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Outdoor Recreation Capital of Canada offers something for everyone

World class climbing, mountain biking trails draws international visitors

It's no wonder more than a dozen Olympians call Squamish home.

Situated nearly 70 kilometres north of Vancouver, and 60 kilometres south of the international skiing mecca of Whistler, Squamish - a town of 15,000 people - is often referred to as the outdoor recreation capital of Canada. Here's a sample of what's in store for those venturing into the area's natural surroundings.

Mountain biking

Ask anyone and they will tell you riding is huge in Squamish. The area and its hundreds of mountain trails is a haven riders of all skill levels. With temperate weather year around, the idea of gearing up on a bike on a sunny February day isn't ridiculous if you live in Squamish. With hundreds of trails winding and weaving throughout the area, cyclists can ride a different trail every other day of the year.

The newest trail in the area and also one of the most raved about is the governmentally funded trail, the Half Nelson in the Diamond Head area.

Ted "Big Red" Tempany designed the 3.5-kilometre course and built it along with a small army of volunteers.

"It's a progressive new trail so be weary. Roll it a whole bunch of times slow before you try to hit stuff fast because it bites back," Tempany said.

"Hopefully there's more of this to come, the first of many new trails."

A corridor trail connecting Squamish neighbourhoods from the very southern edge to the trails of the north end Brackendale area is in the works.

For the elite rider ripping down any of the course in the Hell of a Series races are a sure fire way to put your riding skills to the test. The toughest race of the series is undoubtedly the Test of Metal, which happens to sell out to more than 900 riders in less than 25 minutes.

There's a reason why Squamish plays host to four of the five Hell of a Series races, along with the internationally renowned Mind Over Mountain Adventure Race - the trail system in and around the town is fantastic.

Even though elite pro 2010 Test of Metal winner Geoff Kabush races World Cups across the globe, but local trails are still amongst the best.

"I've wanted to make it back here for a while," said the New Mexico-based rider.

"A lot of my favourite trails are here in B.C. so I've been looking forward to get back to this. It's fun being back in the woods, riding B.C. single-track."

A 2006 survey by the BC Mountain Bike Tourism Association estimated bike races and tourism bring in a few million dollars a year to the small town.

If you don't have a bike or the mesh of trails committed to memory, don't worry. A few bike shops around town can offer rentals, maps and even a few tips on which rides shouldn't be missed.


If tearing down a trail at the speed of lighting isn't your thing, it's likely reaching for the sky is. Climbing - and bouldering to a lesser extent - is the other favourite town past time. With granite giants like the Stawamus Chief peering over the downtown core, climbing has never been as easily accessible.

"I don't think there is anywhere in the world, where there is a world class climbing area, such as Squamish none of them have a town right there where you can live, walk, ride or go climbing after work," said Squamish Access Society member Kevin McLane.

It's projected about 130,000 people visit Squamish annually just to climb terrain on hundreds of pitches in the Stawamus Chief Provincial Park, Shannon Falls Provincial Park, Murrin Provincial Park and in the municipally owned and operated Smoke Bluffs Park.

"I came here for climbing and I just felt I was the luckiest guy in the world," said legendary mountain climber Peter Croft.

"This is the best climbing area in all of Canada and it doesn't get any better than this," Croft said.


Visitors who want to keep their feet firmly on the ground can do so and still manage to experience some of the regions most breath taking views by hiking.

With Alice Lake Provincial Park, Murrin Lake Provincial Park, Stawamus Chief Provincial Park, Garibaldi Provincial Park, the Squamish River Estuary and Smoke Bluffs Park within several kilometres of Squamish, there is no shortage of hikes.

Just a stone's throw away from downtown Squamish, the Smoke Bluffs Municipal Park has something for everyone.

Thanks to the recent completion of a three and a half year project, hikers, runners and cyclists can cover the entire park without backtracking thanks to the newly completed main loop trail.

The trail provides park users with a circuit of the 20-hectare piece of land, which can be walked in about an hour.

The Smoke Bluffs is widely known for great short granite climbs, but park advisory committee chair Brian Moorhead said he hopes the new trail will make more people realize the area is there for everyone's enjoyment, not just the climbers.

Races like the Mind Over Mountain Adventure Race and the Test of Metal, which also utilize parts of the park, may lead people to believe it's a challenging terrain, but Moorhead hopes to spread the word that the area is suitable for anyone.

"It's not just super athletes and rock climbers," Moorhead said. "The bulk of the park is for the walking public.

West Vancouver-Sea to Sky MLA Joan McIntyre recognized the value of the local park when she announced the expansion of four provincial parks in 2007.

"The Sea to Sky Corridor is one of the most breath-taking regions of B.C., with an abundance of outdoor recreation opportunities for tourists and local residents alike.

"Our government has taken this important step of increasing the boundaries of four parks so more of the natural beauty of this region is protected for future generations to enjoy."

Water sports

Since Squamish is located at the tip of Howe Sound, there's no shortage of water sports available for enthusiasts who like to get wet.

Anyone interested in kayaking, canoeing or stand up paddle boarding can rent equipment at a local outrigger and hit the water. For those who prefer to have a bit of wind in their sails, yachts, kite boarders and windsurfers gather at the Squamish Spit to take advantage of the gusting winds.

The "Rebel Billionaire," Richard Branson visited Squamish in 2005 while searching for the nation's top extreme athletes and said Squamish is a perfect location for windsurfing.

The spit and its roaring wind is the host location for the Canadian kite board racing national competition and the West Coast Championship competition.

"It's all about speed around the course, tactics, the ability to go quicker than everyone else It's just a new way to have fun. It's very high adrenalin because of the speeds and close proximately," said local wind sport organizer Kyle Touhey.

Recreational athletes hoping for the rush of white water sporting can find gushing waters on the Mamquam River.

Squamish Paddling Club member Dave Berrisford said although the Mamquam River is a short run, it's fun and challenging for first-time paddlers to Class 3 enthusiasts. It also has gates set up for time trials.

"For a pretty small area it offers a lot of options in terms of kayaking. There's a flat-water pool at the bottom for beginners, and a little Class 3 section for more experienced paddlers," he said. "You can drive your vehicle in, and you don't have to set up a shuttle. It's a really user friendly, safe site."

"We've got a great outdoor recreation resource in the heart of Squamish," said John Harvey Mamquam River Access Society director.

Visitors who are hoping for a day of rest can still enjoy the beautiful scenery Squamish has to offer without biking, hiking, climbing or getting wet. Several companies around town offer inexpensive but beautiful airplane tours of the area. Give your muscles a rest and enjoy the jaw dropping landscape of Squamish.

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