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Discover Squamish: Sea to Sky winter activities that bring us together

It's hard to imagine two activities more unalike than heels dancing and snowshoeing … but that is a testament to the diversity of goings-on available in this corner of the planet!

Nothing brings people together like sports. 

Even those on opposing teams are together in their enthusiasm for the game. Squamish and the entire Sea to Sky Corridor are world-renowned for the many opportunities for adventures — solo or in groups, outdoors and in. 

There are the obvious and the less obvious.

Kick up your heels!

When most people think of this region, dancing in heels may not be the first activity that comes to mind. But Vanessa Lalonde is changing that. With business partner Emily Taylor and a huge team of "glow givers," together known as Luminesque Dance, they are empowering people of all ages and genders to express themselves through dance.

They offer a range of dance styles, including drop-in classes and longer-term commitment, but Luminesque's centrepiece is heels dance.

"Our biggest thing that we do is a five-month dance program and it's focused on adults, 19-plus, who are learning or wanting to learn heels dance — the Beyoncé style of dancing," said Lalonde. "We do have some drop-in classes and workshops, but the majority of what we do is very community-based. We have quite a commitment to building a program that is about community, that is about working together and building a bit of a relationship with yourself, with your body and with the people you're dancing with."

While the majority of participants are female, they welcome everyone.

"We have a big inclusivity and positivity clause ...  so we offer scholarships to the BIPOC and LGBTQ community." 

Luminesque brings people together, according to Lalonde, by drawing folks who are committed for a significant block of time. They learn together and put together a major performance piece offered to audiences in Squamish, Vancouver and sometimes in Victoria. Programs in Squamish take place at Glow Studios, which Lalonde and Taylor own, but share with other groups. They also have a Glow location in Vancouver, and they rent space to offer programs in North Vancouver and Victoria. Across all locations, the activities draw about 500 people per term.

Glow Studios rents space for kids programs, but Luminesque is adult-oriented.

"There are sexual themes that we work with, being in heels," she said. "Naturally, because we're talking about something that has a lot of sexual connotation, that comes from a history of sex work, we definitely work around a variety of themes of sexual sovereignty and reclamation and really creating a safe relationship with yourself, with your body."

The programs are fun, Lalonde stresses, but they can also be therapeutic.

"We really touch on things that open up and have a healing component to them," she said. Instructors are trained in a range of fields, some beyond the obvious.

"They learn about anatomy, they do kinesiology, they do trauma-informed training, they do so much around the full experience of community," said Lalonde. 

The end-of-term performances may be polished and professional, Lalonde said, but the program is geared to beginners and founded on a simple idea: "Everyone is a dancer. All you have to do is dance."

Emily Kociolek had some preconceptions about the dance sector, but when she stepped into Luminesque, she was pleasantly surprised.

"I didn't get dance teacher vibes," she said. "I don't want to stereotype, but there are certain dance teachers that kind of push for success and focus solely on the technical side of dancing, whereas I was welcomed with the sense that they didn't care about dancing ability."

Kociolek is only one of many for whom Luminesque was an entrée into a whole new social circle.

"There's girls there who go mountain climbing that have shared it with me; there's girls there who have said, you know what, let's go for a bike ride," she said. "We don't have to be that group of friends that hit the trails super-hard. Let's just spend some time hanging out."

Perhaps like everything else in Squamish, even heels dance leads to the great outdoors. Which, of course, opens the door to an almost limitless number of activities.

Pickleball anyone?

Something that has exploded in popularity in recent years in Squamish is pickleball. Long popular in sunnier climes, like Palm Springs and Arizona, the sport has taken off dramatically since Pickleball Squamish was founded as a nonprofit less than five years ago.

When pickleball enthusiast Bob Pierce first tried to get some folks together for a game, he was stood up on a vacant tennis court, laughs Ken Tanner, a board member of the group. Things have changed.

"Right now, we have just over 100 people actively playing as members of the club in Squamish," he said. "Really, it was organic, friend to friend. Bob got it going and it bloomed until Brennan Park couldn't handle us anymore." In addition to Brennan, they now also play on designated courts at Eaglewind Park and, in winter, indoors at Quest University.

Tanner said pickleball is popular with people of all ages because it takes skill but is not as hard on the joints as tennis.

"It's a very quick reaction sport, very fast-moving," he said. "You've got to be really alert to play pickleball [but] it's not as exhausting as tennis. Tennis is a lot of running and a lot of hard-hitting, whereas in pickleball there is less running. The courts are smaller and it's more of a game of finesse, more a game of skill than of power. It's more attractive to people who don't have shoulders the size of Arnold Schwarzenegger."

He adds: "They say it is quick to learn and slow to master."

"It's also extremely social," Tanner continued. "We have a really good time. We have set times that we play as a club and will have 20, 30 or 40 people out to play, and it's a blast."

Players can come solo or bring the whole family. The local high school brings scores of kids for gym classes.

"Even a young teenager can play pretty well," Tanner said. "They can beat me."

Get outside!

While heels dance and pickleball may be fresh ideas for a lot of Squamish folks, there are, of course, the many standbys for which the region is known. 

Whistler Olympic Park —  a legacy from the 2010 world games that put the area on the map for anyone left who had not heard of it — offers a vast array of outdoor activities for the public. The meat-and-potatoes of the park is nurturing the next generations of competitive international athletes representing Canada. But that in no way detracts from the welcome they extend to locals (and visitors) looking for a day in the outdoors.

Solo and group activities include cross-country skiing, snowshoeing and biathlon. There's also tobogganing, perhaps the classic Canadian family winter activity. Chariots are available for parents to haul the youngsters behind as they ski or snowshoe for the kids who are too young to take to the trails themselves.

Whistler Olympic Park has a full network of dog-friendly trails, meaning the whole family can participate.

Likewise, Callaghan Country, is another wilderness adventure destination north of Squamish that is open to those on two legs as well as four. In addition to advanced trails for the experienced, there are easier options for the beginner snowshoer or skier. Suites and rooms are available at the Journeyman Lodge, as are rib-sticking meals at what they declare "one of the most isolated and picturesque dining rooms in the Whistler area."

Closer to Squamish —  just look up! — is the Sea to Sky Gondola, which has become an all-season destination. Perhaps no season is more evocative, though, than winter. 

"When it's raining down the valley, it's snowing up on the summit," promises Christy Allan, the gondola's director of sales, marketing and guest services. 

Winter outdoor activities include snowshoeing, tubing and just plain goofing around in the snow.

"It's getting up into a winter wonderland with your friends and family," Allan said. 

New this year is the daily grooming of the backroad trails, which will allow people to bring up cross-country skis. 

Not all the fun is outdoors. The lodge, with the view of the entire valley, is always a draw, but in winter, it is decked out with holiday décor and there will even be photos with Santa. "Sunday Socials" are a weekend afternoon special occasion with music and relaxation. After the sun goes down, there will be headlamp snowshoe tours.

It's hard to imagine two activities more unalike than heels dancing and snowshoeing … but that is a testament to the diversity of goings-on available in this corner of the planet!

Editor's note: This story originally appeared in Discover Squamish magazine's winter 2022 edition. Neither the writer — nor anyone involved in the production of this magazine — gained financially or otherwise from the businesses featured. 

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