Category Archives: Grouse Mountain

Just another day

In the morning, a dawn climb to Brockton Peak to watch the sun rise over the Coast Mountains before skiing back down.

Coast mountains at dawn

At lunchtime, the first #30daysofbiking ride in sunshine beneath cherry blossoms.

#30daysofbiking

In the evening, skiing through the sunset and into the floodlit night on Grouse.

Grouse sunset

And all of this was sandwiched around a regular day at work. Just another day in the best place on earth.

Third akneeversary

I wanted to say “Happy third birthday, Frankenknee,” but the truth is that I haven’t used that name for my left knee in a very long time. I’m so happy with all the places it’s taken me, and excited for all the mountains that are still to come.

Third akneeversary

Goat Mountain hike

This weekend we headed up to Grouse Mountain for a hike to Goat, the peak that’s visible between Grouse itself and the distinctive bumps of the Crown and Camel when you look up from Vancouver. It was really neat to explore some of the wilder backcountry behind Grouse, which is a far cry from the family-friendly activities near the Chalet.

Goat Mountain viewsWe went out with the Vancouver Adventure Hiking, Scrambling and Snowshoe Meetup group. These guys have been organizing some really great looking trips, but with a busy ski schedule in the winter it was hard to make the dates line up. This was a perfect opportunity to get to know the group: a short, easy hike, with enough variance in the conditions to make it interesting.

We set out on the route that Grouse converts to the Snowshoe Grind in the winter, along Whistler Water Way and then up the trail to Dam Mountain. I wasn’t sure how much snow would be remaining given the recent hot weather, but our group leader Dan had encouraged everyone to come prepared and we ran into the snowline a very short distance along the trail. I hadn’t been able to find our microspikes so I went for total overkill and threw in the crampons, along with my ice axe. The axe actually proved kind of useful but the snow was far too soft to justify the crampons.

Crown and CamelWe ate lunch at Little Goat peak, with spectacular views across to the Crown and Camel (a hike I’m lining up for a future date). Then it was back onto the snow to head for Goat itself. We’d been warned off the traverse above Kennedy Lake by a park ranger, but in fact when we got there the trail was snow-free and easy to manage. After that it was a brief scramble up to Goat Ridge, and an easy climb to the peak.

Goat PeakIt was a lovely day out with a really nice group of people, and an excellent opportunity to see just what lies beyond the ropes at Grouse in the summer. An interesting postscript came later that night, when I read on Facebook that NSR had just carried out a heli extraction of two hikers from Goat Ridge. Not expecting to find such deep snow, they’d lost the trail and called for help as darkness fell. It was a good reminder that even a relatively easy, fun hike can turn bad when you’re not prepared for the conditions.

Groomer days

Snow was in short supply the last little while. But the sun came out, the temperature inverted, and with some time off to use up before starting a new job I got in three glorious days on the groomers.

InukshukGroomers are absolutely not my number one choice for skiing these days, but it was fast and fun and more than anything else, it was good to get the time in on snow after another lengthy period out sick.

A few nights later I went up to Grouse, where the snow was icy boilerplate in spite of an inversion that had the temperature at 9 degrees even after dark. It was worth the terrible skiing to be up there at night, high above the blanket of cloud that pulsed white and orange and blue and purple with the lights of the city below.

There are good days skiing and great days skiing, but there are truly no bad days skiing. If you have planks on your feet and snow to slide on, you’re in a good place.

Inversion

It was probably a bit unfair to go and ski Grouse today after yesterday’s epic Baker trip. But I’m still on vacation, my lungs are finally feeling better, and all I wanted to do was ski.

Above the cloud

The snow was pretty mediocre. The Peak was cut into enormous bumps, and the runs lower down were icy and chunky. My quad muscles are in hiding after five months of illness, and went into shock when I asked them to ski back-to-back days. At 108 underfoot, the Rockers definitely weren’t going to let me slack off if I actually wanted to carve them on hardpack.

Nonetheless, I had fun. There was a temperature inversion and the top of the mountain basked in blue skies high above the clouds that blanketed the city. Fog drifted in and out of the lower runs, catching sunbeams and casting strange shadows amid the trees. I caught a couple of first runs on newly opened areas, including some sun-warmed powder on Tyee Chute and awkward bouncing over old iced-over tracks somewhere above the Olympic Chair.

The fine line between sun and cloud

When my quads eventually flaked out, I headed down. Beneath the cloud it was a typical grey, gloomy Vancouver winter’s day: a world away from the sunshine and snow high up on the mountain. It wasn’t the greatest day on skis, but I’m glad I made it out.

Slacker

After doing my very best to psych myself up for the start of summer, the reality is that since the slopes at Whistler closed I’ve been very slack. Part of it, I’m sure, was sadness at the end of winter. There’s never been a season when I had more driving me than this one, and I hadn’t had nearly enough of the backcountry adventures, the powder snow, the improvements in ability and technique that I was finally seeing in the last couple of months. Mostly, though, it’s that work is currently taking priority, and consequently there’s been much less time than I’m used to for chasing adventures.

