The coastal rains that drench lower elevations of Vancouver Island translate to piles of fresh snow at the Island’s two ski resorts. Amy Attas photo.

The coastal rains that drench lower elevations of Vancouver Island translate to piles of fresh snow at the Island’s two ski resorts. Amy Attas photo.

5 ways to experience the snow on Vancouver Island

There’s piles of snow for every mood and skill level on BC’s Vancouver Island

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.

Some years, elves ski for free at Mount Washington on Christmas Day. No word yet on whether the resort is bringing the tradition back for 2020. Amy Attas photo.

Some years, elves ski for free at Mount Washington on Christmas Day. No word yet on whether the resort is bringing the tradition back for 2020. Amy Attas photo.

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.

The ocean and mountain views from Mount Washington are spectacular on a clear day. Amy Attas photo.

The ocean and mountain views from Mount Washington are spectacular on a clear day. Amy Attas photo.

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!

READ MORE: Mt. Washington opens Island’s longest zip line

Plan your adventures throughout the West Coast at westcoasttraveller.com and follow us on Facebook and Instagram @thewestcoasttraveller. And for the top West Coast Travel stories of the week delivered right to your inbox, sign up for our weekly Armchair Traveller newsletter!

AdventureBritish ColumbiaCanadacross country skiingFamily activitiesskiingSkiing and SnowboardingThings to dovancouverislandwct-intro

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

The Port Alice Royal Canadian Legion building. (Port Alice Royal Canadian Legion Facebook photo)
Four local Legions nab federal support money

The Royal Canadian Legion received $14 million for disbursement to branches across Canada

The barge sank again on Jan. 8 and is still resting under water. (Bill McQuarrie photo)
UPDATE: Barge will stay under water in Port McNeill marina until February

The sunken barge was reported to Environment Canada.

Mount Cain
Mount Cain cancels ‘Cain Cup’ due to COVID-19 restrictions

‘It is unfortunate that we had to make this decision’

A woman wears a face mask and shield to curb the spread of COVID-19 while walking in North Vancouver, B.C., on Wednesday, January 6, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
536 COVID cases, 7 deaths reported as B.C. find its first case of South African variant

Henry said 69,746 people have received their first dose of the COVID vaccine.

Seiners fill the waters between Comox and Nanoose Bay during roe herring fishery. file photo, Pacific Wild
Quota debate heats up on the eve of Vancouver Island herring fishery

Industry and conservationists weigh in how much catch should be allowed as DFO decision coming soon

Alan Davidson was sentenced to almost six years for abusing seven boys in the late 1970s and early 1990s. (Canadian Press file)
Full parole granted to former Mountie, sports coach convicted of sex abuse of boys

Alan Davidson convicted of abusing boys in B.C. and Saskatchewan in late ’70s, early ’90s

The first COVID-19 vaccine arrives in B.C. in temperature-controlled containers, Dec. 13, 2020. (B.C. government)
More vaccine arrives as B.C. struggles with remote COVID-19 cases

Long-term care homes remain focus for public health

North Cowichan Mayor Al Siebring has expressed his frustration with harassment of people who have made racist comments online about Cowichan Tribes in the wake of a COVID-19 outbreak in the First Nation. (Citizen file)
Island mayor calls for de-escalation as social media gets uglier in racism fight

“Racism is wrong. But so is this kind of reaction”:

The Transportation Safety Board of Canada said a lack of experienced crew members and the inability to detect navigational errors is what led to a Sooke search and rescue boat running aground in February 2019. (Twitter / @VicJRCC_CCCOS)
TSB: Sooke search and rescue boat crash caused by ‘misinterpretation of navigational information’

Crew members were lacking experience and unable to detect navigational errors

The first Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine dose in Canada is prepared at The Michener Institute in Toronto on Monday, Dec. 14, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn
Doses of COVID-19 vaccine expected in 60 B.C. First Nations by next week

B.C. has allocated 25,000 doses of COVID-19 vaccine to First Nations for distribution by the end of February

Kamloops-South Thompson MLA Todd Stone questions the NDP government in the B.C. legislature, Feb. 25, 2020. (Hansard TV)
Todd Stone says he’s not running for B.C. Liberal leadership

Kamloops MLA was widely viewed as a front-runner

Most Read