Hornby Escape Hatch: Life is Better with Options

Snow doesn’t often make an appearance on Hornby but when it does the island takes on an other-worldly appearance worth every moment of numb fingers and toes.

Living in a part of the world where a matter of metres can be the difference between winter and spring, the weather can play with your emotions and tease you into insanity. Here in the Coast Mountains we enjoy the diversity of being able to be knee-deep in snow one day and paddling around the ocean the next. But the flip side of that convenience is the cruel reality of rain where you want snow and snow where you don’t even really want rain.

by Steve Storey   ::   photography by Justa Jeskova

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These inquisitive guys are more bark than bite. Big, loud, and obnoxious on land, they transform into gentle giants with the agility of a fighter jet once in the water.

In a way, this creates a need to broaden our scope and talents and learn to play with what the weather is offering. A sub-par ski season in the mountains beckoned us to search beyond our wintery borders. A friend suggested checking out Hornby Island in the off-season. With promises of lush green forests with ribbons of moss-fringed single track and the opportunity to swim with sea lions, our winter escape plan set itself in motion.


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Left: One of the unique geological features of Mount Geoffrey, the escarpment. It runs along the west side of the island with a trail flanking its entirety offering up views along the way and an opportunity to ride among the arbutus trees.

Located off the East Coast of Vancouver Island, Hornby Island is best known as a summer destination. In the warmer months its population swells four fold as people come for the beaches and myriad of ocean themed activities. But the winter months offer up grippy mountain bike trails scarcely touched by snow, empty beaches and waters teeming with sea lions. A chilled-out island experience was just another perk of trading a peak season winter weekend in Whistler for a shoulder season experience on Hornby.


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Right: Mountain biker, free diver, sea lion whisperer, and the inspiration behind our winter escape, Galyn Franklin. He’s spent years on Hornby dialling in the trail network and more recently, free diving with the sea lions. He may be the first free-diver on Hornby to jump in the water with the playful giants. After seeing photos of his submarine exploits a few years ago I expressed interest in tagging along. He suggested bringing the bikes and checking out the local trails too. He thrives in the outdoors and embodies diversity when it comes to taking advantage of everything coastal BC has to offer.

Despite being only about 100 kilometres west of Squamish, getting to Hornby requires three ferry rides from the lower mainland. The island has seen most of its original old growth forest logged, but small sections have been preserved including an area in Helliwell Provincial Park.  Garry oak and Douglas fir dominate the protected area on the edge of the sea which is home to hundreds of sea lions in the winter. Scraggly Arbutus and dead trees provide roosts for the large eagle population next to the many cliffs formed by years of ocean erosion. To the west of Helliwell is Mount Geoffrey Regional Nature Park where the area’s mountain bike trails are situated.  At an elevation of 330 metres above sea level, it’s the highest point on the island offering views of surrounding gulf islands, Vancouver Island, and mainland BC.


The mountain bike trails of Hornby Island offer up their own unique flavour. Break bumps are non existent, there is almost always perfect traction, and its trails are some of the best all-mountain flow riding you’ll find anywhere in the world.

An oft used phrase, ‘if variety is the spice of life, diversity is the main course,’ rings especially true here. Within a few hours travel from our home in Whistler we have access to a spectacular range of eco-systems, weather, and playgrounds. Our extended backyard makes for a perfect winter escape (or at least a new winter wonderland.)


Check out our definitive guide to mountain biking B.C.’s South Coast:

Mountain Biking B.C.’s South Coast: Howe Sound

Mountain Biking Vancouver’s North Shore

Mountain Biking in Squamish

Mountain Biking the Sunshine Coast

Mountain Biking in Whistler

Mountain Biking the Chilcotins

Learn how to pack for a multi-day mountain bike trip here.

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