountains, which is my favourite view from the top. Jordie had a great time hiking up the mountain, but make sure to keep your dog on a leash. One time I saw a woman with a small dog who got fined by the park ranger for having her dog off leash.

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The highlight of the day for me though was that Brandon decided he wanted to have a fondue picnic at the top of the mountain. The idea sounded pretty epic to us so we each dutifully lugged a container of pre-cut fruit that Brandon doled out to us up to the top of the mountain and Brandon carried up his stove and fondue kit. I’m not going to pretend like we didn’t all poke fun of him with his full size backpack the whole way up, but we all ate our words at the top when we saw the huge spread he’d brought up for us! He melted a ton of chocolate and before we knew it we were enjoying chocolate covered strawberries, bananas, pineapple, mango, marshmallows, and some other mystery fruit, while the rest of the hikers gaped at us. Definitely one of my favourite snowshoeing experiences, so thanks Brandon!

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The hike back down is where things really get interesting. I’m not gonna lie, the last section of the trail is pretty steep and you’re exhausted by the time you reach the top. Going down is less tiring, but definitely not easier. It’s really hard to go down the trail on snowshoes and most people opt to slide down on their butt instead. My word of advice for this is that if you’re going to slide down, take your snowshoes off. Otherwise they just create a hazard and make it really easy for you to break your leg. Snow pants are a good idea on the way down to stay dry, but don’t bring a sled of any kind. There’s actually signs up now prohibiting sleds and crazy carpets, but I did it once on a crazy carpet before said signs went up and I can confirm it’s dangerous. You pick up too much speed and it’s hard to control. Your best bet is to just walk sideways as much as possible until you get past the steep section, or slide on your butt.

Coming down is fun though because on the right day you get a great view looking down the mountain to the city! So overall a great snowshoe trail that I’ll definitely continuing doing! It’s close to the city, free, and has great views. The only downside is the crowds – if you’re going on a weekend, try and get there early if you want to get a parking spot!

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