Friday night found me on Cypress Mountain with two girlfriends, taking a snowshoe tour through the forest to a cheese and chocolate fondue. If that sounds like too many good things together, it is. Snowshoes. Mountains. Girlfriends. Cheese fondue. Chocolate. Yep. It was awesome.
It was also exactly what I needed at the end of a long day—a long week. I’d been looking forward to this snowshoe tour all winter (ever since applying to become a Healthy Family Expo blog ambassador again). Then the tour got postponed once, and twice, because Hollyburn Lodge wasn’t ready. Finally, the lodge was open for fondues—and I had a babysitter crisis. I have only one babysitter I can call on, making it hard to get out very often without kids.
Then my friend mentioned that her kids were with their dad for the weekend. Immediately I asked my husband if he’d watch our girls so I could go snowshoeing. My friend had never been snowshoeing before and was eager to try. Next I worried that the snowshoe tour would fill up before we could get our tickets. Tours only run on Fridays and Saturdays, and end on March 26 this year, so I was sure everyone in Vancouver must be heading for Cypress. (If you aren’t, you should be!)
Thankfully, there was space available on Friday’s tour. At 5 pm, I left my youngest two girls crying as I dashed out the door. Cue the mom guilt, which I quickly shoved down, telling myself they’d be fine with Daddy. I’m sure they stop crying as soon as I leave (isn’t it always just a show for Mommy?). I managed not to get a speeding ticket on my way across Vancouver (just barely) and arrived just on time for the snowshoe tour.
The nice thing about snowshoeing in March (instead of January) is that it was still light out when we began our tour. Our guide, Paul, led eleven of us crunching off across the snow toward the forest. He paused to let us admire the view and the sunset, and to explain the names of the mountains around us. (I learned there is no Cypress Mountain; the three mountains have other names, and surround Cypress Bowl, named for the tree which makes up most of the forest there.)
Photos barely do the view any justice. You can’t breathe the fresh, cold air or appreciate the crisp, new snow or hear the downhill skiers whizzing past on the track to the left. Just under the pink sunset is the ocean, blending with the snow in the evening dusk. The lodge lights were glowing with a homey warmth, as if inviting us back from the woods before we’d even left.
If snowshoes make you think of beaver-tailed wooden contraptions, think again. That’s what I grew up snowshoeing on in farmer’s fields in Alberta. Here in the mountains, however, our snowshoes are narrower and have crampons on the bottom for going up and down hills and gripping the icier snow. The snowshoes do add a bit of weight to your feet, but they are still easy to walk in, especially as we got into the deeper snow between the trees.
2017 has been a good snow year for the mountains in Vancouver. Paul told us how much fresh snow the mountain had received just this week. There were hills of fluffy snow all along the snowshoe tour. Even with tracks running all directions through the forest, there was still plenty of pure, white snow.
On the way to Hollyburn Lodge, Paul stopped us to play a game of huckle buckle and tell us more about the local plants. He had a great sense of humour—and a great sense of direction. I have absolutely no sense of direction in Vancouver (I keep reminding myself mountains are north, not west) and even less up on the mountain in the trees. While the snowshoe trails are clearly marked with poles and signs, Paul led us off through the trees on our own trails. It was fun, but I was happy to follow him and avoid getting lost.
Finally, we saw the lights of Hollyburn Lodge twinkling through the trees. We left our snowshoes outside and tramped inside the newly updated lodge. I haven’t visited the previous lodge, but I loved the homey, old-fashioned feeling of the new lodge. There was plenty of room to sit at the wooden chairs and tables around the lodge. Snowshoes and skis decorated the walls, along with black-and-white photos showing the history of Cypress Mountain.
One area of the lodge was reserved for snowshoe tours. Paul switched hats from guide to waiter, and began bringing out the food. First up, we got hot apple cider (and wine or beer for those who didn’t dash out the door with only their driver’s licenses in their pockets). Then we had a lovely fresh salad. Finally, the part we’d been waiting for: the cheese fondue.
It was at this point I got busy eating and stopped taking pictures. The eleven of us had three fondue pots between us and more food than we could eat. There was roasted potatoes, lightly steamed vegetables, homemade bread, and meatballs to dip in the bubbling cheese. My friends and I did our best, but barely finished half the food.
After clearing the cheese fondue, Paul brought out the chocolate fondue. The cheese fondue had been so good I’d forgotten we had a third course to the meal. Our bowl of warm chocolate came with a huge plate loaded with clementine oranges, strawberries, marshmallows, banana bread, apples, and bananas. And because my friend and I had won the game of huckle buckle, we also got a rice krispies square (which, by the way, is scrumptious when dipped in warm chocolate).
When we were so stuffed we could barely waddle, Paul cleared our table and led us back out into the snow. He offered us the option of taking the long route back to the parking lot, and then led us back along the short cut. Again, the quiet serenity of the forest soaked around us. A full moon shone overhead.
Back at the parking lot, we said goodbyes to our group and Paul, and returned our snowshoes. Instead of feeling exhausted after my trek through the woods, I felt relaxed and re-energized. A night out with my girlfriends on the mountain was just what this tired, busy mama needed.
If you like snowshoeing or cheese and chocolate fondues, I recommend getting up to Cypress soon. As I mentioned, snowshoe tours end on March 26. Our guide let us know Friday nights are usually quiet on Cypress. If you don’t make it up there this year, watch for opening details next year! And make sure you save room for a big supper after your snowshoe tour.