By Joe Gaskin (UBC, Canada)
Without a doubt the best part of going to live in Vancouver was its location, particularly the mountains on the city’s doorstep. Just a half hour drive from UBC and you can be in the Rocky Mountains. No matter what time of year it is there is always a range of things to get up to in the mountains. In the summer, there are some great hiking trails – I hiked up Grouse Mountain (overlooking Vancouver) and completed the Stawamus Chief hike in nearby Squamish. The hikes are tough but they are worth it for the views you get at the top. There are plenty more hiking trails in the mountains that are worth exploring as long as you’ve brought along your bear spray, just in case you get into a bit of bother with a beast.
I also went rock climbing near Squamish. This is something I’ve never done before but I went as part of the ‘Rock Party’ hosted by the Varsity Outdoor Club (VOC). They held beginner sessions to help us get the hang of it and then let us get on with climbing up rock faces (whilst harnessed of course). This was a great experience and something that I perhaps would never have done if I had not been in Vancouver. The mountains also provide the perfect sightseeing opportunities. I took a trip to Shannon falls in Squamish and also some natural hot springs near Pemberton. There are also plenty of viewing points along the sea-to-sky highway (from Vancouver to Whistler) to gain great views of the city, the ocean, the islands in the bay and also glaciers and icefields in the mountains. In the summer, Whistler becomes a huge mountain bike park with loads of different tracks and courses to ride down. I didn’t do this because I could just see it ending up with me in the hospital but some of my friends were keen mountain bikers and they loved it. Another great summer activity is to go camping. I went on the Exchange Student Club (ESC) trip to the Sunshine Coast in British Columbia. This was great trip as it meant I could spend time with fellow exchange students outside the city and do different activities such as archery, kayaking and hiking. My favourite part was the kayaking due to the seals that would pop up alongside you as you were paddling.
There is also Vancouver Island just a two hour ferry ride away from Vancouver city. It’s an island the size of Belgium so you can imagine that there are absolutely loads of things to get up to here. The capital of British Columbia, Victoria, is situated on the south part of the island and it’s a lovely town to visit with some great seafood restaurants and tourist attractions. On the east of the island is the beach resort of Tofino which is a surfers’ paradise due to the size of the waves the beaches get there. The actual town of Tofino is great as well so it’s a great summer holiday destination. There are plenty of provincial parks on the island with some great walks and hikes. During the salmon season, I took a trip to Goldstream park where you can see the salmon swimming upstream to their spawning grounds, which is truly amazing to see.
And then of course there’s the wonderful, magical, beautiful season of Winter. And with this comes snow. And that means one thing: skiing in Whistler. This was the main attraction for me of going to UBC. Whistler is just two hours’ drive away meaning a day trip skiing is always an option every week. Or if you wanted to push the boat out a little you could stay the weekend as there were plenty of great, cheap deals for hotels and airbnbs at different times in the season. Season passes were cheap as well. Since I was a student in Vancouver I got a student season pass for CA$530 (roughly £270). This basically meant that I only had to ski 5 days in the season for the pass to be worthwhile (I was proud to meet this target within 2 weeks of the slopes being open). And then there’s the skiing itself. I can honestly say Whistler is the best resort I’ve skied at. There’s something for everyone with plenty of beginner slopes, nice groomed advanced pistes and then plenty of off-piste skiing. You could spend 30 days of the season up in Whistler skiing and I can honestly say you will never get bored of the mountains.
I loved all of the trips to Vancouver’s surrounding areas as they provided me with different opportunities to do things that usually would be inaccessible to me. But I cannot hide the fact that my favourite days of my whole time in Vancouver were spent on the slopes at Whistler.