Vancouver is said to be one of those rare cities where you can ostensibly ski in the morning and hit the surf in the afternoon.
Often voted one of the most liveable cities in the world and locked between the Pacific Ocean and the North Shore Mountains – both within 30 minutes’ drive of Downtown Vancouver – British Columbia’s biggest city certainly has the ideal location for both of these outdoors pursuits and on a recent trip, I decided to check it out.
Situated on the west coast of Canada, it’s an easy direct flight with Air Canada from Brisbane, Sydney or Melbourne to Vancouver. In late February, the air is crisp and the previous week’s snow – a rarity in the city – could still be seen adorning lawns on the drive from the airport. It’s the ideal time to hit Grouse Mountain.
From the Opus Hotel in Yaletown, in less than 30 minutes I’m at the base of the Skyride gondola – the largest aerial tramway system in North America. As I ascend over towering snow-capped Douglas firs, I can spy Vancouver city, the Pacific Ocean and beyond.
A Mountain Admission Ticket (valid between October to April) gives access to a range of wintry activities at the chalet level, such as the Light Walk, the 743sqm outdoor ice-skating pond, sliding zone and snowshoeing – equipment is all available to rent.
I channel my inner child (hey, it’s not too hard with so much snow!) and swoop down the groomed terrain on one of two slide runs – belly first, cresting up the top and making icy flakes stick to my eyelashes.
Next up is ice-skating – my first time – and it’s such fun carving up the smooth ice in a somewhat graceful fashion outdoors. I also don comically large snowshoes to crunch along the trails – there’s 9km in total.
With a Daily Ski & Snowboard Lift Ticket, you can also rent gear for skiing and snowboarding and tackle Grouse Mountain’s 33 ski and snowboard runs, which includes ‘The Cut’ – named one of the world’s top 100 runs by CNN Travel. There’s also 15 night runs and on the way down, our gondola operator (who hails from Darwin!) tells me lucky Vancouverites head to Grouse Mountain right after work to hit the slopes until 10pm.
After a morning in the soft, powdery snow, it’s time for lunch at Altitudes Bistro, warming up by the fire with a brew, wine or a creamy heaped hot chocolate. You can look out the expansive windows down to Vancouver and the ocean, while noshing on British Columbia cuisine inside. The signature Mountain Nachos has to be seen to be believed (‘mountain’ being the operative word here), while a collab with Canadian vegan cookbook author Dreena Burton means there’s plant-based options on the menu too.
Back Downtown, I waste no time and jump on a bus headed west over the Burrard Street Bridge towards Kitsilano aka Kits, Van City’s beachy boho ‘burb where yoga lifestyle brand Lululemon was founded.
While West 4th Avenue is the main shopping drag (there’s high-street faves such as Urban Outfitters, mountain sports stores galore and even a Whole Foods Market here as well as Lululemon), I’m after Kitsilano Beach, a sandy expanse that’s populated by people walking dogs and impossibly large local seagulls in the wintertime.
In the afternoon sun, I sit on one of the logs facing the water and watch the dogs frolic on the beach – high-rises straight ahead and framed in the distance by the snow-capped North Shore Mountains I just visited that morning. I walk back along the 22km Seawall that hugs the city to follow the shoreline to Granville Island.
Snow to sand in one day? Yep, totally doable. And perhaps even a sneaky visit back to the slopes at night. Those Vancouverites are definitely blessed.
All images: Cassandra Laffey