Exploring Mount Washington
We’ve driven into another world, like nowhere I’ve ever been. The snowbanks lining the road are so high it’s like driving through a tunnel. Only the rooftops of the many ski chalets are visible. The mountains that surround us are stunningly beautiful. Within a 20 minute drive from the highway 19 turn-off the temperature dropped 14 degrees, and yet it’s only a balmy -7. We’ve come to explore Mount Washington Ski Resort.
We have elected to stay up in the Mount Washington Village. You can also stay in Courtenay and take a bus to the ski hill, about a half-hour trip. You can also park at the bottom of the mountain, just off highway 19 if you don’t think your vehicle will make it up. Considering the amount of snow here, I could see that happening. We’ve brought Tucker along, so we want to stay close to the mountain.
The ski area is separated into two areas, Alpine and Nordic. We are staying at the last lodge you can drive to in the Alpine Village. The rest of the chalets are walk-in only. Skiers towing toboggans full of food and booze is de rigueur. Our walk to the ski hill is about 10 minutes, 20 minutes to the Nordic Centre.
It was difficult to get a feel for the area because of all the snow. Maps helped, and after a couple of days of getting lost among the snow banks, I’d sort of figured it all out.
With 9 lifts, 81 groomed runs and a base of over 2 metres of snow, this ski hill just blew me away. I had heard that Olympians used this mountain to warmup and train during the 2010 Vancouver Olympics, but I thought that was only because of the lack of snow at Whistler. Now I’m thinking maybe they preferred it.
Our day of skiing was perfect. The sun was shining, it was Tuesday so there were no line-ups at the lifts and the snow was fantastic. I’d heard the intermediate runs here are challenging, yet I was swishing down the blue runs with all the confidence of a real skier (which I’m not).
There are ski rentals available, as well as a bistro, bar and restaurant. By the time the lifts closed on a Tuesday afternoon, the hill emptied completely. I read that there is live entertainment on Friday and Saturday nights, so I think weekends are hopping.
I brought Tucker to the hill after the lifts closed and threw his ball down the mountain over and over. He loved dashing down the hill after it, sometimes rolling in the snow he was running so fast.
Our second day of our visit dawned minus that gorgeous sunshine we enjoyed yesterday. I had already scouted out the Nordic trails, and discovered that the only cross-country trail that Tucker was allowed on was Raven’s Revenge, labeled black (for hard) on the map. Only 6 km long, it is 3 kms down followed by 3 kms up.
There are 55 kms of groomed cross-country ski trails to explore at Mount Washington, as well as a snowshoe trail and several fat bike routes. Equipment rentals are available at the Nordic centre. The number of people here at 10 am was surprising, including a school bus and a tour bus, presumably from Courtenay.
We elected to spend the morning on the snowshoe trail, and ski the green/blue trails in the afternoon. The trail was well-packed so we were able to hike without snow shoes – but it was a one-way trail all downhill. What goes down must come up; it was a great workout. There is no stepping off the trail here.
We went home for lunch and the snow began to fall. We watched through our condo window as the snow piled up. The ski tracks were filling with snow and we decided we may have missed our window for our cross-country skiing. The snow fell all afternoon and well into the evening, as if they needed any more.
Mount Washington was a total surprise. Only a 3 1/2 hour drive from our home in Victoria, it’s actually one of the deciding factors in our “Love it Or List It” decision here. On the drive up we stopped to stroll along the gorgeous Rathtrevor Beach in Parksville, and on the way home we hiked the Holland Creek trail in Ladysmith. Vancouver Island really does have it all.