This is winter on Vancouver’s North Shore

There’s an old saying that if you can see the North Shore from Vancouver, it’s about to rain, and if you can’t, it’s raining. Grey skies and incessant precipitation are typical of winter on the North Shore, part of Greater Vancouver separated by the Burrard Inlet. I grumble about the winter weather, but I’ve also learned to embrace it. With its unique geography and micro-climates, Vancouver’s North Shore offers a huge variety of outdoor activities. It’s one of the few places in the world where you can ski, hike, cycle, golf, and play in the ocean in winter—possibly all on the same day. And, when the sun does peek out, it’s glorious!

The North Shore encompasses the municipalities of North and West Vancouver; it is bounded on three sides by ocean and on the fourth by mountains. (There’s a map at the end.)

So, what do I mean when I say the North Shore gets lots of precipitation? Downtown Vancouver, on average, gets 1457 mm (57 in) of precipitation annually, most of it falling October through March. That’s a lot, but parts of the North Shore, where the clouds get trapped against the Coast Mountains, have annual precipitation of 2350 mm (92 in) or more. Near sea level, most falls as rain, but just a few hundred meters up, there is significant snowfall.

The photos below of North Shore “winter activities” were mostly taken over one week (January 2-9) and all within a 24 km (15 mi) driving distance from my home in Horseshoe Bay, West Vancouver. Don’t let all the sunny images fool you. I attempt to time my outings for the small windows of sun, or at least less rain. It doesn’t always work out, but that’s OK. And, I’ve learned that you can’t always wait for the rain to stop, otherwise you may never get outside.

Rainforest hiking

My go-to winter activity is hiking, or, as I like to call it, rainforest therapy. Despite the gloomy skies, the mosses and evergreen ferns provide vivid colour. Moisture is everywhere—on the mud-soaked trails, in the water droplets that cling delicately to the vegetation, and in the thundering waterfalls that are at their best this time of year. I’m not always motivated to leave my warm house, but once I’m out there, rainforest hikes (even the very wet ones) almost always invigorate me and elevate my mood.

A delicious by-product of my rainforest hikes is the mushrooms. Foraging is usually best in November, but the absence of hard frosts has kept the winter chanterelle (yellowfoot) mushrooms in relatively good condition. I crouch on the damp forest floor and pick until my hands lose dexterity due to the cold. It’s worth it. Nothing like chanterelles fried up in butter, cream and garlic!

Snow activities

For a total change of scenery, I leave my sea level home and drive to Cypress Mountain ski area at 900 m (2952 ft). In a mere 20 minutes, I’ve gone from dewy green moss to a deep blanket of snow. Cypress, along with Grouse Mountain and Mount Seymour, are the three North Shore mountains that offer downhill skiing, cross country skiing (Cypress only), and snowshoeing. These mountains get massive snow dumps. The average annual snowfall for Cypress is 655 cm (258 in).

My favourite activity is snowshoeing (though I often use microspikes, which are small steel spikes held together by chains that are slipped over boots). The foggy conditions in the photo below are common.

But sometimes, when I’m lucky, the skies open for a brilliant glimpse of blue. The photo below was taken at the same spot just three minutes later. Fog or blue skies, it doesn’t matter; the pristine whiteness makes me happy.

Every time I go to Cypress, I take countless photos of snow-laden trees. I love their whimsical shapes.

I never tire of the views south across the Burrard Inlet to downtown Vancouver and the views north and west over Howe Sound.

Golfing, cycling, swimming anyone?

On my way home from snowshoeing, I pass by Gleneagles Golf Course, a nine-hole neighbourhood course with great views to the snow capped peaks and the ocean. It was shut down for several months in spring due to COVID-19, but it is now open daily with adapted regulations. Golf is not my thing, but I find it cool that one can partake in this activity in the depth of Canadian winter, albeit not your typical one. Of course it’s only the most dedicated who play on drizzly 5°C (41°F) days (the average daytime temperature in January).

Just beyond the golf course, I spot cyclists at the Horseshoe Bay roundabout. They’re enjoying the West Vancouver section of Marine Drive, a hilly, curvy and very scenic stretch of road that hugs the coastline. It’s not just the roadies who are out in January, there’s also the teflon-tough mountain bikers who careen down muddy, lower-elevation trails.

