Four Things to Do off the Mountains
Vancouver’s looming peaks constantly beckon on the horizon, but the city itself has plenty of options for those who want to stay in town.
1) Explore Stanley Park on Foot
Taking up more than 1,000 acres of Pacific Northwest coniferous terrain on the north edge of Vancouver, Stanley Park is literally almost an island of natural beauty held within the city limits. A wonderful 5.5-mile seawall trail wraps around the park, affording strollers and joggers spectacular views, totem poles, watery rock formations, and cafés. Step inside the park for a half million trees hiding quiet lakes and skitterish wildlife, including blue herons and coyotes.
2) Tour the City by Air or by Sea
Floatplanes in Vancouver often ferry fishing parties and campers to hard-to-reach hinterlands, but they also provide quick, cheap tours of the city. From the air, passengers get a real sense of how tightly Vancouver is tucked into a sprawling, dauntingly large natural-park system. For those less adventurous, try Harbour Cruises & Events (www.boatcruises.com), which operates boat tours of the inner harbor from the watery northern foot of Denman Street in downtown Vancouver.
3) Go Ice Skating
Robson Square’s outdoor ice rink, located at GE Ice Plaza (on Robson Street, between Hornby and Howe streets), was reopened this past November for the 2010 Winter Games. The plaza is expected to be one of the major gathering points during the Games, drawing people with athlete demonstrations, live broadcasts, and as a center for international media. Nearby attractions include the Vancouver Art Gallery (www.vanartgallery.bc.ca), cute coffee shops, and some great high-end shopping.
4) Play Golf
Sorry, Scotland: Canada has more golfers per capita than any other country. And it’s no wonder — golfers can play year-round if they can stand the drizzle. There are six public courses in Vancouver and on its North Shore. Fraserview (604-257-6923, www.vancouver.ca/parks/golf) is located in the heart of the city and offers eye-popping views from the greens. At any of the courses, it’s a good idea to request tee times in advance. If that’s not possible, during the spring/ summer, you can call the A-1 Last Minute Golf Hotline (800-684-6344 or 604-878-1833) to find out what’s available on short notice; be sure to ask about discounted tee times, as well.
Pleasure boats, a sprawling market, and art galleries are tucked together in close quarters in this popular island neighborhood. During the games, Canadian aeronautical company Bombardier (604-623-4720, www.bombardier.com) will provide a streetcar to shuttle passengers from the Canada Line’s Olympic Village station to the island, but small water taxis come and go regularly. The public market is a good place to hunt for fresh food and gastronomical souvenirs.
Yaletown turned itself from Vancouver’s skid row into a swank neighborhood in fewer than 30 years. David Lam Park (Pacific Boulevard and Drake Street), located on the waterfront, will feature giant screens on which to watch Olympic Games action and a nightly laser-light-and-water show. The newly built Yaletown-Roundhouse Canada Line station, which opened this past November, will allow partygoers to be whisked in and out by SkyTrain (www.translink.ca). For drinks and food, don’t miss Elixir and Opus Bar at the Opus Hotel Vancouver ** (866-642-6787, www.opushotel.com), a comfortably luxurious and stylish hotel just a few steps from the city’s new tram.
**AW EXCLUSIVE! Opus Hotel Vancouver invites you to Raid the Minibar!
Once you arrive in your stylish Opus guestroom, don’t resist temptation. Instead, go ahead and raid the minibar — on Opus! Kick back and indulge your cravings — there’s no dress code, and the choice is yours, right at your fingertips. $25 Raid the Minibar credit is exclusive to American Way readers; offer available January 15 through April 1, 2010.
These ’hoods are as old as Vancouver. Modern attractions of North America’s third-largest Chinatown include Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden (604-662-3207, www.vancouverchinesegarden.com) and parades. If you’re there in the summer, don’t miss the Chinatown Night Market. Gastown’s cobblestone streets and Victorian-era buildings, located just north of Chinatown, contain an appealing mix of residents , Native American galleries, clothing boutiques, and cafés.
This residential area in southern Vancouver includes well-established commercial areas and excellent beaches like Jericho, Spanish Banks, and Locarno (www.vancouver.ca/parks/rec/beaches). For outdoor gear, shop in the stores where locals go along Fourth Avenue. The city’s hippie past is preserved in patches along West Broadway and Fourth Avenue.
Vancouver’s Backyard Mountains
Most of the outdoor Olympic events will take place at the megamountain Whistler Blackcomb Ski Resort (www.whistlerblackcomb.com), 70 miles north of Vancouver. Whistler dominates winter sports in the area, but residents of Vancouver have in their backyards a trio of fun, inexpensive mountains — Cypress, Seymour, and Grouse — that perennially become the focus of their ski season. The good news for visitors is that it’s easy to plug into these inviting, economical gems, each within 40 minutes north of the downtown beaches. Staying in the city is an ideal option for those who want to forgo Whistler and its resort atmosphere in favor of its smaller siblings and Vancouver’s excellent restaurants, attractions for nonathletes, and easygoing attitude.
Each of Vancouver’s three local mountains has its own strengths and charms:
Altitude: 4,100 feet (1,200 meters)
Downhill: 26 trails, three terrain parks
Activities: 6.4 kilometers of groomed and ungroomed snowshoe trails
The most popular of the three with tourists, Grouse can be accessed only by a stunning tram ride through an evergreen forest and up the steep face of the mountain. At the top is an excellent lodge with great places to eat and a view that has been known to induce marriage proposals. An exhilarating 1.5-mile snowshoe hike to nearby Dam Mountain affords amazing vistas in every direction. Grouse Mountain will be open around the clock during the two weeks that Cypress and Whistler are closed for the Olympics, and it’s accessible by public transportation.
Altitude: 4,720 feet (1,439 meters; the tallest peak of the three)
Downhill: 52 trails, two terrain parks
Activities: 10 kilometers of snowshoeing trails; 19 kilometers of groomed trails (almost half are lighted) for Nordic skiers
Cypress is the largest and most challenging of the three mountains. The terrain includes expert glades and steep mogul fields. However, an army of experienced ski instructors and long cruising trails make Cypress an ideal place for skiers of every level to take lessons. The mountain will host snowboarding and freestyle-skiing events; the new lodge, high-speed chairlifts, and one-season-old Raven’s Ridge area keep Cypress interesting for all skill levels. (Note: Cypress will be closed for the Olympics, from February 1 through March 8.)
Altitude: 4,150 feet (1,265 meters)
Downhill: 39 trails plus acres of off-trail terrain
Activities: Snow tubing and toboggan runs; 10 kilometers of marked and maintained snowshoe trails
The smallest mountain of the three, Seymour offers easy access and a price that’s ideal for families and new skiers. The mountain has a long history with snowboarders, as it was one of the first spots to embrace the sport. Terrain parks and access gates to backcountry areas are favorite locations for aerialists and adventurers, but be sure to read the rules and monitor the avalanche risk. An extensive network of snowshoe trails winds around the resort.