Spring Skiing on the Vancouver Mountains Begins

Cypress2014-17After a challenging season for Vancouver ski mountains, the snow has finally arrived – better late than never. March is serving up some of the best conditions of the year, and ski and snowboard fans are betting on a solid April.  I decided to check out the “spring skiing” vibe at Cypress over the weekend.

Well, I guess it wasn’t exactly spring skiing.  No one was in a t-shirt, let alone a bikini top.  But the sun was shining under a blue sky on Cypress Mountain and the temperature at the base was a balmy 5 degrees.  Better still, the mountain had been dumped with 8 centimetres of fresh snow in the last 24 hours.

I was also on a mission – to ski my first black diamond run. Before moving to Vancouver a few years ago, I had never skied.  Of course, that wouldn’t do.  The city has not one but three decent ski mountains in a 30-minute radius (one of which happened to host the Olympics a few years back).  Not to mention that during the winter hitting the slopes is one of the few ways to escape the rain and clouds at sea level.

So last year I took a few ski lessons.  And this year, I honed my stuff on the local mountains.  Still, I had always carefully avoided the expert “black diamond runs,” reserved in my mind for the nuts with GoPro cameras strapped to their helmets who have probably been skiing since they learned to walk.

Up on Cypress, lifts were as busy as they’ve been all winter, with big lineups waiting for a chance to get on the fresh now.  Cypress has a nice mix of easy (green) runs, intermediate (blue) runs and black diamonds.  In total, there are around 53 trails spread over two separate mountains.

Cypress2014-12I decided to ease into things with a few green runs.  I hopped on the Lions Express chair and zipped to the top of Collins trail on Mt. Strachan.  Despite the great weather, the slopes were relatively uncrowded and I made my way down the winding run, which works its way gently along the edge of the ski area, with a few steep bits thrown in for good measure.

With that under my belt, I decided to up the ante with some of the more challenging blue runs on Cypress Mountain.  For ski pros, of course, blue runs are a walk in the park – hardly worth getting off a chairlift for.  But if you’re new to skiing, they can be more than a bit intimidating.  Slopes that appear relatively gentle from the bottom can seem terrifyingly steep when you’re poised up top, contemplating whether to plunge over the edge.

I started out on the Horizon trail, which descends from a height of 1,275 metres to the base at 915 metres.  The run began easily enough, with me zipping through a wide glade in the forest.  Then – all at once – a thick fog rolled in and the trail got considerably steeper.  What had been a bright spring day turned suddenly into a forbidding afternoon on the mountain, as I struggled to control my speed down a series of steep, sometimes icy descents.

Photo credit: Marc van der Chijs | Flickr

Photo credit: Marc van der Chijs | Flickr

But I did make it the bottom without taking a single spill.  Gaining some confidence, I decided to explore neighbouring Black Mountain, which is a bit lower at 1,200 metres, but offers more trails and more diverse terrain (including a freestyle terrain park and multiple jumps, if you’re into that kind of thing).  After a few runs on scenic Panorama (an easy green trail with great views), I tested my luck on a challenging blue run, Upper Fork.  Despite the steep terrain and a bit of ice, things were going well enough – until the wheels fell off (or, more accurately, my skis fell off).

Somewhere near mid-mountain, a heavily skied area had turned into a mass of slush and mini-moguls.  Going a little faster than I should have been, I careened into the middle of it all and suddenly lost my balance.  I pitched forward, then back – still managing to stay on my feet – before finding myself sliding backward down the mountain.  At that point I hit the snow, hard, and lost a ski and a pole, spinning to an embarrassing stop about 10 metres down the hill.

Photo credit: Dustin Quasar | Flickr

Photo credit: Dustin Quasar | Flickr

I picked myself up and – luckily – discovered little more than a bruised ego and a slightly strained knee.  I managed to ski down, falling once or twice more along the way but making it back to the bottom more or less in one piece.  Still, it was time to concede defeat.  The sun was shining.   It was a glorious spring day on the North Shore mountains.  And – after an afternoon of great skiing – I was whipped.  That elusive black diamond run would have to wait until next time. (Rainbow run, I’m coming for you!)

Cypress Mountain plans to remain open until mid-late April for spring skiing, though an official closing date has yet to be announced.  Full-day lift tickets are $62 for adults, but you can save up to around 30 percent by purchasing online at least two days in advance.

Follow me on Twitter @RemyScalza … for more on Vancouver and beyond.  

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