There is no Cypress Mountain around here – there is Cypress Bowl, part of Cypress Provincial Park

The ski resort in Cypress Provincial Park has branded itself Cypress Mountain. The name refers to this commercial enterprise, not to any real hill — and yet you’ll hear people talk about Cypress Mountain as if it is a geological feature. Click the link below to find out more about this.

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A few years ago I was host to an executive from a major firm in the Netherlands. His schedule allowed him a free day in Vancouver and I offered to take him anywhere he’d like. I suggested the Planetarium, the Vancouver Museum, the Museum of Anthropology, Science World, a drive up Howe Sound and so on. I happened to mention that we could walk in some old growth forest in the woods above West Vancouver.

You’d have thought that I had said let’s go and meet the real Mickey Mouse! That we could take a short drive up the hill and experience real old growth was, for him, as mystical as entering a fairy tale. It has been centuries since anyone could take a brief trip from his home to such a precious ecosystem.

As I parked the car in the huge lot that serves the ski hill in Cypress Bowl, and watched my friend’s reverence — and hunger — for this place that is so familiar to me, the words of Joni Mitchell’s song, Big Yellow Taxi were echoing in my head. The line that begins, “You don’t know what you’ve got ’till its gone…” And you know the rest.

Ooooh, bop bop bop

The bowl is an amazing place. A 20-minute drive on a two or three lane highway leads from the seaside suburb of West Vancouver to a high altitude valley that is surrounded by three mountains. This is Cypress Bowl.

Yes, there are mountains here. The highest, to the north of the bowl, is Mount Strachan (4769 ft. or 1454 m). BTW that is pronounced “Strawn.” There are ski lifts to the top of the sub-peak. To the west, Black Mountain (3992 ft. or 1217 m) is now being transformed for the 2010 Olympics. Hollyburn Mountain (4345 ft. or 1324 m) is to the east and has a nordic ski area on its gentle ridge.

Hollyburn also has a hikers’ path through the forest to the summit. When there is snow, it is more or less this route that I have used many times to learn how to ski in the backcountry. I have no interest in resort skiing, but, since I moved here from the east, I have learned to love this form of wilderness travel.

And until the climate changes, there is lots of snow up there all winter and well into spring. Snow, and easy access to high altitude old growth forest, make this place dramatically different from the local urban scene down at sea level.

My ski season really begins mid-February. The cherry trees are blooming all around Vancouver and filling the gutters with their pink snow. The people who like resort skiing are stowing their boards and beginning to work in their gardens. Now in the high country, the days are becoming mild and daylight lasts much longer. Above 2500 feet fresh wet snow still falls frequently. And I often have whole mountains to myself.

During a springtime drive up the hill from West Vancouver to Cypress Bowl, you can watch the season flow backwards. It is lush with new leaves on the trees lower down. I’ve seen recently awakened bears eating the greenery along the verge of the road. Higher up, the trees are barely budding; and when entering the bowl, it is still winter.

With the plans for the Olympics, there will be thousands of people who will discover this place. I hope that some will do more than experience the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat. It will be rewarding to take the time to learn about the special values of this Provincial Park.

Click this link for an interactive satellite map that shows the road from the Upper Level Highway in West Vancouver to Cypress Bowl. If you click on the word Map instead of Satellite, the green will show the extent of the Provincial Park. Zoom out to see that a long narrow tongue of the Park extends northward along the summits of the mountains that form the eastern wall of Howe Sound.

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4 Responses to “There is no Cypress Mountain around here – there is Cypress Bowl, part of Cypress Provincial Park”


  1. 1 Gerald February 25, 2009 at 11:49 pm

    Nice article. Good point about Cypress Mountain and wikipedia notes that there is a mountain near Coquitlam that actually has that name. There is also a Cypress Mountain in California (see http://www.blm.gov/ca/st/en/fo/bakersfield/Programs/planning/rmpcontents/rmpcypress.html)

    As far as Vancouver’s Cypress goes, I enjoy downhill skiing on the in bounds trails as well as occasiional cross country and snowshoeing in the Nordic area. For a safer wilderness experience for visitors, the snowshoe trails in the Nordic area are very good but the backcountry trails up Black Mountain are also good (and those are free). Hiking is usually good in late July to mid October but Lynn Canyon is quite nice then at that time too and you get some massive trees on those trails with an ecology centre and swaying suspension bridge as well.

  2. 2 Robert February 27, 2009 at 1:34 pm

    Gerald, thanks for the comment. There is also a spectacular mountain, Cypress Peak (2070m or 6800 ft), on the divide between the Whistler Highway and the Squamish River. I’ve been there on skis with a scramble up the last bit from the glacier to the summit. Link to pictures and story of a day-trip to Cypress Peak

  3. 3 Jess March 5, 2009 at 12:29 pm

    Hi Robert,

    Thanks for sharing with the world what we in Vancouver are so lucky to have right on our doorstep.

    Kudos on a great blog about this amazing area we live in.

    All the best,

    Jess
    Cypress Nordic Area

  4. 4 Robert March 5, 2009 at 1:35 pm

    Hi Jess. Thanks for dropping by. I learned how to telemark off-piste by falling down all aspects of the top of Hollyburn Mountain. Even now, when a trip up the Squamish River Road or the Whistler Highway is not possible, I am grateful for the snow on Hollyburn (as the many posts here show). I hope I’ll see you on the hill sometime. Best wishes.


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