Later that same day, I walk down to our local beach. Looks balmy doesn’t it? There’s a guy running into the water with the carefree gait of someone on a Hawaiian vacation. Reality check: The air temperature is 4°C (39°F) and the water temperature is 7°C (45°F). While there’s long been a small group of hardcore, cold weather swimmers (dressed in full wetsuits), this winter I’m seeing a surge in the number of people engaging in cold therapy—regular, brief immersion in frigid water. “It’s really good for you,” my neighbours tell me. “It’s so invigorating and helps boost your immune system.” Hmm…if you don’t have a jammer first, I think to myself. Winter swimming (on the North Shore) is not for me. I politely decline their invitations to join them.

Just this afternoon, I meet more neighbours with coats and fleece tops over their bathing suits on their way to the beach. They’ve been doing regular cold plunges since October. I’m impressed, but still not motivated.

My idea of immunity-boosting is relaxing in our cedar barrel sauna heated up to 80°C (176°F). It’s the perfect finale to a North Shore rainforest or snowy mountain excursion. I don’t follow it up with a plunge in the ocean, but I will do a brief sit in the rain or a cold(ish) shower.

For those unfamiliar with the convoluted Greater Vancouver geography, here’s a map to help you out.

Is this how you pictured January in Canada? Are you a fan of “typical” winter activities? Do you, or would you take part in cold therapy?

Categories: British Columbia, Canada | Tags: , , , , , , | 47 Comments

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47 thoughts on “This is winter on Vancouver’s North Shore

  1. I love love love that you can alternate between the snowy mountains and the lush rainforest. What an amazing place you live!

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  2. Pingback: Enjoying Winter on Vancouver’s North Shore - FitandFunNow.com

  3. Hi Caroline, I would love to try snowshoeing. I would definitely also enjoy the cycling but I am not interested in ‘cold therapy’ (I prefer the warm waters of South Florida). Years ago I visited Toronto, Edmonton, Calgary and Jasper National Park. It was the end of November and in Edmonton I saw people playing golf. It was drizzling and about 3C… Amazing! I had never seen people enjoying golf in such ‘terrible’ weather conditions – for the love of sport I guess. Another great article Caroline. Thanks for sharing.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’m with you on the craziness of playing golf in crappy weather. I see it all the time and shake my head. There is actually something called snow golf (yup…played in the snow).
      Tony, I would have taken you as a potential cold therapy fan! I was at the beach last weekend (hanging out in my winter woolies). It was a beautiful sunny day, but only hoovering around freezing. In my hour there, I saw at least 25 people go for a dip. Hardier than me, that’s for sure.
      I hope you get to try snowshoeing. It’s really just walking with a slightly wider stance. I love it!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Beautiful Places. I love it. ❤ ❤

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Wow, I am in love with your photos of snow-laden trees and those picture-perfect winter views. It’s exactly how I imagine Canada to look in January, and if I lived anywhere near Cypress Mountain, I would be up there every day enjoying skiing, snowshoeing, sledging, ice skating, playing ice hockey and drinking hot cocoa! I know that winters in Canada can be brutally cold, but the world seems so much calmer and quieter when it snows and when the trees are dressed in layers. Thanks for sharing and have a good day. As you’ve probably gathered by now – I adore winter and snow! Aiva 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’m also a snow lover Aiva. Growing up in Montreal, we had lots of it and I have such great memories of playing in the snow with my neighbourhood friends. It was a pain for my parents to shovel it all and to drive to work in poor conditions. Here in Vancouver, I don’t often have to deal with snow problems in the city, but I’m just a few minutes drive from a winter wonderland. I’m up at Cypress a lot (just got back from a wonderful snowshoe hike). It makes me immensely happy.

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  6. I have so often wanted to drop you a line, but never had the time. Thanks for all your beautiful posts and pictures; it’s a pleasure to see your blog.
    Blessings and greetings from Denmark

    Liked by 1 person

  7. wonderful post about wonderful Vancouver

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Oh my goodness, Caroline, there is absolutely NO way I will partake in cold water therapy no matter how much it will boost my immune system. A sauna is much more ‘my thing’. But hats off to anyone that tough and/or brave.

