Family skiing in B.C.: the snow-capped Grouse Mountain
Grouse Mountain looms over my family’s East Van condo. It’s the first thing we see when we leave the house in the morning and the last thing we see when we come home at night. If I squint hard enough at the white swath etched into its front, I like to imagine we can see people skiing and snowboarding down it. In 20 years of living together in Vancouver, my husband and I have never once gone there.
My husband is from Morocco, and before coming to Canada had skied only once. I immigrated to Canada from California at age 11, and while I never skied with my family, I tagged along on skiing trips with friends a few times in my teenage years.
It wasn’t until we had two energetic boys who required constant physical activity and fresh air that we felt the urgent need to visit the local mountains and to try skiing. Suddenly, we needed to be that iconic Vancouver family that skis in the morning and plays tennis in the afternoon.
We announced our intention to ski Grouse Mountain to our ski-savvy friends and were promptly toured through their basement storage cupboards and attic crawl spaces to gather the necessary ski swag: waterproof pants and jackets, gloves and goggles. Our friends insisted that staying warm and dry as long as possible was the key to an enjoyable day at Grouse.
On the morning of our planned ski trip, when I told my twin 10-year old sons they couldn’t play Wii because they had to get ready, there were some sour faces. But they soon became engrossed in playing dress up in all the new, exotic clothes.
It was a gloomy Sunday morning when our Honda Civic hit the road. The streets were relatively quiet, and when we pulled into the parking lot at the base of Grouse Mountain my husband exclaimed, “Are you sure this is it? we’ve haven’t even been gone 20 minutes.”
Despite the light rain, the parking lot was almost full. People were unloading ski equipment from their cars and groups of ski tourists were gathering to board the gondola.
The gondola. I looked up and saw the giant box suspended from an overhead wire like some kind of immense lego structure, and then glanced over at my son who was afraid of heights. He was eyeing it with a mixture of horror and curiosity while staying glued to his dad’s side.
We boarded the gondola cautiously and other passengers quickly flowed in behind us, filling up the spaces by the windows. As the tram lurched forward, I glanced out the window and breathed a sigh of relief; the windows were completely fogged up, obscuring any view. My afraid-of heights son would remain blissfully unaware that we were dangling by a thread off the side of a mountain high above the North Shore, Burrard Inlet and the City of Vancouver.
I looked around at the other gondola passengers, There were three stylish young Iranian women wearing the hijab (veil), a family of French tourists, and a group of goateed young men who were swapping stories about the legendary skiing in B.C.’s interior where the snow was always dry and powdery.
At the top of the mountain, we stepped out of the tram building and onto a solid base of snow, still crunchy despite the pervasive rain. We hiked over to the equipment rental chalet to get our skis.
The equipment rentals were in a wood-paneled room with glistening wet floors. A young woman with a South African accent helped us get our rentals and negotiate the maddening series of buckles, clasps, flanges and cinches on our equipment. I felt like I was preparing for a trip to the moon. I wondered if anything that required this much equipment could really be that much fun.
Finally, we pushed through the doors of the rental chalet, clomped down the metal steps and were ready to put on our skis.
For the first run of the day, we tackled the epic bunny hill: Pandora. Pandora is a short run with a gentle slope which runs between 3 chair lifts. It’s a busy place, with ski school classes meeting, a snow tractor trundling through and four and fiveyear olds in brightly coloured jackets gliding down the hill in graceful arcs.
All four of us made it to the bottom of Pandora without falling and were swooped up by the chair lift without incident. Even more miraculously, we all made it off the chair lift without wiping out. I was starting to feel more relaxed and confident. We skied down Pandora a few more times before deciding to move on.
“Where should we go next?” I asked the Greenway chair lift attendant, as our bums hit the chair.
“The Cut,” he said.
The Cut. I felt a wave of excitement rising in my stomach. That was the ski run we could see from our home in Vancouver. Even though it’s considered a green or beginner run, skiing The Cut is like, well, real skiing. Now we would be the skiers we were always imagining.
To reach The Cut, we skiied down a narrow trail that circled the mountain. It had a steep drop-off on one side and on the other side were emerald douglas firs laden with glistening icicles. The misty air suddenly grew noticeably denser and sounds were swallowed up by the thick snow and foliage.
At the end of the trail there was an orange sign that said “merge”, and beyond that skiiers and snowboarders were bombing past from higher up the mountian. I followed my afraid-of-nothing son onto the slope and struggled to remember how to get my skis to change direction. I was soon heading full-throttle, straight down the mountain.
I wiped out hard. I lay there for a moment staring at the sky wondering if it was possible for a middle-aged person to wipe out that hard and not be injured.
My legs were all twisted and soon my body was engulfed in spasms of laughter. My fearless son was now far below me, skiing confidently down the hill. Above me I could see my husband descending like a steady snowplow. I lay back a moment to admire the majesty of the snow burdened firs which lined the run. The clean, thick mountain air mingled with the exhiliration of speed pumping through my body. I was feeling transformed, relaxed even.
After a few hours, we became aware we didn’t have one dry patch of fabric left on our bodies and it was time to head home.
On the way back down in the gondola my sons huddled near a clear spot at the window and were able to see the the mist rising from the mountain folds and foliage. My height-fearing son chattered that he was no longer afraid of the gondola, and had no fear of the chairlift anymore.
With a pause, he added:
“I’m just afraid of getting off the chair lift,” alluding to the fact we’d all ended up in a tangled heap several times when trying to ski off the chair lift.
It was much too damp that day to play tennis in the afternoon (and besides we were too pooped) And I doubt we’ll ever be a family that owns skis or has ski racks on our car. But at least now when my family looks up at Grouse Mountain from our East End apartment, we feel like it’s our mountain, too.