VANCOUVER, B.C. —- I’m swooping down the front of Grouse Mountain, following the frosted white curves of one of British Columbia’s most picturesque ski runs.
The rooftops of downtown Vancouver unfold far below, and beyond that ships glisten on a sparkly inlet of the Pacific Ocean.
Or at least I think they do.
Unhappily for me, we’re socked in today, and instead of feasting my eyes on one of North America’s best views from a ski run, I’m lost in a cloud, tiny swirls of mist rising off my elbows at every turn.
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I’ll have to satisfy myself with the photographs hanging in the on-mountain chalet, where the locals are fueling up with steaming plates of poutine, a Canadian specialty that looks suspiciously like a mound of French fries topped with brown gravy and white cheddar cheese curds. (And if that doesn’t propel you out the door and onto your skis, I don’t know what will.)
The run with the view is known as The Cut, and it’s Grouse Mountain’s most famous trail. It alone makes the trip worth the while. Even better, it’s rated green on the difficulty scale, so most beginners will have no problem negotiating the slope.
As long as they can see where they are going, which is my problem now.
It’s oddly quiet inside this slightly eerie grayish-white puff of a cloud bank, which looks like steam exhaled from a dragon’s nostrils. Every now and then another skier pops into view, a neon-clad visual checkpoint to remind me I’m not adrift like a helium balloon 20,000 feet in the sky.
Most skiers come to this corner of British Columbia to bury themselves in snow at Whistler-Blackcomb, the biggest ski resort on this side of the planet. And that’s what we came for, too. But we tacked on a few extra nights in Vancouver, so we could explore that metropolis and sample a few runs here in the North Shore Mountains.
Grouse Mountain is tiny by comparison. Whistler-Blackcomb, two hours north by car, boasts more than 8,000 acres of terrain and 5,000 feet of vertical. Grouse checks in with about 200 acres of terrain and about 1,300 feet of vertical.
But this place is special.
Grouse, which opened as a resort in 1926, is just a 20-minute trip from downtown Vancouver. From our hotel, we took public transit, hauling our skis all the way. We bumped into lots of locals doing the same thing. The hour-and-a-half voyage included a quick stint on a rapid transit train, a ride on a ferry called the Seabus, then a regular bus that hauled us to the base of Grouse Mountain.
There we paid our admission and hopped the Skyride tram for a scenic ride up the mountain. We disembarked at an elevation of 3,700 feet, a quaint whitewashed world of winter fun spread out at our toes.
Undaunted by the fog, we strapped on skis and swooshed into the murk. While The Cut is fine for beginners, the mountain’s four lifts whisk skiers to mostly intermediate terrain, with a few short but gnarly expert trails tossed in the mix. Fourteen of the mountain’s 26 marked runs — including The Cut — are lighted, and supposedly the views are best in those glittery moments.
Even if you’re not into downhill skiing, Grouse Mountain makes a charming family destination.
A sleigh ride and access to a small ice-skating pond are included with mountain admission. Snowshoeing is popular, too, and endurance nuts can measure their fitness against others by running the 2.6-mile Snowshoe Grind for time.
If that wears you out just thinking about it, head to the Eye of the Wind, the world’s only wind turbine outfitted with a glass-enclosed viewing pod. Tourists can ride to the top of the tower, where they peer beyond huge spinning blades just 10 feet away to the city below.
The fog can’t ruin a good movie, so before we left we stepped indoors at the Theatre in the Sky. There we caught two flicks — “Extremely Wild,” the story of two orphaned grizzly bears that now live at the Grouse Mountain Refuge for Endangered Wildlife, and “Born to Fly,” a documentary about British Columbia from an eagle’s perspective. Both are excellent.
Then we headed back down and resumed our sampler platter of Canadian mass transit. Just think — we traveled by foot, tram, ski, boat, bus, ski lift and train all in one day.
If you go: The Skyride operates daily, departing every 15 minutes between 9 a.m. and 10 p.m. in winter months. Admission, which includes the Skyride, a sleigh ride, ice skating and Theater in the Sky, is $39.95 for adults (discounts for seniors, youth and children).
Lift tickets, which include mountain admission plus access to the mountain’s four ski lifts, are $58 for adults (discounts for seniors, youth and children.) Entry to the Eye of the Wind view pod is $15 for adults; guided tours are $19.95 for adults.