Pros: Empty, good terrain, dry snow
Cons: Fixed-grip chairs, Small, Out of the way
My girlfriend and I visited Manning Park in late Feb 2017 on a fairly average Sunday. There had been a sprinkling of snow, about 1-2" per day, for a week leading up to our arrival. We were expecting conditions to be fairly rough, but we found them to be quite pleasant, overall.
There may have been a slight thaw/freeze recently, as we did notice a hard layer underneath a few inches of soft, but it did not detract from our enjoyment.
Manning's 417m of vertical doesn't sound like much, but Manning Park's base elevation is 1357m, higher than Olympic Station / mid gondola at Whistler. So the skiing experience at Manning Park could be compared, in coarse terms, to skiing on Whistler from Roundhouse to Olympic Station.
Yes, it's a small area, and Manning's "Apple Bowl" is a far cry from Whistler Bowl and Blackcomb Glacier, but we were very impressed by the variety of expert terrain that this small mountain had to offer.
Apart from the bunny hill rope tow and T-bar, there are two chairs, functionally but unimaginatively named, Blue Chair and Orange Chair. Orange Chair is the heart of Manning Park and sits on the right side of the trail map, while Blue Chair climbs less vertical and offers fewer runs.
That said, the Blue Chair gives access to an excellent lift-line run, "Blue Streak," which we found to be full of soft moguls.
Blue Chair's "Back Bowl" is also fantastic, albeit a bit short. I was skeptical of the name, as "Back Bowl" doesn't feature a rocky ridge on either side, but instead a small line of trees. Apparently, the trees do their job, as the snow inside was incredibly fluffy.
Blue chair is also home to the terrain park and the race course, which can be fun if you're into running gates or jumping ramps. The terrain park was a bit small but had a decent variety. I'd rank the park below Cypress, Hemlock, and Whistler, but it wasn't so limited as to be a waste of time.
Finally, there is some off-trail action to be had on skier's right of Blue Streak. We skied it despite the "marginal conditions" sign and found the terrain to be challenging, tight, and fun, but wind must have blown away the snow as the underfoot conditions were quite harsh and "icy." We look forward to heading back on a day with better snow coverage. Please note that there are exposed rocks and logs, so only head back when you're ready and please mind the "marginal conditions" sign. Turns out the patrollers know what they are talking about!
On the Orange Chair, you'll find that the mountain has roughly 3 sections: the trails that split off of "Horseshoe," which are on the left side of the trail map, the group of runs roughly underneath Orange Chair, anad then the runs to the right of "Shadow" on the trail map.
The Horseshoe runs are generally very good, especially "Tree Well." Most of these runs begin like more of a groomer run in the woods, then fork again and again until you find yourself doing a tight tree run through the woods. Once you're past the groomer section, you'll find an incredible amount of powder still accumulated, likely due to the dry conditions at Manning, the consistent albeit small snowfall, and the lack of skiers. We highly recommend these runs, "Tree Well" especially.
One other run of note is "Gully," which features two gullies, which form something of a natural double-half pipe! The pitch is a bit mellow for actually performing an air transfer between the two pipes (unless you catch a TON of speed. Haven't tried this.), but it's a lot of fun for playing around with. The gullies retained a lot of snow and made for good cruising as we finished up our day.
The runs in the treeless section under the lift are quite fun, even the blues. There's plent of wide-open terrain to noodle around with, and you can try heading off-trail to the left and right side, connecting with some of the other runs. If you follow the lift line, you can expect a nice pitch and a lot of moguls, especially on "Mogul Hill."
If you head further right on the trail map, you'll encounter "Apple Bowl" and its ilk. This terrain is a bit of a mixed bag. Some of it is low-angle, some of it is fairly steep. Some trees, bumps, etc.
I'd say that if you're just getting into trees, this section will be a lot of fun as you'll be able to easily find a line that matches your comfort level, as the trees have a widely varying amount of space between them.
I'll happily back to re-evaluate, but overall, we found that the conditions in the Apple Bowl / Sun Step area were not as good as the runs further left on the trail map.
However, you really owe it to yourself to go at least once to Apple Bowl and head ALL the way skier's left to the ski area boundary. The views out there are stunning and impart a true sense of being in nature. Views 10/10. Terrain: 6/10.
We didn't try the food at the cafeteria, but the prices were very reasonable for a ski area, at $10 for a hamburger, $6 for poutine.
The lift staff were very professional and while the lifts are fixed-grip, were not too slow. The Blue Chair is slower than the Orange Chair, but it climbs the vertical more directly, while Orange chair takes a more lateral approach up the mountain.
In terms of snow, particularly notable is that the drier climate means that the snow stays softer longer, plus the low amount of skiers means that powder takes longer to get tracked out.
All-in-all, I'd happily go back to Manning. There are accommodations down the hill from the ski area and I suspect this would make a great weekend trip for those who don't need to go to Whistler or Baker to have a great time.