    I’m amazed at all the outdoor activities you can choose from, as well as the amount of rain you get each year. What a gorgeous part of the world you call home. I love all that snow. I’ve only ever experienced the odd, unseasonal appearance of snow, as I’ve never lived anywhere where it snows in winter, or at least not much, under normal circumstances.

    Well, enjoy all those mid-winter outdoor activities. Like you, I struggle to leave a warm house, but also never regret when I decide to do something active outdoors.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Oh good, another vote for NO way! I think I must be surrounded here by people with a different genetic makeup that enables them to withstand cold (or cold water at least). Like I said to Alison below, I even find the summer ocean water too cold to comfortably swim (the average mid-summer coastal surface water temp is 17°C). Enough stats; it’s cold!
      For most of my life, I’ve lived in places with snow on the ground November-March. It still seems odd to me that here at sea level Vancouver we rarely get snow that sticks. I’m really happy that I’ve got the mountains close by for my dose of snow.
      I hope you are adjusting to your new life in Portugal, Jolandi. It looks like you’ve landed in a beautiful spot for nature/outdoor activities, among many other things.

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      • I’m lucky that I have, Caroline. I love hiking and there are many opportunities in the area, so I’m in my element. I’m slowly but surely adjusting despite all the Covid restrictions and challenges.

        Wow, 17C is still freezing for water to swim in, according to me, at least. Perhaps I’m just not that big on swimming, but the only times I enjoy it is when the day time temperature exceeds about 38C (not sure what the water temperature would be then). Then, and only then, do I find it refreshing. 😉

        Liked by 1 person

  9. Amazing scenes. I never realised but obviously it’s not far from Vancouver to some serious mountains. and the forests seem magical!

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Fabulous post Caroline. Love your snow photos, and the wonderful shapes of the trees – like white hobgoblins.
    Nothing, but nothing would get me in that water! I won’t even go in the water in mid summer. That guy is nuts! Now you’re sauna – there’s an idea I can get behind.
    I had no idea Cypress got so much snow! And I remember it was so warm in Feb 2010 they had to make snow, and truck it in, to get enough of a cover for the Olympics. (Just BTW did you get to any of the Olympic figure skating?)
    Alison

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    • Thanks Alison! Cypress gets a ton of snow, though not all of it sticks due to warm temps and rain. Lack of snow coverage is not usually a problem in February, but unfortunately 2010 was unseasonably warm (such a shame). As for Olympic figure skating, we tried…sadly, no luck! We ended up getting tickets for speed skating, ski jumping and men’s hockey bronze medal. While I don’t follow any of these sports regularly (Mike is a huge hockey follower) we had a great time at these events. If you think ski jumping looks scary on TV, check it out live…OMG!
      I rarely swim in the ocean in summer. When I do, I always find it terribly cold. My son got into ocean swimming this summer and I accompanied him a few times with a wetsuit on. I’m amazed at all the people who seem unfazed by the cold.

      Liked by 1 person

  11. Gorgeous photos, I’m especially drawn to the winter scenes. It’s so great that you have so much variety even in the winter… had you not explained the timeline, I would have assumed these photos were from a mix of all 4 seasons!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Diana! Even though I regularly see golfers and cyclists here in winter, the idea for this post didn’t surface until my drive home from snowshoeing when I was all bundled up in my winter gear and then saw those folks doing more typical warm-weather activities. It hit me as quite surreal. When I saw the guy swimming, it was icing on the cake.

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  12. Interesting read and wonderful images, Caroline. Would love for you to send some of your rain our way. Your snow images are so inviting, too, as is your barrel sauna. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Mike Hohmann

    Beautiful Caroline. Thanks for posting!

    Liked by 1 person

  14. This is my first winter in 3 years I’m already tired of it. Even though Vancouver’s rain would probably drive me crazy, it looks so wonderful to have a green, mossy hike in January! Having said that I’m glad to at least be in the mountains. I love your pictures of the whimsical trees. We don’t get that as much in AB as in the wetter BC.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Lucky you guys for having escaped the winter the last three years. I can imagine it’s a bit of a shock to the system.
      It’s hard to know what’s worse, the rain here in Vancouver or the very cold temps you guys can get. But you’re right, it’s good to be in the mountains (rain, snow, whatever).

      Liked by 1 person

  15. Wonderful post! You live in Paradise. We visited the Vancouver area a few times when we lived in Portland Oregon. So pristine!
    57 inches would be considered a dry spell in our previous home of Boquete, Panama. In 2020 they received 19 feet of rain…yes 19 feet! And that was from March to December!