I’ve made it out for a few easy spins on the road bike, but nothing more demanding than a quick two-hour circuit to Iona and back. We’ve been doing the Grind once a week, consistently clocking in around the 50-minute mark, but an hour doesn’t really feel like enough. We’ve been to the pool a few times, but the miserable June weather hasn’t been much of an inspiration for outdoor swimming.

I’m starting to feel antsy, pent-up, ready for something more. I need to start chiseling time out of the parts of the week that I’m not using for other things, ignoring the weather, and getting back out there.

Today we shrugged our shoulders at the hammering rain and hit the mountain for a drenching round trip on the Grind. The climb was a joy; in spite of the trail having turned into a waterfall, the rain was refreshing and my legs were feeling springy and ready for anything after five days without exercise on an out-of-town work trip. At the top, I wanted nothing more than to do the whole thing again.

Soggy Grouse Grind

With energy to spare, we made the mistake of deciding to hike down. Ignoring the fact that I’ve been told by my physiotherapist that this isn’t a very good idea, conditions were deteriorating by the minute with the rain pounding down and the trail growing increasingly wet and slippery. The light jackets we’d brought with us couldn’t cope with the downpour, and as we picked our way down through ankle-deep puddles and flowing water we weren’t able to move fast enough to keep ourselves warm. Just before the quarter mark I slipped on a root, twisted my left knee hard as I fell and it buckled underneath me, and came to an abrupt halt as I broke my fall by slamming my right shoulder into a tree trunk.

I only took a few minutes to recover from the pain, but the brief lack of movement took a toll and we both became very chilled. The final quarter was a shivery, wet mess, and when the trail finally ended we hotfooted it across the lake of a parking lot to the washrooms where we discovered that both our so-called waterproof backpacks had failed to live up to their reputation, and our dry clothes were soaked. (I had more than an inch of water pooled in the bottom of my bag.)

Drowned rat

Giving up on the idea of dry clothes, we ran (achy knees and all) back to the car, where we used our emergency foil blankets to protect the seats from our drenched garments. The windows quickly fogged to opacity, and I had to switch the heaters from blowing much-needed warm air at us to demisting at regular intervals as we drove toward the bridge. Each time I turned the vents away from us, I began shivering uncontrollably; my core temperature was clearly bottoming out. I sent a small prayer of thanks to my friend A (whose car I still have) for the heated seats, which I’m fairly sure saved us from incipient hypothermia.

In spite of the fact that this was a really stupid adventure, at least we got out there and did something and I feel a lot better for it. Now I just have to figure out how to find the time to get back out and do more over the next couple of months. It’s not going to be easy. For the time being, the best I can hope for is to be a dedicated weekend warrior.

Thirty days

It’s been a strange week. On Thursday I went up to Whistler and had a day that was a mix of fun and mediocre. After last time I was stoked to get back into the bowls, but although I arrived to bluebird sunshine the temperature was low and much of the alpine off piste was crusty and icy. I got some good runs in Sun Bowl early on and Rhapsody Bowl right before lunch, but In the afternoon the light went super flat and I eventually gave up and spent the last hour in the terrain park. In spite of our inauspicious parting of ways two years ago, it was a happy reunion. I’m still cautious, checking my speed carefully on the in-run to the jumps, but even after everything that happened I can’t get around how much I missed being in the air.

Yesterday I’d planned to go back to Whistler, but a niggling cold and the thought of it being even busier than Thursday were enough to change my mind. Instead I slept in for an extra couple of hours, then headed to Grouse under an unbroken blue sky. The sun was warm and the icy runs quickly softened and turned to perfect spring snow. After a couple of warm up laps I cruised the blacks and double blacks for a while, then gave in to temptation and went back to lapping the Peak and Expo as fast as I possibly could. Given the beautiful day the Olympic Chair was surprisingly quiet, and I had a blast jumping from a little lip down into Deliverance and then rocketing across the bumpy snow down Expo.

I’d originally planned to head home for lunch, but I was having so much fun that I stuck around until mid-afternoon. Once again, it was a great reminder of how lucky we are to have the North Shore mountains so close and accessible. I know there are days ( to be honest, more often than not) when I’d be cursing the limited vertical and jonesing for a peak to creek run, but when you just want to get out on snow you can’t beat having three ski hills right in your back yard.

Y2Play

I’ve come full circle on the North Shore mountains. It’s funny; when I lived in the UK I would have given my eye teeth to have a Grouse or Seymour within an hour’s drive. But with Whistler only an hour further on, I’ve done comparatively little skiing on the North Shore over the past few seasons.

Grouse’s Y2Play pass, however, was just too good a deal to pass up. $359 for unlimited skiing this season and next, plus a free ticket for a friend. I’ve already used my pass four times since I bought it two weeks ago. On Sunday J had to finish up a project in the morning, so I headed over for a couple of hours. It was pretty icy, but I had a lot of fun billygoating down the bumps on Purgatory, Blazes and Hades. I’m still not very elegant on moguls, but I’m finally starting to enjoy them.

