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
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.
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.
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.
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 the Sunshine Coast
Mountain Biking the Chilcotins
Learn how to pack for a multi-day mountain bike trip here.
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