Ski culture

I come from a big resort in the Alps, and my curiosity and love for snowy mountains pushed me to travel to the west coast of Canada last fall. Having known the hectic lifestyle of the seasonal worker and also aiming to discover a new way of life, it was in Vancouver that I decided to lay down my backpack for a few months. One of Vancouver’s strengths is to combine the cultural richness of a big city with a sporty mountain vibe. My first thought was to explore the local ski operations and to make the most of the joys of skiing in snow that I imagined always to be in abundance and powdery.

I started looking for “champagne powder,” the famous feathery snow that is the great myth of Canada. Because of its proximity to the Pacific Ocean, precipitation in and around Vancouver is impressive. Last winter at Cypress resort in West Vancouver, the seasonal snowfall exceeded 12 metres.

My first pleasant surprise occurred at the beginning of November, when flakes as large as potato chips began to fall. The more the rain was falling on Vancouver, the more the summits were being plastered with colossal amounts of snow. The season opened at Cypress resort on November 10th, seven days before Whistler. With freshly recruited staff, the resort opened its runs for a large turnout of skiers and snowboarders with two lifts out of four operational.

Unfortunately, a few days after opening the temperatures rose, it rained and guests were soaked but that didn’t matter, they showed up in the rain and fog anyway, sliding down the runs of sticky, wet snow, wearing plastic garbage bags that acted as rain coats. In short, like Disneyland on a grey day. Skiers came to face the fickle weather to be among the first to ski. It must be said that November 2017 had an ample supply of moisture; it is not uncommon for rain to occur on the ski hills of the west coast in fall, but fall 2017 was particularly wet with 27 days of precipitation out of 30.

My friends living in Vancouver use their ski passes just as they would a membership to the gym. Annual pass pricing is very enticing, and the passes are the most economical solution to enjoy the ski areas if you are a regular. Here, skiing is a hobby. We ski with family or friends on weekends, or after a day’s work in the evening.

Lonsdale | Photo by Mathilde Oyon

Three ski areas share the market in Vancouver. Cypress, which is the largest in terms of kilometres of runs; Grouse Mountain, the most developed for tourists and accessible by public bus; Mount Seymour to the east, which is smaller and very family-oriented. All three offer night skiing until 10 p.m., allowing you to enjoy the slopes under the stars and to enjoy the views above the lights of the city – that’s what I especially liked. As far as scenery goes, I found the perfect postcard picture image of skiing: ocean, mountains and snow-plastered firs. As for the quality of the snow, the month of December was uneven with a snow line that sometimes rose high enough to bring heavy wet snow or even downpours. Fortunately the weather smartened up by the end of January with enough snow and cold to delight the ski tips!

Still in search of “champagne powder” I took my skis on new adventures to the edge of BC and into Alberta, to the Rocky Mountain resorts, where it is rumoured the snow is always fresher. That’s where the term “champagne powder” comes from. Western Canada is chock-full of resorts where choosing a downhill line is a memorable experience, including black diamonds and bowls, which are ungroomed and unmarked sections of the ski area. Each downhill run is unique because you can follow the line that you want, with the possibility of spicing up your route with more or less dense tree runs.

Whether in BC or Alberta, you will find typical Canadian kindness, and it is not uncommon to share more than a chairlift while riding up the hill, as you talk about this and that with your fellow riders. That’s also the pleasure of skiing in Canada.

Translation by Barry Brisebois