    Best wishes for a healthy and adventurous New Year!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Wow! 19 ft is a lot of rain! With that much rain, and a tropical climate, I imagine the vegetation must go crazy. Even here, I’m astounded how fast things grow.
      We are very happy in Vancouver, but there are so many wonderful places to live. We were really impressed with Portland when we visited for a short bit a few years ago.
      Thanks! All the best to you guys in 2021!

      Like

  16. Wow… its so beautiful!

    Liked by 1 person

  17. I guess I kind of pictured January in your part of Canada like this, but I would not have imagined such a range of activities that could be done mid-winter. Lucky you! (And you’re game; part of being lucky is being willing to get out there and at least try, no matter the weather!) Your variations in topography are what I envy; here in the coastal, nearly tropical part of Texas, we have no elevation and almost no chance of snow, which I enjoy for … well, a few days each winter! We are considering a move to the Hill Country in our state, which would relieve a bit of the super humid heat and add some cozy nights in the hillier terrain but still keep us in a warm place overall. So many things to think about although we, too, are feeling happy we had lots of outdoor opportunities during the past year.

    And a big no to whether I would take part in cold therapy! I know it has always been, and is now a very buzzy concept, to do ice and other cold plunges for health reasons, but it is not for me. I like a bracing cold while doing an activity like skiing or hiking, but cold just for the sake of cold, in a state of undress no less, is a non-starter for this warmth-lover!

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    • The variation in topography is indeed awesome. Mike is originally from Saskatchewan (endless prairie) and I spent most of my life in in eastern Canada, which has hills, but nothing like the ones here. Neither of us spent much time around water in our earlier days. So, to have high mountains and forest and ocean still feels like a novelty, even after 20 years here!
      I’ve never been to Texas but I know it’s a huge state. I recall you writing about some lovely coastal areas. How far is Hill Country from Houston? Good luck with your decision making. Deciding about a move is not easy.
      I’m glad I’m not the only one who says no to cold therapy. I think some of my neighbours find me a bit wimpy. I can live with that!

      Liked by 1 person

  18. Winter on Vancouver’s North Shore looks lovely. Or should I say, it looks lovely when it isn’t raining? But you’re right, sometimes you can’t just sit around and wait for sunny skies otherwise you might be waiting around for a while. The one benefit to all that precipitation is that it can transform the forest into a fairy tale with all that moss. Your neighbours are quite brave to take the polar plunge. Not sure I’d be brave enough to try that. P.S. I’m a huge fan of your sauna.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I think with all the rain, we appreciate the sun all the more.It’s quite funny to see so many of my neighbours emerge from their houses for brief walks as soon as there’s a little break from the rain. Even after living here for 20 years I’m still amazed at how all our rain transforms the forest into a fairy tale!
      We love our sauna and it gets tons of use…got it from a company in Winnipeg.

      Liked by 1 person

  19. “You can’t always wait for the rain to stop, otherwise you may never get outside.” I should remember what you say from now on because I’m a kind of person who tends to wait for the weather to be nice and perfect to go outside and explore. Some places can be more atmospheric under not-so-ideal conditions, I reckon. Rainforest therapy really is invigorating, but I have to agree with you about dipping ourselves in cold water. It’s probably fun seeing people do it, but it’s not something I’m too keen on trying myself. Walking in the forest and picking up mushrooms sound a lot more fun!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hey Bama! It has taken me quite some time to embrace getting outside in crappy weather. A lot of credit goes to an intrepid neighbour and hiking buddy who I can always count on for company, even in the worst conditions. She is also the one who has got me into mushroom picking. It is definitely fun watching people plunge into the ocean at this time of year (I just hope I’m never called on to rescue anyone!).

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  20. “Rainforest therapy” — you’ve invented a terrific term. It’s amazing that a major city is so close to vast natural beauty.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I can’t take full credit Neil. I believe forest therapy is an adaptation of a Japanese term that extolls the healing benefits of time spent in the forest (the rainforest is extra special though😉). I’m feeling pretty lucky about living in Vancouver, and the pandemic has reinforced that.

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  21. Great post and photos!! We have the same saying here too about whether you can see the sea 😉

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