Enjoy the tube park, snowshoeing and fat biking at Mountain Washington Alpine Resort on Vancouver Island, which gets some of the biggest snowfalls in North America.
Sitting down to strap on my snowboard, I take a moment to soak in the dazzling winter scene at the 1,588-metre summit of Mount Washington. Trees are drenched in buckets of heavy snow, mountain peaks glisten as far as the eye can see, and the ocean sparkles in the distance. It feels like I’m on top of the world.
The parade of skiers and snowboarders gliding off the Eagle Express chairlift tingle with excitement as they strap on their gear and spring into action.
“Are you ready?” I ask my friend, who gives me the thumbs up. I stand up with confidence and slide gracefully down the mountain, letting out an occasional, “Woo-hoo!” It’s something I’ve done hundreds of times, but still find thrilling at the start of a new season.
Located 30 minutes from the Comox Valley on Vancouver Island, Mount Washington Alpine Resort is known to receive some of the biggest snowfalls in North America, averaging 11.5 metres of the white stuff per season. The resort has five chairlifts and five carpet lifts, allowing access to more than 688 hectares of skiable terrain, 81 runs and two terrain parks. Sixteen hectares of new terrain recently opened in The Outback area, which is located on the backside of the mountain and offers a double black diamond playground for those who know what they’re doing.
But if strapping on a snowboard and sliding down a mountain doesn’t sound like your idea of a good time, there are plenty of other ways to play in the snow at Mount Washington.
You don’t have to be a child to enjoy the thrill of getting into a tube and sliding/spinning down a hill covered with ice and snow. Mount Washington’s tube park has four wide lanes so you can race your friends to the bottom or hold onto them while letting out a scream. The tube ride isn’t long, but it can get quite fast before sliding into a bed of hay and coming to a gentle stop. It’s certainly a fun way to spend an hour or two of the day.
Perched on the edge of Strathcona Provincial Park is 55 kilometres of machine-groomed and classic set cross-country ski trails for all skill levels. Meandering through the forest with occasional mountain views, the trails range in length from 0.5 km to 9 km, beginning at the Nordic Centre’s Raven Lodge where you’ll find hot meals, rentals and lessons. If you’ve never tried cross-country skiing before then beware – it’s an activity that will make you sweat and gasp for breath within five to 10 minutes, especially if it involves going uphill. Some of the trails are dog friendly so bring your furry four-legged friend for an adventure in the snow.
There really isn’t a more relaxing way to take in a winter wonderland than by strapping on a pair of snowshoes and going for a casual walk through the forest. Mount Washington has 25 km of snowshoe trails that also start at Raven Lodge and at times coincide with the network of cross-country ski trails. The trails range from 500 metres to 4 km in length and take walkers through the quiet serenity of Strathcona’s old growth forests blanketed in snow. Snowshoeing is an intimate experience with your surroundings, allowing time to notice small details like animal prints in the snow or the beauty of icicles dangling from a tree. The trees look like snow monsters after a massive snowfall, providing an opportunity for unique photos.
Most people don’t think of biking as an activity that’s typically done in the snow, but it can be done – with the right tires. New to Mount Washington this season is the addition of fat biking to the Nordic trail system. The wide tires allow the bike to float and have traction on the snow. Approximately 15 km of trails have been set aside for those who want to hop on a bike and experience what it’s like peddling across the snow.
“Fat biking is a natural progression for us. We are located in a mountain biking mecca,” said Mount Washington Marketing Manager Sheila Rivers, noting the resort will open a $3.5 million multi-stage ZipTour this summer that takes guests from one summit to the next in less than two hours. “There has been a lot going on at Mount Washington in the last few years.”
If you go:
The village at Mount Washington is packed with colourful chalets, cabins, condos, walking paths and a lively pub in the Alpine Lodge. The village can host more than 4,000 visitors, but the best place to stay is in one of the slope side condos at Bear and Deer Lodge. Guests can step out of their room, strap on their gear and ski right onto their first run. The condos also include underground parking, full kitchens and a shared hot tub. For more information visit mountwashington.ca.