If you have a car and want a panoramic view of Vancouver, then go to Cypress Mountain.
Cypress Mountain (also known as Cypress Bowl to skiers) is one of Vancouver's three "north shore" mountains located immediately north of downtown. Grouse Mountain and Mount Seymour are the other two, except Seymour doesn't have nearly the same view, and Grouse charges each person about $32 for the privilege! Therefore, since Cypress is free and has the best view, it's what I recommend first... assuming you have a car, as there's absolutely no public transit there otherwise.
When you drive along Hwy 1 in West Vancouver and take the exit for Cypress Provincial Park, you'll eventually notice a designated lookout spot to your right with a parking lot and picnic tables. This is the only lookout stop and it involves no hiking. Although the lookout is not at the highest elevation of Cypress (it's actually about two thirds of the way up the mountain), it offers one of the most unobstructed views of the city below, especially of Stanley Park and the downtown skyline. This birds-eye perspective of Vancouver allows you to see as far as the Cascade mountain range to the east, to Washington state in the south, and as far as Vancouver Island to the west.
In the winter, weather permitting, Cypress offers skiing, snowboarding and snowshoeing. In the summer the mountain is popular for hiking and mountain biking. Black bears do live here, so be cautious.
While Cypress is not a ski resort, there are ski & snowboard rental facilities, a cafeteria, and a lodge. They also provide lessons. Out of the 3 local mountains, Cypress has larger terrain and more ski runs. The runs are also varied - from green to black diamonds.
In general I'd recommend Cypress for night skiing (ie: after school or work) or for a full day of skiing on the weekend when you don't want to spend the time or money to go to Whistler.
Finally, Cypress Mountain is a part of the Coast Mountains, not the Rockies. The Rockies are located about 800km east of Vancouver.
Cypress Mountain is a ski area in West Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada and located in the southern section of Cypress Provincial Park. This park is also a great summer destination for hikes and walks.
The ski resort is a short 20 minute drive just north of Vancouver and has 47 named alpine ski runs (many accessible for night skiing) and 19 km cross country tracks. Snowshoeing tours are also popular. Ski schools and rentals, cafeteria and lounge and a retail shop are also located on the premises. Cypress Mountain hosted several events during the 2010 Winter Olympics. In summer the ski area is shut down, but there are many hiking trails in the park some with amazing views of Vancouver and the surrounding area.
The ski area's downhill runs are built on two mountains: Mt. Strachan - 1440 m (4724 ft.) and Black Mountain - 1200 m (3937 ft.), on a vertical rise of 610 m (2001 ft.). The ski resort name Cypress Mountain is derived from the name of the bowl between the two mountains - "Cypress Bowl", which was the original and still used common name of the resort (which is owned by Cypress Bowl Recreations Ltd.). The term "Cypress" comes from the Yellow Cedar tree (Chamaecyparis nootkatensis ) which is common in the park at altitudes over 800 metres.
When you drive up to Cypress Mountain don't forget to stop at the viewpoint half way up the road. It's on your right hand side, you can't miss as there are signs for Cypress Provincial Park. From this view point you can see Stanley Park, downtown Vancouver, the surrounding area of Greater Vancouver and on clear days as far as Mount Baker in the USA and Vancouver Island to the west.
The panoramic view of Vancouver from Cypress Mountain is gorgeous on a clear day especially in winter. Take the Cypress Bowl Road exit No. 8 on Hwy No. 1 West. Drive uphill on Cypress Bowl Road. There are four major switchbacks on the way to the top where the road ends at Cypress Bowl. The viewpoint (Cypress Provincial Park Highview Lookout) is at the second of the switchbacks on the right side of the road. There is a parking lot.
Night Skiing at Cypress Mountain is a fabulous thing to do during ski season.
Cypress Mountain is the best of the local Vancouver ski-mountain triads (Seymour, Cypress, and Grouse). Affordable and open as late as 11:30 pm some days. Highly recommend getting the One-Nighter pass if you are in Vancouver for a long stay.
While visiting Vancouver, such beautiful City, I went to Cypress a couple of weeks ago. It was a rather disappointing experience. The cost of lift tickets does not have anything to do with what you get. Terrible terrain. I had to park my car way far and walk (in ski boots) for 40 minutes. No shuttle buses. Staff were rude, unfriendly and seemed liked they are forced to work there. (I surprisingly found out that one of those rude staff was the head of ski school or something in that matter). In the same visit, I went to Whistler Mountain as well… world class… It is really surprising for me that they are hosting the Olympics at Cypress. The only reason that they are surviving is that they are so close to the City. Skiing in Europe, I always thought French were rude and snob. Cypress staff make them look like angels. I personally think Cypress is a shame for such beautiful City. I won’t go back.
If you don't have a lot of time to get out of the city, or even if you do, but you want to find some stuff closer to Vancouver, I highly recommend taking a trip up Cypress Mountain. Located in North Vancouver, it's a great little day trip. It's a pretty easy drive, and getting there is an experience on it's own - so be sure to cross the Lion's Gate Bridge.
Make a stop at the lookout point for a great view of the city from the top. Of course, this is best done on a clear sunny day.
Whether you already snowboard, ski or are just starting out, this is the perfect city to get going. Though there are 3 local mountains within 15-30 minutes from downtown Cypress is my mountain of choice.
Due to the time change we woke up very early on our first day. We decided to take a drive up to Cypress Bowl and watch the sunrise over Vancouver - spectacular
The picture was taken from the top of the Harbour Center. Cypress Provincial Park is in the upper center / upper left.