Welcome to Mount Washington, located in central Vancouver Island, west of Courtenay. Imagine a place where everyone is smiling, the sun is shining, the snow is sparkling and you don’t have a care in the world, all you can think of is the rush of gliding down a mountainside.
Known for its spectacular ocean to alpine views, Mt. Washington Ski Resort is one of British Columbia’s finest alpine and nordic winter sport resorts and summer alpine destinations.
Warning! Visits to the Snow Zone can be addictive. Watch for signs of a rosy complexion, a steady smile and a general feeling of well being. Don’t be unduly alarmed – this is normal on Mt. Washington!
The snow here is often deeper than anywhere else in British Columbia, and occasionally deeper than anywhere else in the world! That was Mt. Washington’s claim to fame in late 1995. Try as they might, no matter where the staff called, no one could beat the 21 feet of snowpack that kept falling and falling. Mt. Washington has long been known for having good snow conditions from early in winter to well past Easter, despite the fact that the top of the mountain isn’t as high as the peaks of Blackcomb or Whistler Mountains. In 1995, Mount Washington had more snow than any other ski resort in the world. This accounts, in part, for Mount Washington being the second-busiest winter recreation destination in B.C., behind Whistler Blackcomb Ski Resort.
Along with an abundance of snow, the hill is blessed with mild temperatues, an average of -2C. The Comox Valley is so mild in general that you can ski in a light jacked all morning, then drive down to sea level and mountain bike, sail or golf all afternoon. At Mt. Washington, you can do all the basics, its highspeed quad whisks skiers to the summit in six minutes (supplemented by a fixed-grip quad, two triples, a double, a platter and a rope tow) to varying starting points for its 60 alpine runs. The runs follow a nice, consistent fall line from the summit, down through gladed bowls and wide trails, through the trees, then levelling off into open runs nearer the bottom.
By far the majority of BC visitors come from Vancouver Island, primarily from the Victoria area, a three-hour drive south of Courtenay. Visitors from the Lower Mainland account for about 10 percent of the total. Visitors can arrange to stay in either the on-hill accommodations or in the nearby Comox Valley. It doesn’t take long to discover why this part of the province continues to attract new arrivals from across the country. With a temperate coastal climate, it’s possible to ride bicycles on local trails year-round, yet be up in the snowfields with a half-hour drive.
And what a drive. The steep, winding Mount Washington Road leads 19 miles (31 km) west from Hwy 19 in Courtenay to Mount Washington. Not that other winter play places don’t also have such roads. Most of them just don’t have the snowfall in such quantities. If you’re not into driving, shuttle buses to the mountain run from a number of hotels in Courtenay.
A great deal of Mt. Washington’s charm comes from its location. On a clear day, visitors look out across the Strait of Georgia at a panorama of the Sunshine Coast, from Powell River to Sechelt, with the peaks of the Coast Mountains rising in a long march behind. Closer at hand, the many peaks adorning Strathcona Provincial Park’s Forbidden Plateau region look suitably magnificent.
Highways 19 and 19A link the Comox Valley with southern Vancouver Island. Approaching from the north, Island Highway 19 links the Comox Valley and Campbell River with the northern half of Vancouver Island. The Comox Valley is a two-and-a-half hour drive north from Victoria, or a 75-minutes drive from the ferry terminals of Departure Bay and Duke Point near Nanaimo.
BC Ferries operates a route between Comox and Powell River on the British Columbia mainland. The Comox Valley Regional Airport is served by three major airlines, with 12 daily flights between Vancouver and Comox and direct flights from Calgary. Small aircraft and floatplanes land at the Courtenay Airpark near downtown Courtenay. Daily coach lines connect all parts of Vancouver Island with the Mainland, and local bus service is also available in Courtenay, Comox and Cumberland.
Ski Runs: A total of seven chairlifts, two of which are high-speed quads, service the mountain, which has a vertical rise of 1,657 feet (505 m). In total there are 60 alpine runs, 20 percent beginner, 35 percent intermediate, and 45 percent expert. A variety of equipment-rental and lesson packages are available.
The Eagle Express ski lift is guaranteed to put a smile on your face – the new quad chairlift will fly you to the top!
Snowshoe the twelve kilometres of mountain trails, the simplest way to exercise and access the great outdoors and backcountry in wintertime. Snowshoes and tow sleds are available from the cross-country rental shop.
