A speedy new chair lift solves Mount Seymour's Mystery Peak
Look up. Look way up on the North Shore skyline. It would appear that a UFO has landed atop Mount Seymour Provincial Park’s Mystery Peak. No, it’s not the Canadian Space Agency’s answer to NASA’s Mars rover Curiosity. Instead, it’s the new best thing to happen for skiers and snowboarders at North Vancouver’s “old school” Mt. Seymour Ski Resort.
Earlier this month, the Georgia Straight journeyed to the top of Mystery Peak to assess the 12-tower installation’s progress with Eddie Wood, the resort’s president and general manager. One look at the Plexiglas superstructure, seemingly inspired by architect Zaha Hadid, confirmed that the Mystery Peak Express high-speed quad chair lift is entering a critical stage of assembly prior to the stringing of its cables.
Given this summer’s long stretch of sunny weather, Wood expected construction to be complete by November 1, with an official launch scheduled a month later. By then, snowflakes will undoubtedly have begun to swirl, as has already occurred at higher elevations at several Interior snow-sport resorts in the Okanagan and Kootenay regions.
As the presence of a young black bear (feeding nearby on ripe blueberries) attested, autumn is one of the best times to roam the slopes. Wood led the way from the chairlift’s expanded arrivals level across a bowl of rounded, multihued granite to the star of the show, nearby Mystery Lake. Despite a nip of fall carried by the breeze, a quick dip is still imaginable from a beach at the middling-sized tarn’s western shore. Cold plunges aside, invigoration abounded in the open surroundings. Breathless viewpoints don’t come any more panoramic than from Mystery Peak and several lookout spots just below the lake’s southeast corner.
The Wood family has run Mount Seymour’s winter-sports facilities since 1986. Long before then, Harold Enquist—for whom a recently constructed lodge adjacent to the toboggan slopes is named—acquired land on Mount Seymour in 1937 following the creation of the provincial park. A dozen years later, the provincial government bought the land and hired a private operator to run Enquist’s ski facility. In 1984, the cash-strapped Social Credit government ended its involvement with winter-sport destinations at Mount Seymour, as well as at Manning Park east of Hope and Cypress Bowl in West Vancouver. All amenities were sold off and 50-year leases granted to the private operators, including Wood’s father, Eddie, and his partner, Earl Pletsch.
“I came to work here part-time in 1984,” Wood recalled. “After I graduated from BCIT in 1989, I worked various positions until the late 1990s, when I took over. It’s a true family business. I’ve enjoyed the challenges. Fortunately, there’s a great crew here, many of whom have been around as long or longer than me.”
Chair lifts are not uncommon on the North Shore. The first one, a one-seater, got installed at Hollyburn Ridge in the 1940s. In the past five years, both neighbouring Grouse Mountain and Cypress Mountain paid the approximately $5-million price tag to keep and attract snow sliders to their slopes with new four-seaters. However, nothing quite matched the emotional outpouring that occurred earlier this year when Mt. Seymour Resorts Ltd. announced that the 35-year-old Mystery Peak twin-seater chair lift would come down at the end of winter operations in April.
“We sold all 126 of the old carriers in two-and-a-half hours for $150 each,” Wood recalled. “Fifty dollars from each purchase went into a fund to invite inner-city schools to come up and learn to ski this coming year.” A lot of familiar faces lined up to buy a memento of their youth, including Kevin Sansalone and Devun Walsh, internationally known members of the 1990s “Seymour kids” posse whose freestyle accomplishments at Mount Seymour put the snowboarder-friendly slopes on a par with two far-larger operations, Mount Baker and Blackcomb Mountain.
“The sale was so popular that when we ran out of Mystery seats we sold carriers we’d replaced from the Lodge chair lift and raised $9,000 for our bursary in the process. People have a real fondness for two-seaters. One couple bought the chair on which the husband had proposed marriage while night-skiing four years ago.”
So nostalgia makes for great garden swings and rumpus-room relics, but no one will miss the 10-minute ride that will be reduced by more than half with Mystery’s new chair. “As the capacity has doubled, we’ve enlarged the marshalling area at the top by quite a bit,” Wood pointed out, which is good news for beginner skiers and riders who previously had to scramble off a slippery platform at the top. “That will take the intimidation factor out of the learning process. We’ve tried to be true to our roots with the new chair. It serves both our markets. The beginners get easy loading and unloading, and the freestylers and freeskiers get quicker access to the natural gullies and features that make our mountain so unique.”
Wood acknowledged that as the primary destination for learn-to-ski programs in Metro Vancouver—the rental shop stocks 5,000 pairs of skis and snowboards—his mandate is to cater to Vancouver’s ever-growing multicultural community. “We want to make sure first-timers, especially from countries where there isn’t a snow-culture tradition, can warm up to skiing and snowboarding. We think building a high-speed chair lift is the best way to do that.”
No mystery there.