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: Whistler

What to say about Whistler. It’s a world renown ski-resort for a reason.

Skiing Whistler was definitely one of the things I was most excited about when I first moved to Vancouver. Since moving here I’ve probably skied Whistler-Blackcomb somewhere between 15-20 times and it’s been a different experience every time.

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The mountain and the views are incredible, but Vancouver’s milder winters definitely results in inconsistent skiing experiences. My first season skiing Whistler was in 2015, which was extremely disappointing because the whole region barely got any snow the entire season, so it was pretty wet on the mountain and not all the chairs were able to open. However the years that followed were a huge contrast and I had some really excellent powder days on the mountain, especially in 2017.

The biggest downside to skiing Whistler is by far the cost. It seems like tourists just accept the high price tag that comes with staying at a resort like Whistler, but for locals, it’s expensive. We always drive up and back from Vancouver on the same day to avoid paying for an overpriced hotel room. Plus is seems that the lift passes get more and more expensive every year; after Veil bought out the resort in 2018, it really felt like they were trying to the locals out. These days it’s somewhere around $180 to buy a single day lift pass at the bottom of the mountain, which is absolutely ridiculous for a mountain with limited skiing hours (8:30am-3pm at it’s shortest).

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The price tag has been a deterrent for a lot of my friends in recent years, but personally I love this mountain, so I keep coming back every year. The trick is to buy an Edge Card in advance of the season to save on lift tickets. The cards vary every year and you can usually choose anywhere from 2 to 10 days, meaning you can ski any day of the season for that number of days. This year I got a 2 day card for $220, so significant savings over buying it the day of. Other years I’ve gotten 3 day cards and once I even got a 6 day card. The more days you buy, the better the value.

But let’s talk about the actual mountain. Whistler Blackcomb is made up of two mountains that have been merged into 1 big resort. I’ve decided to write about them separately, so I’ll just talk about Whistler in this post. There is a peak to peak gondola going between the two, but we usually just pick one mountain and ski there for the day.

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Whistler is the larger of the two mountains and is favoured more by skiers then snowborders. You can upload onto the mountain either from the main lift in the village, or from Creekside, which is a few kilometers before the main village along the highway. I’ve heard it’s nice to upload from Creekside, but there’s a lot more parking at the main village, so we always start from there. It can be a long wait for the first gondola up, so we usually do the singles line to beat the crowd.

When I first started skiing Whistler, I spent a lot of time near the Harmony Express lift. It’s a good area for intermediate skiers and there are amazing views from the top of the lift, plus a good variety of runs. If you’re just visiting though, your top priority should be making sure you head up to the Peak Lookout. As far as the skiing goes, it’s not my favourite area, but it’s by far the best view on the mountain, so make sure to do at least one run up there to catch the view! It’s also the place to go if you want to do the longest possible run on the mountain. We rarely ski down past mid station as the snow is just not that good and you don’t want to have to wait to upload again, but if the conditions are good, it can be fun to ski some of the lower runs later in the day when there are no waits at the bottom.

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In more recent years though, Symphony Express has by far become my favourite part of the mountain. It’s a bit of a trek to get over there at the start of the day because you have to upload on a few different lifts to make it to that side of the mountain, but once you get over there, there’s great skiing in Symphony Bowl. Plus there’s usually less line ups and still a great view from the top of Symphony Chair. So these days we usually make a beeline over to that area.

Since Whistler is such a big mountain, there are lots of easy runs criss-crossing the mountain as well. It’s why snowboarders tend not to like Whistler as much as Blackcomb, so we usually have to convince Brandon to come over there with us (he’s our only boarder). But no matter what part of the mountain you ski, there’s tons of great runs and amazing views. Although sometimes they won’t open Peak or Symphony Chair on snowy or windy days.

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A few more tips if you’re visiting Whistler. The lines for food at Roundhouse can get really crazy during peak lunch hours, so we usually try and eat a little later to avoid the crowds (usually around 1:30ish). Sometimes we bring sandwiches to eat on the mountain and sometimes we just snack all day and quit around 3pm. Depends how cold it is and who’s with us. In earlier years, we used to hit up Creekside for lunch, but it seems to have gotten busier lately, so I usually prefer Roundhouse.

As for parking, I recommend going in lots 4 and 5 at Whistler Village. They are further from the village, but it’s a lot easier to get a spot and there’s a shuttle bus that goes right to the village. It used to the be free to park there, but Whistler Municipality has recently started charging $5 for the day. Lots 1, 2, 3 have always been pay parking at a steeper rate.

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