Strathcona Provincial Park was created in 1911 and is the original park in the provincial system. At the time, the 544,000 acres (200,000 hectares) seemed like a fabulous amount of land to set aside. It still does, especially to those who like to hike in the middle of the rugged, heavily glaciated Vancouver Island Mountains. The park was created for those who seek adventure in remote wilderness surroundings. It may be easier to reach the trailheads today, but the routes still remain as challenging as ever. To really experience the beauty of this park, come prepared to explore the backcountry. A day-trip to Strathcona gets you into an unparalleled natural wonderland of vast forests, great lakes, alpine meadows and challenging peaks.
Mt. Washington’s cross-country ski trails extend from the private ski area out into Strathcona Provincial Park. Self-sufficient skiers intent on winter camping use these trails as starting points for exploring the Battleship Lake and Lake Helen MacKenzie region and beyond.
There’s an unhurried nature to cross-country skiing here. Families that have diverse interests with their group will appreciate the convenience of having both alpine and nordic facilities within a short walking distance of each other. While some members are riding the lifts into an alpine area laced with a variety of predominantly intermediate runs, others can be exercising in the quiet of the backcountry. Some of the best views of Mount Washington’s alpine terrain are from out in Paradise Meadows.
From the cozy, cross-country day lodge at Mount Washington, a series of loop trails offers workouts between 3 and 12 km long across the gentle terrain of Paradise Meadows. All told there are over 55 km of skating-style and double-track cross-country trails around Mount Washington. Intermediate and advanced nordic skiers can take advantage of a specially priced lift ticket for the Red Chair, from which you can descend into the upper West Meadows along 10 km of tracked trails.
Summer sees Mt. Washington come alive with mountain bikers and horseback riders, while adventurous sightseers and alpine hikers take the chair ride to a mile above sea level, just to get high. Summer offers visitors a chance to experience the beauty of Vancouver Island’s high alpine. On a clear day, the view from the top of Mt.Washington is breathtaking. To the southwest lie the Comox Glacier and Mt. Albert Edward. The view to the east includes the Strait of Georgia, the coastal mountain range and the towns of Courtenay, Comox, Cumberland and Campbell River.
There’s a catch to hiking in Strathcona Provincial Park via Mount Washington Resort and Forbidden Ski Area: depending on the amount of snowfall from the previous season, you must often wait until midsummer for the meadows to dry out before attempting these routes.
Hiking: Hiking trails in Forbidden Plateau begin from the Paradise Meadows trailhead on Mount Washington. Forbidden Plateau is located 14 miles (23 km) west of Hwy 19 in Courtenay, via the well-marked Mount Washington and Piercy Roads. These trails range from a short loop through Paradise Meadows (easy; about 3 miles/4.5 km return) to an extended 5-mile (8-km) loop around Lake Helen McKenzie and Battleship Lake. Much lengthier exploring is possible using Lake Helen Mackenzie and Kwai Lake as a base. The Helen McKenzie-Kwai Lake-Croteau Lake Loop (moderate; 5 miles/8 km return) leads to a series of subalpine lakes in the beautiful alpine amphitheatre of Forbidden Plateau. Farther afield, the Circlet Lake Trail (strenuous; 12 miles/19 km return) leads from Lake Helen McKenzie past Hairtrigger Lake to a wilderness campsite at Circlet Lake. Stunning views of the rugged nearby mountain peaks, as well as the unending string of Coast Mountains to the east on the Lower Mainland, reward hikers for their efforts. Die-hard enthusiasts can hike still farther from Circlet Lake to Moat Lake and Amphitheatre Lake, eventually reaching the summit of Mount Albert Edward.
Hiking Trails in Strathcona Provincial Park.
Mount Washington is home to a natural colony of the Vancouver Island Marmot, one of the world’s most critically endangered mammals. The Marmot Recovery Foundation is working toward saving this housecat-sized ground squirrel, whose world population now numbers less than 100, with only about 30 breeding females!
Lodging: Visitors to Mt. Washington can find off-hill accommodation in communities along the central east coast of Vancouver Island. Cumberland, Courtenay, Comox, Merville, Black Creek, Saratoga Beach, and Campbell River are all good places to return to and relax in after a day of skiing in the Mount Washington Ski Area.
Due east of Mt. Washington in the heart of some of the most beautiful farming landscape on Vancouver Island, is Courtenay, the urban centre of the Comox Valley and one of the fastest growing urban communities in Canada. Courtenay offers excellent shopping, accommodation and restaurants, and is home to many art galleries and artisan studios.
Adjacent to Courtenay is the charming seaside village of Comox, located on the peninsula that forms the Comox Harbour. Miles of sandy shore lead off both north and south of the quiet little coastal town.
Just as close to Mt Washington is Merville, a friendly hamlet at the northern end of the Comox Valley, named after the location in France where Canadians set up their initial field headquarters during World War I.