t’s mid-winter in British Columbia, time to slip into a warm and cosy suit, grab a board and head for . . . the beach! If surfing giant rollers isn’t your thing when the temperature drops, meander instead through landscapes where tropical-coloured blossoms sway as wildlife peers wide-eyed from between the fronds of a lush garden . . . underwater! OK, so you’re bundled into a dry suit, but who says winter has to be all about ice and snow? In coastal southern BC, temperatures hint at Mediterranean balminess and lavender and rosemary thrive in window boxes year round, so it’s almost possible to forget it’s December, or January, or February . . .
Just because BC is rippled with snow-capped ranges doesn’t mean everybody loves to snap into skis — skinny, fat or single board — and challenge their vertical vertigo. That’s not a problem. Either head outside and pretend it’s spring or go play in the snow: virtually every mountain resort offers a varied and growing menu of winter things to do, from tubing — whizzing down a track on an inner tube — to outdoor ice skating, romantic horse-drawn sleigh rides, even ice fishing.
Unleashing an inner coureurs desbois is as simple as strapping on a pair of snowshoes, a quintessentially Canadian mode of winter travel; most mountain resorts rent them for a mid-winter stroll amid a forest of alpine trees or to mountain peaks. In the Okanagan, the abandoned Kettle Valley Railway is a country trail where you cross wooden trestle bridges with spectacular views. In the same region, go multi-day snow stomping with Wells Gray Adventures who provide everything from snowshoes to guides on cabin-to-cabin treks through the snowy wilderness of Wells Gray Provincial Park, north of Kamloops.
Vancouver’s proximity to the outdoors offers the chance to snowshoe in the woods, with the lights of downtown twinkling in the distance, on Cypress, Grouse and Seymour mountains. In a forest clearing or backcountry lodge at the end of a vigorous walk, adventurists can even opt for a bit of indulgence, with plump strawberries primed for a luscious chocolate fondue. Mt. Seymour also provides twilight tours through the forest, gentle Baby and Me excursions for moms and dads and a chance to crank your cardio on 90-minute snowshoe fitness hikes. Snowshoeing has even gone upmarket amid the Selkirk and Monashee mountains around Revelstoke where Heli Canada Adventures zooms trekkers in a helicopter onto high mountain ridges for a day of heli-snowshoeing, complete with views across glaciers and endless rows of jagged peaks.
Or let the dogs do the driving. The traditional northern transport method of dog sledding is making a comeback as a hot new sport; it’s relaxing to sit on a comfy sled and glide through snow-covered forest trails. The folks at Cold Fire Creek Dogsledding in the Kootenay Rockies setting of Valemount even offer mushing by moonlight. Learn to run the reins yourself by joining Canadian Outback Adventures who teach newcomers how to harness and hitch up a troupe of eager canines before hitting the trails in Whistler’s surrounding Callaghan and Soo valleys.
For a rush onboard a sled of a different kind, try snowmobiling. This distinctly Canadian invention – the brainchild of Quebecker Joseph-Armand Bombardier —is perfect for exploring BC’s vast landscapes. Slide into boots, strap on a helmet and hop on board to soar across a glacier near Pemberton or carve tracks in the powder-packed alpine with Totally Awesome Adventures. Take a guided ride — or snow-cat trip — with Canadian Snowmobile Adventures atop Blackcomb Mountain and finish up with chefs serving a three-course candle-lit fondue dinner in the Crystal Hut, a rustic lodge cabin perched at 6,000 feet.
Skipping the snow altogether is another option. For scuba buffs, winter on BC’s coast is the time of highest visibility along 27,000 kilometres (17,000 miles) of coastal waters Jacques Cousteau called “the best temperate water diving in the world.” Suncoast Diving, a National Geographic dive centre in Sechelt on the Sunshine Coast, allows you to commune with octopi. Drift above colourful sea life at a leisurely pace, poke around the wrecks off Powell River or feel yourself tugged along by the surging current of Skookumchuk Narrows, a tidal channel renowned for sea life on steroids.
More fun on the water awaits in Squamish, north of Vancouver. Here, take a wildlife safari aboard a Canadian Outback Adventures’ raft to watch one of the highest concentrations of bald eagles in the world – hundreds of them —gathering from November through February. Watch the birds plunge from treetop perches to pluck migrating salmon from the river. Further north, you can do the flying yourself by soaring above snowy treetops and across streams securely harnessed to a steel cable: Ziptrek Ecotours has made ziplining a year-round sport at Whistler.
The surf goes up as the thermometer drops on the west coast of Vancouver Island where the small town of Tofino has become Canada’s surfing capital. Rollers six-metres (20-feet) high pound long, empty beaches to the delight of surfers seeking the thrill of riding big waves. Guests at Long Beach Lodge Resort can learn the tricks of the trade from the lodge’s dedicated pros at theSurf Club. Additionally, the Pacific Surf School has camps to provide know-how and the female instructor-led Surf Sister Surfing School is dedicated to getting girls onto boards (boys can join, too).
Counter-intuitively, keeping your fingers crossed for a storm has become a winter tradition in Tofino for those addicted to that coast’s spectator sport ofstorm-watching (Official Season: November through March). Enthusiasts head to the west coast, don rain gear and prowl beaches in search of the biggest and loudest thundering waves. Idyllic spots for storm ogling here are as varied as the landscape: curl up in front of a fireplace and watch the raging action from the toasty side of a picture window at the Pacific Sands Beach Resort, nosh on local fare in the fabulously scenic Great Room at the Long Beach Lodge Resort, or be lulled into bliss, courtesy of the pounding surf, during a luxurious hot stone massage at the Wickanninish Inn.
After all, après activities are an integral part of winter and they’re as varied as the sports they follow – after a day on the trail, slip into a year round spa in one of BC’s many northern guest ranches like the Williston Lake Resort that shift gears from riding to cross-country skiing and snowshoeing in winter. Or slide into a natural hot pool surrounded by the Kootenay wilderness at Radium Hot Springs, all fringed in snow and ice and steaming temptingly into the frosty winter sky.
For more on British Columbia’s destinations and travel information, visitwww.HelloBC.com
"On the Road" is a compilation of destination ideas, resort reviews, videos and more gathered from a variety of sources that includes our readers.
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