Virtually all my favourite travel spots in the world combine mountains and water and Vancouver just has it all. Located on the edge of the Pacific, surrounded by the Coastal Mountain Range, Vancouver is a scenic dream. Just about 15 minutes from downtown Vancouver you can enjoy wonderful vistas over the city all the way south to the Olympic Mountains in Washington State – Grouse Mountain is the “Peak of Vancouver” and provides the best viewpoints of the area as well as a host of year-round activities.
Having been born in the Alps, I love the mountains and my recent trip to Vancouver offered me a chance to satisfy my cravings for altitude. I had a chance to spend an entire afternoon on Grouse Mountain and described my experiences, including the Lumberjack Show and the Birds in Motion demonstration in this article. To provide more comprehensive information about Grouse Mountain and all its facilities, here is an interview with Chris Dagenais, PR & Communications Manager for Grouse Mountain:
1) Please tell us more about Grouse Mountain. Where is it located in relation to Downtown Vancouver? How do I get there? What makes it such a unique location?
Grouse Mountain is located on Vancouver’s scenic North Shore, just 15 minutes from downtown. We are easily accessed via the famous Lion’s Gate Bridge from Georgia Street in Vancouver and then by following signs to North Vancouver via Capilano Road. We are also accessible via public transportation from the Sea Bus Terminal. Busses 232 and 236 both come to Grouse Mountain.
View from the Skyride, the tram up to the mountain
We are a unique location for a host of reasons, not the least of which is that we are on the fringe of wilderness and civilization. Where else in the world can you escape into a pristine alpine wilderness just 15 minutes from a major metropolitan centre? We have captured the imaginations of locals and visitors for over 110 years with our natural beauty and exhilarating activities. These latter are a big factor in our success as well. Just consider the range of engaging pursuits: skiing, snowboarding, sleighrides, ice skating, snowshoeing, hiking, wildlife encounters, falconry demonstrations, scenic chair rides, theatre shows, ranger talks, dining, shopping, and, of course, the stunning views. Not many destinations can boast that sort of variety.
In addition, we have become an integral member of the community over the decades. Everyone seems to have a Grouse Mountain story, whether this place gave them their first job or they carved their first turns on our runs. People turn to us for recreation and to see what is developing in our industry. We have been the site of some of Vancouver’s most memorable, historical events, and have therefore developed a real connection with our city.
2) Grouse Mountain history as an attraction dates back to the 1920. Please tell us more about how this tourist destination has evolved over the last 80 years.
The first hikers to Grouse Mountain (c. 1894) embarked on a three day journey to the summit. Obviously, the desire to connect with the mountain was already strong in those days. As we have developed over the decades, we have made the ascent easier, whether with the use of North America’s first double chair lift, the continent’s largest aerial tram system or the challenging trails to the top.
Lumberjack sculptures on the mountain
This ease-of-access facilitated the biggest shift in our mountain’s focus, which began in 1989, when the company went private. The unified vision of one local family has allowed us to expand our repertoire to include non-winter months, now our busiest! We are a draw for locals and tourists alike, earning the distinction of Vancouver’s most visited 4-season attraction. We have now successfully evolved from a popular local ski hill to the hottest spot in town!
The host of celebrities that have visited our facilities have only helped to solidify our place as a must-see attraction (Sir Winston Churchill, Pierre Elliott Trudeau, Clint Eastwood, Cuba Gooding Jr., Alanis Morrissette, etc)
3) Grouse Mountain is a major ski centre just a few minutes from Downtown Vancouver. Please tell us about the winter sport possibilities. How long is the season? What is the vertical drop? How many runs are there?
Skiing and snowboarding at Grouse Mountain are so popular, in part, due to how easy it is to get to world-class terrain. After work or school, thousands take advantage of our scenic floodlit runs. We actually have the largest passholder base in North America! (these are primarily our locals)
We feature 25 runs, 40% beginner, 40% intermediate, 20% advanced. Our vertical drop is approx. 1500 feet. The season typically runs from early December to mid April.
4) Of course Grouse Mountain is also a major summer time attraction for active travellers. What type of sports activities are available at Grouse in the summer?
Our summer season is easily our busiest, with a nice mix of local and international visitors. While the view and the Skyride are often the initial draw, the diversity of activities is what truly leave people with lasting memories. Sip a frosty beverage on a mountaintop patio, or get close enough to a grizzly bear to hear it breath, there’s bound to be something for everyone.
5) What educational and wildlife preservation facilities are available on Grouse Mountain?
The Grouse Mountain Refuge for Endangered Wildlife is a research, education and conservation facility that is currently giving a second chance at life to 2 orphaned grizzly bear cubs and 3 adult gray wolves. We are looking to develop a viable protocol for the rehabilitation and re-release of orphaned grizzlies, as currently no such protocol exists (it is the practice in our province to destroy orphaned bears).
In the four years of its operation, the Refuge has hosted millions of visitors who have learned about the challenges faced by the bears (through ranger talks and on-site signage). In addition, over 30,000 local school children have participated in our Adventures in Education programs, which are specifically designed to enhance the existing public school curriculum.
Majestic Douglas firs on the mountain
6) Please tell us about the Hiwus Feasthouse and the aboriginal tourism opportunities on Grouse Mountain.
Built in 1997 with the input and approval of tribal elders, the hiwus feasthouse and cultural centre (intentionally in lower case) is an authentic cedar longhouse that is home to First Nations culture. Coast Salish peoples operate the facility and offer school children and larger groups the chance to experience traditional First Nations culture through a program of song, dance, legends and cuisine.
7) What entertainment and shopping options await on top of the Mountain?
Grouse Mountain is home to two retail shops, ranging in content from high-performance technical athletic apparel to unique keepsakes representing our province. Our Theatre in the Sky is Canada’s first high-definition video cinema. Born to Fly, shown on the top of every hour, is a gorgeous scenic aerial overview of south-western British Columbia from and eagle’s perspective; not to be missed!
8) Please tell us about the dining options on top of Grouse Mountain?
Grouse Mountain features award-winning cuisine. Our acclaimed culinary team provides a range of dining options across numerous venues. The Observatory is the resort’s flagship venue and serves progressive West Coast cuisine in one of the most stunning venues in the province. Neighbouring Altitudes Bistro features a medley of the flavours and cultural influences that make BC cuisine so famous and boasts one of the best patios anywhere. Lupins Cafe and Rusty Rail Outdoor BBQ round out the selections.
Patio on Grouse Mountain
9) You also offer Helicopter Tours on Grouse Mountain. Please tell us more about this adventurous experience.
We are proud to work with Helijet Airways to showcase the majesty of our natural surroundings through helicopter tours. Departing from our mountaintop helipad, visitors can choose from a variety of flight options that will leave them truly speechless.
Thank you, Chris, for giving us more details about Grouse Mountains and all its facilities. I hope one day that I’ll get a chance to explore Vancouver and the mountain in the winter as well to see what it feels like to go skiing looking down on one of the West Coast’s most beautiful cities.