Squamish: An Outdoor Recreation Paradise Looks to Capitalize on Olympic Opportunity

Squamish BC: for decades it has been an innocuous mill town on the coast of British Columbia, living in quiet and relative obscurity between it’s much more famous neighbours of Vancouver and Whistler. This quiet town of 15,000 was home to forestry industry workers, those who were tolerant of the commute to Whistler or Vancouver, and a few passionate outdoor recreationists that tended to keep there location somewhat secret.

However, the announcement that the 2010 Olympics would take place in venues both north and south of them, a subsequent booming British Columbia economy, and a hot Vancouver housing market have boosted awareness of Squamish and it is now seeing substantial growth, both as a place to live and as a tourist destination. Hotels and housing developments are springing up in this town, which recently branded itself “The Outdoor Recreation Capital of Canada”.

For many, Squamish’s biggest feature, the one thing that by far sets it apart from just about any place on this planet, is the incredible variety of outdoor recreation opportunities available in this town. Just the sheer number of outdoor recreation activities available is hard to comprehend and it is a challenge to even attempt to catalogue them all. The rock climbing, mountain biking, hiking, white water kayaking, ocean kayaking, kite surfing, wind surfing, and river rafting are all frequently described as “world class” in Squamish. Add to that three great golf courses, horseback riding, scuba diving, fishing, some road cycling and options for boat tours or air tours, and it is clear that many days of adventure can be fulfilled in Squamish, whether by resident or tourist.

Geography wise, the town is dominated by the Stawamus Chief, a 600 meter solid granite monolith that literally looms over the town, sheer granite cliffs beckoning only the qualified climbers and the occasional base jumper. For the more normal, there is a steep walk up the back side, rewarding hikers with panoramic views of the Ocean, forests, rivers and coastal mountains that surround Squamish.

In winter, Squamish is close to the world famous downhill skiing destination of Whistler, BC, a short drive for residents, and a better value accommodation option for tourists. Ski touring and snowmobiling are great options closer to home, and one of nature’s most spectacular sites – the gathering of thousands of Bald Eagles – takes place on the banks of the Squamish and surrounding rivers every winter.

Well recognized as one of the best, if not the best rock climbing destination in Canada, the over 2000 documented climbing routes on solid granite have made Squamish a favorite of climbers the world over. The climbing is readily accessible, and whether novice or expert, climbers of all abilities can find almost endless challenges to fill their days.

Inching its way towards taking advantage of the growing tourism opportunities, The District of Squamish has just completed a Tourism information centre on the well-traveled Highway 99. Dubbed “The Adventure Centre” the grand, “saddle shaped” building houses a coffee shop and district offices as well.

Squamish Hotels are looking to capitalize on the opportunities provided while Squamish in on the world stage. Construction on a new large hotel has begun, and The Sea to Sky Hotel, Squamish’s longest-lived major hotel and Conference Centre, is undergoing a major renovation and upgrade to take advantage of the growing market.

Vancouver Rafting Company Canadian Outback is one of the Adventure companies looking to capitalize on the growing popularity of Squamish. They have been running rafting trips on the Squamish and Elaho rivers for over a decade, and have seen a steady growth. Beyond Rafting, they have also seen steady growth in their team building business, which uses Squamish as a convenient locale for many of their events.

For many, the jump in growth and tourism are exactly what the town has needed for a long time. If you have to walk a little further to find a great climb or pass a few more mountain bikers on the trails, all the better as it means there are more potential climbing partners or riding partners in town. It was, of course, always inevitable that an outdoor recreation paradise like this would be discovered one day, with or without the 2010 Winter Olympics dropping in on the neighbours.