On Saturday, Jan and I joined our friends Greg, Martina and Christine for a day in the snow. We’d all done a bunch of snowshoeing on the North Shore Mountains (Grouse, Cypress and Seymour) this year, so we thought we’d venture further north and look for some new-to-us terrain.
We decided to head to Squamish and check out the trails that start at the top of the Sea to Sky Gondola. The gondola entrance is just off the Sea-to-Sky Highway, about a kilometre before downtown Squamish. At the bottom, there are amazing views of the Chief, another awesome hike (which I’ve done in the summer, but not the winter!)
Anyway, you can either hike up to the top, or take the gondola. We really thought about hiking, since the fee to go up+down is $37.95 per person, but a ticket to go down only is $9.99 per person. The guys at the bottom told us to expect a 5-6 hour trip if we hiked up, so we chose to ride. Vancouver trails says the hike takes about 3.5 hours in the summer, so I guess that would mean about 5 hours of hiking/snowshoeing in the winter. We also didn’t have trax or microspikes, which probably would help a lot. The views going up the gondola were spectacular, even if the price was a bit much. I plan to come back to do the full hike up at some point!
At the top of the gondola, there is a viewing platform and cafe. Just behind the cafe/gondola exit, there is a snowshoe rental area and a nice, warm firepit. When we got there, around 10 am, it was really quiet. We took a few photos and then headed down a snowy road/wide walking path until we reached the trailhead. Along the way, we saw some people ice climbing on the rock faces! I’d love to try it this winter.
The trail we chose is called Al’s Habrich Ridge trail. It wraps up around the northwest part of Habrich Ridge, part of Mount Habrich. The trail map we picked up at the bottom of the gondola says it’s an advanced/backcountry trail.
We reached the trail head and pretty much immediately started going up. The trail has 340m of gain in 3km. The steepest section is at the beginning, but this was definitely a workout. We ended up getting to the top in just under 90 minutes, and the return trip was much faster (partly due to sliding down ;). I felt like we were hustling for most of the way up.
The trail map says that the markers go from 1-44, but at the “top”, we only saw #33. The trail pretty clearly ended, and there was a spectacular viewpoint, which looks out to Garibaldi, Atwell, Tantalus peaks as well as Howe Sound. A connector trail called Robin’s Connector apparently leads to another viewpoint with views of Habrich itself, Sky Pilot, Copilot and Ledge peaks, but it wasn’t broken in and we weren’t really prepared to be trailfinding.
Overall, I’d say that snowshoes were the way to go. We did see some people in with microspikes, but there were definitely some deep-snow sections. At the gondola, they recommended renting poles, which we decided not to do. It was totally fine without them, but you could see how they’d be helpful given the steep terrain. I don’t think it would have been worth the extra 10$/person.
Trail comments in general: I thought this trail was really well marked for a backcountry trail. We never really wondered if we were in the right place, which is impressive given the amount of snowfall we’ve had.
I will say that it’s not an easy go, and I’d make sure that you have ample time, snacks and of course the 10 essentials. We saw a few older kids (12+) on the trail on our way down, but I think the average child would have a hard time with this one. The views were totally, absolutely, 100% worth the tougher hike!
When we got back, I was surprised at how busy the gondola area was! The cafe was bustling with people who rode the gondola up for lunch with a view. If you’re looking for an interesting lunch spot (maybe to take visitors) this could be great! Otherwise, it seemed a little bit expensive/typical ski-lodge food, so we decided to head down to Squamish for a late lunch.
We ended up at the Howe Sound brewery, which was really great. I had so much trouble deciding what to get, but ended up going with soup+salad with salmon on top (very typical lunch for me!). Jan had a burger (I think Christine did too) and a beer, which he said were both great. I got the soup of the day (tomato-lentil), and the cup size with a small salad was more than enough food.
photo creds, as usual, to the wonderful Jan Heuninck