On Monday night I took a friend up for a lesson, and while she learned to turn I skied fast laps from the Peak down Deliverance and Expo. A band of fog was wrapped around the upper part of the mountain, and the snow changed from icy at the top to soft and fun lower down. I love night skiing; there’s something so ethereal and otherworldly about being on a snow-covered mountain in the dark. I worked on just letting go and letting the skis run, and then hitting that perfect unison of body and ski in strong carved turns. I hope that these technique improvements are lasting, and not just a fluke on my last couple of outings.

I’m really happy to have the Y2Play pass. Grouse is so immediately accessible, and I’m already enjoying having the option of grabbing a couple of hours of skiing here and there when I can. In spite of the snow showers that have fallen on downtown Vancouver this week, spring is just around the corner and the season’s end is getting closer. I want to make the most of every day we have left.

Two years on

Today my friend B and I were supposed to be heading up to Red Heather to take advantage of 40cms of overnight storm snow. Everything went smoothly until a kilometre or so out of the chain up area, when we started losing purchase on the compact slush even with the chains and four wheel drive. While I was trying to coax our way over the steepest rise, the road grader suddenly appeared ahead of us. I had to reverse all the way back to the chain up zone with the grader looming over me, a situation not helped when the passenger side chain fell off the tire and wrapped itself around the suspension.

We set out a second time, and made it around the corner before the wheels started spinning on another steep section. At this point we decided to reverse to the corner, park, and skin the rest of the way up. When we got back around the corner we found a Honda Element that had attempted the drive without chains and become completely bogged down; the driver was spinning the wheels with a rather despairing expression, and rocking back and forth as though that might encourage his car out of the drift. With the aid of some other skiers whose vehicle was handling the conditions better, we were able to get the Element on its way back down the road. But that was when we noticed splashes of coolant underneath my truck.

We didn’t debate what to do for long. We were about 14k up an unpaved mountain road, and 5k above the snowline. Neither of us wanted to take a chance on finding the car devoid of antifreeze late in the day after a long hike. We headed slowly back down the road, dechained, and made our way to the Canadian Tire that has now rescued me from three separate breakdowns (the only three my truck has had in the four years I’ve owned it). I wasn’t sure whether to cheer or pull my hair out when 45 minutes of pressure testing revealed no leak in the coolant system. At this point, our best guess is that all the lurching around on the steep road caused coolant to slop out of the overflow as we came to a stop. Unfortunately by the time we got the diagnosis it was after 1pm, and too late to head back up to the trail.

By unanimous decision, we drove straight to Grouse to salvage what skiing we could from the day. It turned out to be a good plan. When we arrived the snow on south-facing slopes was still soft, the skies were blue, and we were able to get a few really good runs lapping the Peak, Tyee Chute and Expo. We did venture onto Blazes and Hades, but in the shade the bumps were solid ice and we chattered and scraped our way down. Tyee Chute was holding some gorgeous snow, and was the best run of the afternoon.

We only stayed for a few hours, but I was glad we made the stop. It was great to get the Praxis out on some regular groomers; I found myself having far more fun with them than I had on the icy day at Blackcomb. I tried to remember all the tips from Saturday’s lesson, and it really helped with skiing the big moguls on the Peak and kept me carving strongly on some of the scoured slopes lower down. I hit a few little bumps here and there, and it reminded me just how much the Praxis love being in the air. This is a ski that looks for jumps everywhere it goes.

It’s too bad the backcountry tour didn’t come off, but what mattered most was that I spent at least part of the day on snow. Because two years ago today, one mistimed jump in the Whistler terrain park brought my world crashing down around me and afterwards nothing was ever the same again. When it happened, all I could think of was the impact on my skiing. I didn’t realize that it would reshape my entire life. Do I wish it hadn’t happened? Of course. Do I regret the lessons I’ve learned because it did? Not for one second. And right now, I’m just so intensely grateful that I’m physically able to go out there and do the kind of things that I’ve been doing. I will never, ever take this for granted again.

Grouse

On Saturday J and I joined the swarms on Grouse. J practiced her snowboard skills on The Cut in unseasonably warm sunshine; I skied beside her until darkness fell, and then took a couple of very fast runs down Centennial, Expo, and a mogul-ridden Peak.

It was a great day for two reasons. The first was the beautiful sunshine and soft snow: it was a perfect bluebird day, more like April than February. The second, and far more important, was that J was with me on the mountain. It made me so happy that she was there; even more so that after a two year gap (thanks to my injury and recovery) she was controlling the board really well and carving beautiful clean lines across the snow.

I tend not to ski on the north shore all that much because Whistler is just a short drive further and provides so much more bang for the buck, but every now and then it’s good to be reminded how lucky we are to have these mountain playgrounds right in our back yard.