Take a trip to Mount Cain Alpine Park and you’ll see it on bumper stickers and hear it from staff, volunteers and visitors alike, always with a smile and a laugh: “Mount Cain sucks, tell your friends.”
The ironic disparagement is born of a very serious desire for the place to remain secret for just a little longer. Regulars say they would like to keep the lift lines at manageable lengths and retain the old-school charm that is long gone from so many of the large, internationally owned ski hills around North America.
Tucked into the Sutton Range in the mountains of north Vancouver Island, Mount Cain is one of only two ski resorts on the island, and is easily one of the smallest ski operations in British Columbia. The first hill and its tiny A-frame lodge were set up by loggers who had moved to the nearby town of Woss.
The park’s current iteration was founded in 1980 and is run by the non-profit Mount Cain Alpine Park Society. With 38 feet of annual snowfall, a vertical drop from summit to base of 1,411 feet, and two swaths of backcountry (accessible with the right gear and training), it has more than enough real estate to keep serious skiers happy. But with only two old-fashioned T-bar lifts to carry them up the slopes, it’s far from a luxury retreat.
Most weekend visitors camp in the parking lot, just steps from the main lift line. Rows of pitched tents, trailers and camper vans shelter those waiting for chances at first tracks. A newcomer quickly learns that it’s the people and the culture that set Mount Cain apart. Those who camp in the parking lot season after season say the friendships with other skiers are what keep them coming back.
Kieren Britton, a regular on the mountain, summed up the place as snow swirled around the lift line. “The mountain is maintained by love: love for skiing, love for the community,” she said. “It is like no place I have ever been to. Everyone is watching out for everyone all the time.”