Skip to main content
in photos

It’s one of Vancouver Island’s only two ski hills, and what it lacks in size and splendour, it makes up for in community spirit

Skiers ready their equipment at Mount Cain Alpine Park on a crisp January day.Photography by James MacDonald/The Globe and Mail

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.”

Visitors sit by a fire in Mount Cain's parking lot on a Friday night as people begin to arrive for the weekend's first run. Along with Mount Washington, this is one of only two Vancouver Island ski resorts.

Clouds drift over Cain's neighbour, Mount Abel, which is a destination for hiking, climbing and snowshoeing. In this area of the Sutton Range – unceded territory of the 'Namgis First Nation – several peaks have Old Testament names: There's also an Adam and Enoch.

On a Saturday, people line up at the base of Mount Cain for the weekend's first run. Depending on snow conditions, the mountain opens in early December and closes in early April.

The camper vans, trailers and buses in the parking lot have a dusting of snow today, which Vancouver Island got a lot of in the first week of January.

A Vancouver Island flag hangs on an old ski trophy in the main lodge. Loggers from nearby Woss were the first to set up a lodge here; the current form of the resort is run by a non-profit.

A lift operator watches from a cabin at the top of the mountain as riders come off the last lift. It's 1,411 feet from the base to the summit of the mountain.

One of Mount Cain's many regulars. Others told The Globe and Mail that the community-run spirit of Mount Cain is what keeps them coming back.

Back at the lodge, bumper stickers reading 'Mount Cain sucks, tell your friends' lie among shirts and other merchandise.