The Great Outdoors
May 1, 2008
A century and a half ago, when British Columbia was named a colony of the Empire, it was rocks and sticks that drew the adventurous to what is now Vancouver. Our resource-based economy has since diversified (film production, video-game development, even yogawear design), but mountains, forests, rivers, and ocean are still fundamental attractions. Knowledge workers flock to Lotusland, attracted in large part by the natural beauty and Vancouver’s consistent ranking at the top of international quality-of-life surveys. Sure, the scenery is pretty to look at, but we believe that proper appreciation demands full immersion. Grasp at rough granite, gambol through the waves, carve rooster tails in fresh powder (especially sweet during work hours) — whether you’re plummeting, sweating, hucking, or just chillaxing, meandering, or cruising, the resources for a good day out are close at hand. It need not be extreme to be extremely fun; we know what sticks and stones can do to bones. (Thank goodness for our universal health-care system.)
Vancouver’s most celebrated hike, the Grouse Grind, can be a cheek-to-Lululemon-clad-cheek wagon train. About 50 metres east of the Grind is the BCMC Trail; it’s roughly parallel and ends up at the same place but is much quieter. The best return on sweat invested (although also spectacularly busy) is a hike up the Stawamus Chief in Squamish. Raise your arms in triumph on top of one of the world’s largest granite monoliths or belly-crawl to the edge and look down the 700-metre face at the climbers below. Matt Gunn’s highly informative Scrambles in Southwest B.C. and his companion site, have the dirt on other quality day hikes.
Cap an evening of snowshoeing the subalpine forests of Cypress Mountain with fondue and wine at Hollyburn Lodge (guide, rentals, and fondue, $80). Cross-train with elite athletes and compete in the Yeti Snowshoe Series, the first snowshoe race series in Canada. The Yeti Snowshoe Academy hosts running clinics and drop-ins on Mount Seymour Thursday evenings, January through March ($15 includes rentals).
We’re blessed with world-class climbing only a 40-minute drive from downtown. Squamish is home to hundreds of classic trad pitches, sport routes, aid walls, and sick boulder problems. Kevin McLane’s guidebooks and Squamishclimbing.com, are chock-full of the essential beta. Closer to town, there’s top-roping on the sea cliffs along the old-growth and arbutus groves of West Vancouver’s Lighthouse Park. Vancouver-born and -grown Mountain Equipment Co-op is a one-stop shop for well-priced gear with knowledgeable staff.
Windsurfing & Kiteboarding
Exceptional views and consistent winds make for fine flatwater board sailing off the Squamish spit at the northern end of Howe Sound. Jericho and Spanish Banks are easy launch sites right in Vancouver (although kiteboarding is not allowed at Jericho). Another favourite spot is south of the UBC peninsula, toward YVR, where a big westerly produces waves as big as houses. Try AirTime Board Sports for windsurfing and kiteboarding equipment.
Skiing & Snowboarding
In 1949, nearby Grouse Mountain led the world with the first double chairlift. Cypress Mountain now lays claim to more lifts and more terrain, with more vertical than neighbours Grouse and Mt. Seymour. All three are eclipsed by Whistler Blackcomb, host of the 2010 Winter Olympics, which has the most ski terrain and the longest season, and is the top-ranked ski resort in North America. A new Peak 2 Peak gondola will connect the two mountains with the longest free span in the world, 3,024 metres between two of its four towers and 415 metres of clean air beneath.
To them, asphalt is a green run and public transit is a lift. These oversize skateboards bear only a passing resemblance to their miniwheeled cousins grinding it out in the skate parks. The hardcores tackle the hairpins on Cypress, Seymour, or in the British Properties, but we strongly recommend riding with someone in the know. Talk to the guys at Rayne Longboards and ask about their King of the Forest endurance push race.
Nothing could be more friendly and accessible than a paddle up Indian Arm, an 18-kilometre fjord hemmed in by Coast Range mountains only a half-hour from the city centre. Deep Cove Canoe & Kayak Centre offers rentals, instruction, and guiding services. The open water of Howe Sound also offers good, but very challenging, day trips. Launch from Porteau Cove to hit Anvil Island or Bowen Island (where you can have a pint at Whytecliff Park). Hire a boat at Ecomarine on Granville Island ($59 full day) for a tour of Vancouver’s beaches, including clothing-optional Wreck Beach.
Along the Squamish-Whistler corridor, the Mamquam, Elaho-Squamish, Cheakamus, and Ashlu rivers yield whitewater enthusiasts the full range of paddling, from beginner to high-end creeker. For an after-work hit, Lynn Creek, the Seymour River, and the Capilano River are sources of aerated water right on the North Shore. Vancouver Kayak Club has more info, and Sea to Sky Kayak Centre and Western Canoeing & Kayaking buy or rent.
Dragon Boat & Outrigger
With over 800 members, the False Creek Racing Canoe Club is the largest paddling club in Canada, training in and racing dragon boats, outrigger canoes, and flatwater vessels. Its mixed premier dragon-boat team came away with gold in the 2007 World Dragon Boat Championships. Though it doesn’t rent out boats to casual paddlers, membership is open to those who want to take advantage of the training programs or to join a team.
As famous as Whistler is for its winter sports, it‘s also world-renowned for its Mountain Bike Park ($49 for a day pass). A mecca for freeriders and downhillers, it has over 200 kilometres of trails and terrain. Squamish, site of the 67-kilometre race epic Test of Metal, has cross-country riding galore. For more info, check out Squamish Off Road Cycling Association or drop in on one of the local bike shops. The North Shore of Vancouver is to free-ride mountain biking what the north shore of Oahu is to surfing. If the natural terrain weren’t gnarly enough, all manner of trails over rocks and sticks take riding to a new level of insanity. Nearby stores can hook you up with locals.
Navigating the wilds of Richmond and finding the popular 80-kilometre loop out toward Iona Beach and along Dyke Road can be a bit much for newcomers. Better bets are the Stanley Park loop or the ultra-scenic Marine Drive ride out to Horseshoe Bay. Or join as a guest on the Team Escape Velocity Cycling Club Saturday rides. TEVCC also hosts the World Tuesday Night Championships, criterium races out at UBC for those with a Cycling BC licence.
Home of the World Naked Bike Ride and host to such diverse events as the High Heels Ride and Bike the Blossoms, Vancouver’s bike community surely has something for everyone. Link in through Momentum magazine’s website. Join MC3 Freek-Bike Gang on rides on the second Friday of every month.