Photo: Zac McDougall | Flickr
Get outside in the winter months, even if you don’t ski.
Vancouver may be blessed with some extraordinary urban slopes, but there’s much more to do outdoors during the winter months than just ski and snowboard. Activities for people of all ages and skill levels await, making the city a true winter wonderland.
Snowshoeing’s popularity is among the fastest growing in winter sports, and the ski mountains around Vancouver offer plenty of opportunities for beginners and pros. Grouse Mountain’s
1,250-metre peak towers over Vancouver and features 10 kilometres of scenic trails, ranging from basic loops to more intense mountain circuits. Snowshoe trails are also found on Vancouver’s two other urban slopes, Cypress Mountain
and Mount Seymour. There’s even a popular program that combines a guided snowshoe tour with authentic Swiss fondue. All facilities offer rentals and lessons for first-time snowshoers. And unlike skiing, there’s very little learning curve. Just strap on your snowshoes, and you’ll be exploring pristine alpine terrain in no time.
Just because the temperature rarely dips below freezing in Vancouver doesn’t mean there aren’t plenty of places to skate away the afternoon. Right in the heart of the city’s shopping district, the Robson Square ice skating
rink offers visitors free skating, plus skate rentals for just $3 a pair. The scenic outdoor rink is partially covered by a dome and drew more than 1.5 million skaters last year. A more rustic alternative is offered on Grouse Mountain
. Take the Skyride tramway to the top, where you’ll find a 743-square-metre skating pond situated amidst snow-covered fir and hemlock trees.
Blessed with plenty of snow and jaw-dropping alpine scenery, Vancouver’s mountains are a paradise for cross-country enthusiasts. The Nordic terrain park on Cypress Mountain
features 19 kilometres of groomed cross-country trails that wind through dense forest and boast awesome views of the city and ocean far below. Make sure to stop inside the historic 1926 Hollyburn Lodge to enjoy a hot chocolate and warm up by the fire. Cypress Mountain offers rentals of classic and skate skis and also provides lessons at its special Nordic ski school for those interested in learning how to cross-country ski.
Can’t get enough of the white stuff? Consider spending a night in it. Several adventure-tour companies operating in Vancouver offer special overnight packages designed for aspiring snow campers. Tours begin with basic lessons in avalanche safety and winter survival. Then it’s up into the mountains for a hands-on seminar on igloo and snow-cave construction. Afterward, you spend the night inside your creation. Just remember to bring a warm sleeping bag and plenty of outerwear -- or rent the necessary supplies at a local outfitter in Vancouver.
For the real adventure junkie, consider the extreme zip-lining experience atop Grouse Mountain. Strapped safely into harnesses, riders reach speeds of 80 kilometres per hour along five separate tracks hung high in the forest canopy, up to 70 metres above ground. Expect to zip above snow-covered evergreen trees, over icy cliffs and even into the vertigo-inducing canyon between Grouse Mountain and a neighboring peak.
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