Living & Working On Vancouver Island


So local, the locals don't even know about it... The skiing on Vancouver Island is one of Canada's best kept secrets. Fortunately I happen to be in on this secret. I grew up in this neck of the woods, skiing the steep and deep tree lines served up at Mount Washington Resort. Of course, as all small ski town kids do, I wanted to see the world, so when I graduated from high school I left to travel, ski the globe and experience the big destinations resorts. I somehow always got sucked back to western Canada however, and for a quite a while I landed not too far from home, just across the Straight in Whistler BC.

As North America's biggest and most well known resort, Whistler leads the way in global skiing and boarding trendiness. My friends and I have dubbed its' unofficial new tag line, "Whistler... where all the beautiful people go to ski!" Now don't get me wrong, I have nothing against Whistler. In fact I loved it there. The terrain is as wild as the party scene, and there is plenty of both, but after spending nearly a decade on its' mighty flanks, I had a craving for something a little more authentic... a 'locals' hill where everybody knows my name. Somewhere my wife and I could raise a family but with exciting enough terrain to still satisfy our daily ski fix.

So in the spring of 2004 while being trapped in a tent for 16 long days on a remote British Columbia glacier trip... starving and delirious… I finally had an epiphany of sorts. I came to my senses. I would move back home to Vancouver Island and start my own ski school.

Mount Washington

Now if you ask someone from the mainland if they have ever skied at Mount Washington, you will normally receive a strange look, followed by "there is skiing on Vancouver Island?"; Now I can understand this question coming from someone in London or Stockholm, but considering that in a typical season Mount Washington is usually home to the deepest snow pack in the country, you would think most Canadians might have heard about it.

For a Canadian Resort, Mount Washington is fairly average in size. Geographically it sits about halfway up the island, perched a mile above the Comox Valley. It is sandwiched between a couple spectacular hunks of nature. Strathcona Provincial Park to the West, with its' enchanted old growth rain forests and majestic peaks rising up to 2200 meters directly out of the Pacific Ocean. And to the East, are views of the Georgia Straight looking across to the mainland and the massively glaciated Coast Range. Needless to say the scenery is pretty good! The terrain is awesome too, especially in the 'Outback' off the unique 'Boomerang Chair', where there are a plethora of steep North facing glades for the hardcore shred heads, while on the front side there are plenty of cruisers and bump runs to entertain skiers and boarders of any level. You would think great terrain and ridiculous amounts of snow would be reason enough to move here, but my favourite thing about Mount Washington is the laid back attitude and all the friendly island locals who aren't too concerned about superficial trendiness… and best of all, during the week we usually get the place to ourselves.

A journey back in time...

For the adventurous, who aren't too concerned about modern amenities, I also recommend heading a couple hours further north. You will go back in time as you reach the small community ski hill of Mount Cain. Vancouver Island's only other remaining ski resort is a throwback to the good old days of skiing, with big beards, wool sweaters and raging parking lot parties! Mount Cain is only open on the weekends so the powder builds up during the week for some epic face shots come Saturday morning. Not to worry when the inbounds ski area is tracked up though, the easily accessed back country opportunities are second to none. Steep chutes and gnarled peaks tease your eye in every direction.

So if you're having a craving for a coastal vibe, giant trees and some serious snowfall, or if the glitz and glamour of the major tourist destinations aren't your biggest priorities, perhaps skiing an island in the Pacific is just what the doctor ordered. If you are lucky I just might show you my secret powder stashes!

"Needless to say the scenery is pretty good! The terrain is awesome too..."

Written by Tobin Leopkey. Tobin is a Course Conductor and level 4 certified Instructor with the CSIA (Canadian Ski Instructor's Alliance) and is the Program Director for Section 8 Snowsport Institute who run intensive ski and snowboard instructor training and mountain leadership courses on Vancouver Island, Canada.