Picture this: skiing atop a snowy mountain, with a view over shining sea below.
Vancouver BC -- on Canada's west coast-- has mountains right by the ocean. Vancouver has a mild climate, and gets just a few snowfalls a year, that quickly melt. But the nearby mountains get plenty of snow, and have a ski season that lasts from late November to early April, on three ski resorts just a half-hour from downtown Vancouver. Early spring is an especially good time to visit Vancouver: where else can you ski, sail, and golf all on the same day? (Not that I'm advising that schedule.)
So Close: the North Shore Slopes
Vancouver's ski mountains are on the "North Shore" (a bridge away from Vancouver) and, it must be said, they're dwarfed by giant Whistler-Blackcomb an hour-and-a-half away, and site of many alpine events in the Vancouver 2010 Olympics.
But the size of Vancouver's North Shore mountains is nothing to be sneezed at. Cypress Mountain has over 50 runs, two mountains, and a vertical rise of 2010'. (Many ski resorts in the east would love that vert.) Cypress is the largest of the North Shore ski resorts, and host to several Olympic events in 2010.
Get ready for awesome views, at Cypress: as you ride the lifts and slide the slopes, you'll see panoromas of the city and the ocean and islands below.
Another plus is night skiing: your snow day doesn't end at 4 p.m., as it does at Whistler and many ski resorts. Night-skiing continues at Cypress until 10 p.m. Spring skiing -- and I'm counting mid-Feb. as "spring"-- is choice: daylight continues until six or seven pm; then enjoy the sunset, and stay on after dark.
Spring skiing also has the blessing of light traffic on slopes and lifts.
Tip- Take the Sky Chair to the highest point, the top of Mt. Strachan: it's oldish and slowish, but you'll never see a better view from a ski lift.
Cypress Mountain also has a cross-country area, and snow-tubing: a fun activity at night.
Other North Shore Mountain Ski Resorts
Grouse Mountain has 20 ski runs and a terrain park, but many visitors take the gondola up the mountain with no intention of sliding down the slopes: Grouse has a nice lodge at the top of the gondola, with bistro, cafeteria, and fine dining, all with a million-dollar view. There's an ice-skating area adjacent to the gondola, too.
The third North Shore mountain with snowsports is Seymour Mountain: Seymour has fewer lifts, but is a favorite of those who like backcountry. Seymour also has snowshoeing, tubing, tobogganing, and (sometimes) dogsledding.
Each of the North Shore ski resorts has lessons, night-skiing, and ski/snowboard gear rentals; typically, clothing for skiing or boarding can be rented too. And each mountain can be reached by public transport.
Families can easily visit Vancouver and find plenty of attractions down at ground level. But if you're visiting in winter or early spring, don't forget that extra dimension: there's snow on them thar mountains, and a snow day can be a lot of fun.