Winter Adventure Awaits
Halfway between Vancouver and Whistler along the scenic Sea to Sky Highway, SQUAMISH used to be known as a sleepy forestindustry town and rest stop between the two better-known destinations. But with its strategic location at the head of the spectacular fjord known as HOWE SOUND, its place as a rock-climbing mecca punctuated by the signature granite monolith the STAWAMUS CHIEF and the opening of the spectacular Sea to Sky Gondola, Squamish has earned wide acclaim as a tourist destination in its own right.
The gondola, in particular, is well worth a visit in both winter and summer. Ascending 885 metres (2,800 feet) above its base two kilometres south of downtown Squamish, visitors are whisked in eight-passenger cabins past the southwest face of the Chief as Howe Sound and pristine coastal rainforest stretch out far below. From the Summit Lodge, wintertime guests can take in the breathtaking, 360-degree view of Howe Sound, while enjoying a hearty meal or a warm drink. The Sky Pilot Suspension Bridge, which runs from the lodge to the Spirit Viewing Platform, is accessible to everyone, as are the 400-metre Spirit Trail or the 1.6-kilometre Panorama Trail, both of which start and finish at the lodge.
During winter, the gondola is open daily from 10:00 am to 5:00 pm from Dec. 4, 2015 to April 2016, and a few select evenings for dinner. When conditions are right — check before you go — the young and young at heart can whoosh down the groomed runs in the world-class tube park next to the Wonderland Loop Trail, or snowshoe through the snowladen coastal forests (rentals available). Those experienced at ski touring will enjoy starting their adventure from the Summit Lodge, where some 1,300 hectares (more than 3,000 acres) of terrain in four alpine bowls await. One caveat though: the terrain in and around Sky Pilot Mountain, Skyline Ridge and Goat Mountain is not for beginners and should be approached only by those fully prepared for all winter conditions.
For hardy hikers, the Sea to Summit Trail (open in winter as conditions permit) offers an opportunity to trek 7.2 kilometres uphill to the Summit Lodge, where you can celebrate your successful ascent by grabbing a snack or a drink, and then take the gondola down.
For information about the gondola, including special events, visit seatoskygondola.com, or call 604-892-2550.
The northernmost Squamish neighbourhood of Brackendale is known as the winter home of the Bald Eagle, and for good reason. From late November to March, thousands of the majestic raptors descend on Brackendale to feast on the abundant salmon that spawn in streams that empty into the Squamish and Cheakamus rivers. Visitors can learn about eagle migration and feeding habits on a breathtaking float trip with a local guiding company; or if you only have a couple of hours, drop by the eagle-viewing dike adjacent to Brackendale Eagles Provincial Park. Interpreters are available on busy days to offer information and a chance to view the eagles up close through a telescope.
The Stawamus Chief and nearby Smoke Bluffs make Squamish a year-round destination for climbers. Being at sea level, Squamish enjoys more snow-free winter days than either Whistler or Pemberton and therefore, is the place to enjoy mountain biking, hiking or trail running during the cooler months. It’s also home to the West Coast Railway Heritage Park and, 11 kilometres to the south at Britannia Beach, the world-class Britannia Mine Museum.
For information about all the recreational and cultural activities in and around Squamish, visit the Squamish Adventure Centre near the downtown turn-off from Highway 99 or tourismsquamish.com.
SEA TO SKY GONDOLA / PAUL BRIDE