I grew up riding at Mount Washington Alpine Resort just outside of Courtenay, British Columbia. But since those first years shredding the hand crafted u-ditch big changes have happened at the biggest resort on Vancouver Island. Today I had the chance to become re-acquainted with the mountain where I first strapped in fifteen years ago.
It was interesting to return after a prolonged hiatus. What used to be a small, chili-and-a-bun style warming hut has been replaced with a new timber framed lodge and in place of the old triple chair was a high speed six pack running right up into the old pow stash below west basin. Nobody’s hitch hiking at the bottom of the mountain anymore and a stretch hummer was parked in the VIP section at the front of the parking lot. But the snow was just as deep as it used to be. And, with a 230 centimeter (90 inch) base the backcountry was firing-Mount Washington is in full winter operation.
In recent years, change has done the mountain well. The most significant development is the two year old Boomerang Quad Chair, which runs up the west peak, over a ridge, and down the other side to McKay Lake. Accessing what used to be a sled-only backcountry zone, the Australian themed “Outback” area boasts perfectly spaced trees, devoid of limbs on their lower extremities, which sweep down sustained 30 degree pitches into North facing bowls. A bit of a sketchy traverse off the true peak of the mountain puts you above a decent assortment of pillows, chutes and powder fields that all funnel back to the base of the Boomerang. Instead of post-holing out it’s an easy traverse to the bottom of the lift making the backcountry easily accessible and opening up dozens of new lines for more advanced riders to plunder.
Change is a double edged sword. At Mount Washington it means stretch hummers and more tourists, but the payoff is worth it. Even though there was no new snow this Christmas Eve there were plenty of steep, untracked lines. With the addition of the Boomerang Quad, Mount Washington has established itself as a legitimate freeriding destination. A return visit is already on my calendar for next Christmas.