Hip, bustling and often rainy, the Pacific Rim city of Vancouver is hardly an obvious ski destination. The city of 2.1 million is known more for its steel-and-glass towers and waterfront vistas, its thriving epicurean scene and bustling Chinatown than for the snowy ski areas that lie just beyond the city center. But in Grouse Mountain's parking lot, about eight miles from downtown, Vancouverites shed business suits for ski gear then tram 3,700 feet up to Grouse's 212 wintry acres of broad avenues and squirrelly bumps. Eight miles down the road, Cypress Mountain, with its two peaks and 457 acres (16 miles from downtown) is a true skier's hill. In fact, Cypress — not Whistler Blackcomb — will host freestyle skiing and all snowboard events when the Winter Olympics comes to town in 2010. Meanwhile, every bit of this easy-access urban schussing comes wrapped in panoramic views of the Pacific Ocean, Gulf Islands and the city itself. In short, it all makes for one distinctive ski weekend.
Fly into Vancouver International (or drive two-and-a-half hours north from Seattle). Be sure to bring your passport, now required for all border crossings. A cab downtown costs about $24. The historic Fairmont Hotel Vancouver (doubles from $255; fairmont.com; 800-257-7544) dates to 1939 and is the city's grande dame, but it's one of only a dozen distinctive options in the vibrant downtown core. Also consider the The Wedgewood, a best-kept-secret boutique hotel with French provincial décor (doubles from $380; wedgewoodhotel.com; 800-663-0666) and the Schrager-esque Opus (doubles from $275; opushotel.com; 866-642-6787), popular with postmodern hipsters like Bono and his band.
After checking in, grab your ski gear and a cab to Waterfront Station. You're heading to Grouse Mountain for nightskiing with a city view. (Don't be deterred by downtown rain. This usually means snow on North Shore peaks.) You'll likely be the sole skier amidst the Friday commuters on the retro-futuristic SeaBus ferry, but the 12-minute crossing of Burrard Inlet ($3 one way) affords great views of the Vancouver skyline and waterfront — and connects to Bus No. 236 to Grouse (included in the SeaBus fare).
The SkyRide tram's remarkable views have helped make Grouse a booming tourist attraction (60 percent of its 1.1 million visitors per year neither ski nor snowboard), but vistas are even better from the slopes. Start with a warm-up on The Cut, Grouse's signature trail, a broad runway that appears ready to launch skiers into the airspace over Burrard Inlet and the city's spires. Trails increase in difficulty from skier's right to left, so head up the Screaming Eagle quad and progress leftward, cruising well-groomed avenues such as Centennial and Expo, switching to the Olympic Express quad. Grouse's steeply pitched passel of never-groomed bump runs like Coffin, Hades and Devil's Advocate close after dark, so strong skiers should dive into the black zone before nightfall.
When you feel peckish, head to Altitude Bistro for shrimp fritters and Molson Canadian on draft. Call a ski-sized cab before you descend the SkyRide, then enjoy the 10-minute drive over the Lions Gate suspension bridge (built in the '30s) and through 1,000-acre Stanley Park. After a quick change, stroll to Hapa Izakaya for a late dinner. Izakaya — Tokyo-style tapas in a spirited bar atmosphere — is Vancouver's hottest dining trend, and Hapa does it best. Do like the locals and linger over cocktails while sharing dishes such as enoki mushrooms wrapped in bacon or charred black cod.
Breakfast at your hotel and get an early start: Cypress Mountain's ocean views and wooded, undulating terrain have made it the third most-visited ski area in British Columbia, and it's especially popular on weekends. From downtown, the drive to the future Olympic venue takes 30 minutes (about $33 by cab).
Start on Mt. Strachan, accessed by the new Lions Express quad. Warm up with a scenic cruise down Collins or Horizon, then explore Strachan's scattered blues. Stronger skiers can test themselves on Strachan's moguls or move onto the Sky Chair, which serves a bumpy knob frequently doused with fresh snow. Follow the sun to Black Mountain for rolling intermediate thoroughfares like Cascade and Blowby. Olympic dreamers can try the 2010 skiercross venue on Upper Fork or the superpipe on Lower Panorama. And new this season is Black Mountain's East Face, with a new lift and nine fall-line runs, six of them advanced.
Cypress won't offer much off-slope until its $35 million facelift is further along, so skip après-ski and enjoy a night on the town. Start with dinner at Blue Water Café (604-688-8078; reserve one week ahead), where wild, sustainable fish and Pacific Northwest fusion meet in a 100-year-old brick-and-beam warehouse. Try fresh West Coast oysters, then ahi tuna with tagliatelle or Chinook salmon in a saffron consommé, paired with British Columbia wines. Then cram into tiny Bin 941 (604-683-1246) for a taste of Vancouver's late-night scene and a dessert of warm chocolate truffle torte topped with cognac-soaked cherries.
Arrange a late checkout then drink in the coffee-bar scene at Caffé Artigiano (604-694-7737). Spend the morning back at Cypress, or consider family-owned Mount Seymour, 20 miles from downtown, where old-school ski hill meets hip terrain park on 200 wooded acres.
Check out and leave your bags with the bellman, then head to Chinatown — North America's second largest after San Francisco's — for Sunday dim sum at massive Floata (604-602-0368). If your flight is late enough, spend the afternoon exploring Granville Island's artists' ateliers and funky boutiques. When you finally head home, you'll have an edge on the 2010 frenzy — and a new appreciation for Vancouver's distinctive ski style.
Cypress Mountain: 457 skiable acres; 1,710 vertical feet; 244 annual inches; 51 trails; 9 lifts. Lift tickets: $50, youth 13—18 $46, children 6—12 $27, children 5 and under $8; seniors 65 and over $36; cypressmountain.com
Grouse Mountain: 212 skiable acres; 1,260 vertical feet; 102 annual inches; 26 trails; 5 lifts. Lift tickets $45, youth 13—18 $35, children 5—12 $20, children 4 and under free, seniors 65 and over $35. grousemountain.com