Vancouver Island, British Columbia is one of few places in the world where you can attainably go surfing and skiing or snowboarding on the same trip—even on the same day, if you are dedicated enough.
Since moving to the West Coast of the island a few years back, I had been eager to do a trip combining the two sports, and finally made it happen with my friends Caley Vanular and Nathaniel Atakora last winter.
I go skiing quite often, but have only been surfing a handful of times, and as it is trying a new sport, it was a humbling experience. Regardless of your abilities, this sort of trip is a great way to experience the diversity of the island.
If you’re also looking to combine the two activities into one trip, the ideal time to go is between December and April. In order to help you plan and make the most of your trip, here are some tips and recommendations.
If you’re starting from Vancouver, there are two ways of getting across the Strait of Georgia over to the island: you can either take your vehicle on a ferry or catch a float plane straight from downtown and rent a car when you land.
If you opt for the ferry, the most direct route is from Horseshoe Bay or Tsawwassen to Nanaimo, however, on this trip we started in the town of Gibsons and opted for the longer but more scenic route via the Sunshine Coast—Gibsons to Powell River to Comox.
Once you’ve arrived on the island, you can either stay at a lodge at Mount Washington Alpine Resort or in the nearby town of Courtenay, BC. If you’re into karaoke, there are a few bars in town that offer the opportunity to share your talents with the locals.
*Travel Tip: If you’re catching a ferry on the weekend, arrive early (at least one hour before your sailing time) or make a reservation—it books up fast.*
Recommended Gear: Backcountry All Around 60L Duffel
Snowboarding and Skiing at Mount Washington Alpine Resort
On the east side of the island, nestled between Strathcona Park and the Pacific Ocean, lies Mount Washington Alpine Resort, situated in one of the most incredible coastal alpine settings on the continent. The mountain receives a legendary amount of snow—over 10 meters annually on average.
Mount Washington has six lifts that access 1,700 acres and 505 vertical meters of alpine terrain. If you’re new to skiing/snowboarding or want to improve your skills, you can take a lesson and rent gear directly from the resort. It was my first time there and my expectations were well exceeded!
*Travel Tip: Make sure you have winter tires or chains, the road in to the resort can be challenging in winter conditions, especially if you don’t have 4WD.*
Surfing in Tofino
The ~3.5-hour drive from the resort to Tofino takes you on a rollercoaster-like ride through old growth forests, up and over snowy mountain passes and eventually snaking along the Pacific Ocean to the little coastal community at the end of the highway.
Tofino is a small, relaxed town on the West Coast of the island. Here you’ll find rugged beaches, vibrant rainforests, abundant wildlife, fierce storms, and a warm community of cold-water surfers. A thick hooded wetsuit (5/4) along with gloves and boots is definitely required, although the natural beauty of where you’re surfing helps keep your mind off the cold—at least a little.
If you’re new to surfing you can take lessons and rent gear in town. I’ve heard great things about Surf Sisters and Pacific Surf Co.
There are plenty of places to stay in Tofino depending on your budget, but one of my favorites is Ocean Village, which is on the outskirts of town. When you have some downtime, be sure to check out the abundance of shops and galleries of the talented local artists and explore the nearby beaches in Pacific Rim National Park.
Before you retrace your steps back to the ferry terminal in Nanaimo, make a stop at Tacofino and grab a bite for the road—you won’t regret it.
*Travel Tip: Leave plenty of time for traffic and construction on the drive back if you want to make your ferry on time—it’s a busy and slow going single-lane highway.*
*Recommended Gear: Filson Dry Large Duffel Bag*
You’ll see that I have added links to each product, if you do find yourself in the market to purchase I would really appreciate it if you did so directly via the link, a small percentage from that sale that will help fund the packup app and it’s at no extra cost to you! Think of it as a thank you or a tip for putting this blog post together.