The people of Vancouver are ridiculously over-spoiled, as far as skiing goes. Today, I went over to Grouse Mountain, which is a fully-equipped ski park that's virtually inside the city! Apart from accommodation, Grouse has everything it needs in order to call itself a resort: runs for skiers and boarders of all levels; chairlifts; ski and board hire; and all the other usual facilities you'd expect to find on the slopes. And, although it's not a terribly big place, Grouse has enough challenging terrain to keep you busy for a full day.
I really wanted to visit Whistler during my time here in Canada. But I'm afraid that I just don't have enough time for it. Whistler requires at least a full week in order to get any value out of it. The resort is a fair way from Vancouver, it's very expensive, and almost all the accommodation there has a 5-day minimum stay, and books out in advance. Considering that I have 5 days in Canada in total, that I'm on a limited budget, and that I'm an unorganised schmuck who doesn't book stuff in advance, it's just not happening for this trip.
Since all the members of the Cohen family (whom I'm staying with) were busy with work and study today, I hopped over to Grouse on my own. As is customary when skiing, I had an early start of 6am, and I was out the door by 7:15am. Unfortunately, since Richmond is virtually at the opposite edge of the city from Grouse, it took over 2 hours to make the journey. But considering that there was cheap metropolitan public transport (bus, ferry, and another bus) all the way, and that I was able to sleep most of the way, I really didn't mind.
For anyone who ever needs to get from Richmond to Grouse via public transport, the services that I took were: the 490 bus from Steveston Hwy (in Richmond) to Hastings St (in Downtown); the Seabus across the harbour; and the 236 bus from the North Shore Seabus terminal to Grouse. Info about Vancouver public transport is available at the Translink website. Busses and ferries are all cheap, regular, and reliable around here; although unfortunately, there are very few trains in this city, and traffic can be bad during peak hour. There are also very few freeways — however the roads are wide, the drivers are safe, and most of the city is a grid.
Once I got to Grouse, the first thing that I did was ride the big gondola up the mountain. You have to do this, in order to get up to the snowline and the ski slopes (the gondola ride is also included in the price of the ski ticket). While you're riding up, you get a fantastic view of the city spread out below you. However, the view from the top of the slopes is better.
Looking down on Vancouver city and harbour from the top of Grouse.
This is almost the end of the season, and Grouse is one of the lesser ski resorts in Canada; and yet, its snowcover and its terrain are about equal to the very best of what Australia has to offer, at the very best time of the year! Today, the snow wasn't out-of-this-world (it definitely wasn't that by local standards), but there was a decent cover everwhere, and all the runs were open. The weather was also fine (don't think it got below about 1C today), if a bit overcast. I didn't even bother hiring a parka and ski pants: I just went out in my Kathmandu sweater and pants, which were more than enough.
Most of the locals that I met up on the mountain — and most people were locals — said that they have a season pass, and that they usually come up a few times a week, whenever they have an early finish, or a day off work. If they live on the North Shore, it's a 10-minute drive for them. People in Vancouver think of going skiing to Grouse, much like people in Sydney think of going to the beach! You can just do it whenever you want, virtually for free.
A few boarders sliding round at Grouse (actually, for once, skiers were in the majority here today).
The one thing that I really didn't like about Grouse is that it hasn't got enough runs. Not even enough to keep you busy for one full day. As you can see on the trail map, there are only two lifts, and you end up going up the same two lifts all day, and down the same few runs all day. However, the eastern lift does provide access to a large number of black runs, which are much harder to get bored of than the greens and the blues.
I spent most of the day roughing it by myself on the black runs. The main really difficult thing on the blacks at Grouse was the huge moguls (which the locals just call "bumps"). Most of the blacks were fairly wide, and not (quite) suicidally steep; but the moguls were tough work. I felt that I really improved my mogul-hopping skills over the course of the day — and because I was doing it alone, I conquered a lot of fear as well — and I feel pretty damn good about that. I also wore my legs out good and proper from the extended mogul workout.
Grouse is a great place — if a bit small — very convenient, very fun, and very good value. If the weather's right, and you've got a day to kill in Vancouver (or even just half a day), I highly recommend it.