Vancouver Island is notorious for its mild winters. With an average “coldest” temperature of around -3 degrees Celsius, it puts the Canadian stereotype of igloos and icicles into complete question. At the same time, Vancouver Island winters aren’t just balmy days of sunshine. The coastal shores can see powerful wind storms and seemingly endless gray days. With what seems like most of the Island’s paradise pocketed in the summer, why on earth would anyone come visit in the depths of winter, and where would they go? As it turns out, there are plenty of places (with plenty of reasons) that make the cut for a winter get-away destination on Vancouver Island. Check it out!
Anyone familiar with the Comox Valley already knows why this pleasant, tri-town area is desirable in the winter: Mount Washington Alpine Resort. For anyone that adores a ski vacation, but not the crowds that go along with it, this is exactly what the doctor prescribed. While smaller than Whistler, Mount Washington still has enough terrain to fulfill any desire, but without the pack of people. From the double black diamond Outback – a thrill-seeker’s paradise of untouched glades, cruisy bowls and challenging drops – to the bunny hill, and loping slopes, days can be spent doing almost any kind of skiing you desire. Not to mention, they receive an average of 30+ feet of snow per season. Aside from the Alpine, there is a snow-tubing course, as well as the Nordic lodge, which features its own extensive network of cross-country and snowshoe trails.
While Mount Washington currently has a small “village” scene, the town of Courtenay is a short, 30-minute drive away. During the holidays, its quaint downtown is decked out with ribbons, bells and bows, which create an intoxicating holiday vibe. Plenty of delicious restaurants, local breweries, beautiful accommodation and fantastic boutique-type stores await.
For an even more low-key mountain holiday, Mount Cain, just outside of Campbell River, is another great option. Not only is it budget-friendly when compared to both Whistler and Mount Washington, but it still features 21 runs and 1499 vertical feet of terrain. Although it’s only open three-four days a week during the season – Friday, Saturday, Sunday, and the occasional Monday – its limitedness just adds to its exclusive vibe and quiet atmosphere. First lines of untouched powder are a feasible feat!
During the holiday season, Campbell River itself also sets a cheery Christmas mood. The highlight is a cozy Christmas Market held in the Maritime Heritage Centre the first three Sundays of December. Everything is home-made, home-grown, small-batch processed, or locally crafted. With a number of fantastic restaurants and breweries in town as well, there’s plenty to see and do, even in the winter.
Victoria is renown worldwide, especially as a summer destination. Endless beautiful blossoms, stunning seaside walks, downtown patios and ocean adventures are the first things that come to mind. However, there are still plenty of activities that make it a pleasant winter’s stay. Numerous festivals and events take place in the winter, including the Magic of Christmas at the Butchart Gardens, and the beautiful themed lights that take over the Parliament Buildings. There is, of course, Winter Wonderland in Centennial Square as well, with its downtown Ferris wheel, twinkling lights, live music and toasty holiday-themed drinks. A free, horse-drawn carriage ride is just the cherry on top.
The winter weather makes for the perfect excuse to explore the town’s cozy pubs and incredible restaurants. It also encourages visitors to spend the day immersed in the Royal BC Museum, or any of Victoria’s other, incredible galleries and museums. The Craigdarroch Castle puts on a great, one-man show of ‘A Christmas Carol’ and the IMAX boasts favourite holiday titles (some in 3D), such as the Polar Express. Not to mention, the entire city is embellished with holiday balls, bells, bows, ribbons and lights. It’s quite the sight!
Heading to the rainiest part of the Island during rainy season may seem counterintuitive, but the long drive to Ucluelet is definitely worth it. In fact, storm watching is one of the top things to do in Ucluelet BC and Tofino, and you can only do it in the winter! Safe on the rocky coast or pathway of the Wild Pacific Trail, you can watch as monster waves rise and break against the shores in an incredible display of Mother Nature. The Ucluelet Blowhole, a unique feature on the rugged coast, is another storm watching hotspot: just don’t forget your rain jacket.
Need some convincing? The town is serene compared to the summer crowds and the earthy Pacific Northwest vibe is at an all-time high. Wood fire stoves heat rooms and the rain drives people indoors and all together for board game days, potluck dinners and toasty drinks. Perhaps the best part for winter warriors, however, is the fact that accommodation, even of the luxury type, is close to half price to reflect the winter lull. Until March when the Pacific Rim Whale Festival takes over, the west coast of Vancouver Island is at its most intimate and most affordable.
Tofino BC, like Ucluelet, is located on the west coast of Vancouver Island, aka. The Wet Coast. Again, like Ucluelet, it is definitely worth a winter’s visit. Ask any local what their favourite time of year in Tofino is and they’re almost guaranteed to tell you winter. Why? Better waves, for one, and quieter beaches. The winds pick up to produce bigger swell with more power. With a winter wetsuit, the most avid surfers are good to go, and they no longer have to worry about crowds of beginners hanging out in the waters. On top of good waves, downtown Tofino is finally quiet and there are no longer sidewalk line-ups for the restaurants and cafes. Plus, that guilt-free, contagious atmosphere of staying cozy indoors also exists in Tofino. Better yet is that off-season pricing makes doing so very affordable. Those same luxury resorts and hotels are close to half-price, so you’re getting all those luxe perks at a manageable rate.
Tofino also has a few winter festivals that keep spirits high and bring everyone together. A favourite is Tofino Winterlights located in the Tofino Botanical Gardens. Decked out from late November to early January, the gardens are a brilliant display of warm lights and holiday spirit – a fun little pick me up for the season.
So, while the summer paradise element is great, there is so much more to Vancouver Island than just those four months of sunshine. Whether you want the fun and festivities of a bigger city, a dose of perfect powder to play in, or the intimacy of a remote and wild destination, winter on the Island is beckoning – rain or shine!
Contributed by: Laurissa Cebryk