#RoadTrip2020: The ultimate Vancouver Island ski trip
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If you don’t live on Vancouver Island, you might not know VanIsle has a ski hill. But here's another secret - the island has two!
One resort boasts some of the biggest snowfalls in North America, the other claims the best powder skiing and snowboarding and the highest base elevation of any coastal hill in B.C., Alaska, and Washington.
I’ll admit, before moving out here, I thought the island was all misty forests, whale sightings, and moody surf spots. Nope! It was time to grab my retro '90s overalls and tell my sweetheart we’re in for a weekend double-dose of awesome. #roadtrip2020
First stop? The great unknown…
Mount Cain Alpine Park
Do you know Victoria? Well, this isn’t anywhere near B.C.’s queen city. Point the compass north. Keep going until the mountains get BIG, the powder gets DEEP, and crowds are non-existent. Mount Cain is a community-oriented resort on the north end of Vancouver Island with 21 runs and 1,499 vertical feet of terrain. Here’s the best part; it’s only open on weekends (and a few Mondays/holidays) so the powder accumulates, untouched, all week.
The tailgate life is a prominent part of the Cain culture. You'll find people head there on Friday evening with campers, tents, and car beds and stay the weekend.
Cain’s base elevation is 1,311 metres. For comparison, Whistler Village sits at 675 metres. Time seems to stop up here. Is it the '80s? Is it 2020? You might not have cell service to check. You're in a galaxy gnar, so gnar away.
Cain is T-bar accessed only. The upper track will take you to black diamond runs and some backcountry options.
T-bars are definitely made for skiers. When shared between two snowboarders, you’re basically cuddling as you glide up the track. Just try not to sweep your bar-buddy off their feet.
My limited experience with the T-bar shows on the steeper climb. If you lose your footing, don’t get ‘piste’ off. Just move to the side and enjoy the view until your friends catch up.
Cain is 280 km from Nanaimo, the second largest city on Vancouver Island, but it’s worth the drive to have fresh lines all to yourself.
Graydon Reed from Nanaimo was standing in the perfect spot for a photo while he was waiting for his friends to strap in. The smile was 100% real.
From the top of the T-Bar you can hike to some backcountry fun. You’ll have access to two fresh bowls of pow-heaven. You should be experienced and prepared before you give backcountry a try.
I après-ciated the Cain Cafe. It’s charming with a patio and some very friendly Whisky Jacks. Inside there’s even a mitten drying station.
If you're lucky enough to stay in one of the cosy cabins overnight, make sure you get outside and look up. There's no light pollution up here so the star show is spectacular.
Find more information about Mount Cain Alpine Park.
OK, Saturday is in the books. Bring on Sunday fun-day…
Mount Washington Alpine Resort
Memories are made here. This is where Victorians and islanders far and wide go for resort skiing, beautiful glades and an average of 11 metres of snowfall annually. They’re not snow-boating. With coveted powder bowls and 1,700 acres of in-bound terrain, even Ski Canada Magazine gave the resort the “biggest snow” award a few years ago.
Forests for miles You really get a sense of how big the wilderness is from the chairlift.
Friends on a powder day? Yes, please! Gab from Victoria joined us at Mt. Washington. If you’re into mountain biking like he is, you might want to put this place in your summer plans too. It’s 244 km north of Victoria or an easy 130 km north of Nanaimo.
When you're looking for a reprieve from the ‘wet’ coast, get higher. Gab and Marcel were stoked for some turns in the sunshine.
I was way too fired up for this magical moment, but come on, how sweet is that view!
Here’s the piste de resistance.
Head over this ridge off the Sunrise chairlift and when the clouds part just right, you can see the ocean. The Strait of Georgia, to be exact.
It was just the lift I needed.
The cabins and condos in the village will make you feel like you're living in a winter wonderland.
Mixed groups are great for Washington trips. You don’t need to love alpine skiing. You can rent cross country skis, go for a snowshoe, an alpine lake hike, or even a yoga (snowga) session at the Mount Washington Fitness Centre.
If you like weaving in and out of trees, you'll love Mount Washington's terrain.
The hill is known for getting massive dumps of snow within 24 hours so fresh tracks are easy to find in the glades.
The weather here can change fast. All the photos above were taken just a couple hours apart. You might go from bluebird to snow in minutes. Apres at the Bear & Deer Lodge will warm you up or cool you down - whatever you need.
Get more information about Mount Washington Alpine Resort.
With great powder, comes great responsibility
Chains are a must.
You are required to carry chains (just in case) for either mountain. If you’re driving a small vehicle like mine, you’ll definitely need them to reach Cain. To get by without, you can park at the Mount Cain sign after you turn off the highway and wait for the shuttle bus to take you up. Mount Washington also offers a few ski bus routes from the Comox Valley.
There’s snow place like home
Campbell River (where I live) is a great home-base for hitting both hills in the same weekend. From Vancouver, grab the ferry to Nanaimo after work on Friday and take the one-hour, 45 minute drive north to Campbell River for the night. From there it’s a two-hour drive one way to Mount Cain and a 40 -minute drive the other way to Mount Washington.
Ride the mountains until your legs are jelly? Check. Now what?
You could go home, or you could go for the ultimate-big-time-island-winter-adventure-of-awesomeness!
Ski and surf in the same weekend or the same day
Tofino sunset and surf.
You can hit first chair at Mount Washington and a sunset surf in Pacific Rim National Park with about a three-and-a-half-hour drive between. You could reverse the order but if you have long hair like me, you probably don’t want coldwater mermaid locks under your snowboard helmet.
If you go, check in to the Tin Wis Best Western.
The Tin Wis is owned by the Tla-o-qui-aht people. The Nation lives by the principle of ‘heshook-ish-tsawalk’: Everything is one and all are interconnected. So Zen!
Pick up some firewood and have a fire on the beach or check out the new hot tub over the ocean.
Surf lessons and rentals? The Pacific Surf School can hook you up.
Now that you know how to be a mogul of the Vancouver Island ski scene, get out there and conquer your winter! Let us know how it goes. Tag @SnowSeekers #SnowSeekers to share your adventures.
You can see more videos and pictures about this SnowSeekers’ #roadtrip2020 on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter, or by checking out @NovemberSeven on Instagram.
Need more road trip inspiration? Make sure to check out Doc Pow's 72 hour Road Trip to Revelstoke, SilverStar and Sun Peaks.
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