Outdoor clubs take hikers of all levels to North Shore mountains
On an early spring morning in 1886, the North Shore peaks would surely have invited closer inspection, as they do today. The problem then, as it is now, would have been that if you’re a single person fully aware that one should never hike alone, where do you turn?
Years later, in 1907, it would have been to the British Columbia Mountaineering Club, Vancouver’s first outdoors club. Today, a good place to begin would be a group like Metro Vancouver Parks’ Silver Sneakers Hiking Club. Targeted at a 50-plus demographic, Silver Sneakers takes twice-weekly forays into Capilano River and Lynn Headwaters regional parks and is one of two such bands of happy wanderers organized by MVP. Baby & Me Hiking Club, a group for new parents and expectant mothers, meets thrice-weekly at Belcarra, Capilano River, and Lynn Headwaters regional parks.
In late March, the Georgia Straight joined Silver Sneakers leader Olga Ottens and a half-dozen regulars as they set out on a mid-week jaunt into the folds of the North Shore mountains. Because Ottens expected to encounter snow along Lynn Headwaters’ trails, all wore gaiters and carried Yaktrax traction coils to slip on over their hiking shoes. “I’m a stickler for good boots,” Ottens said. “With our rugged terrain, proper footwear is a must. Just because you can do the Grouse Grind in sandals doesn’t make it right.”
A past president and long-time member of the North Shore Outdoors Club, Ottens was a natural choice to head Silver Sneakers. “Over the years, I’ve received a lot of training on safe leadership,” Ottens said. “I’ve learned how to keep a group together and how to deal with situations like injuries and bear encounters. I carry a loud horn, not bear spray. You’re not a target when part of a group. There’s safety in numbers. Don’t be scared; be sensible. These mountains are dangerous but also a lot of fun.”
Although the Silver Sneakers club roster is near capacity, enrollment in other outdoors groups has plummeted recently. Both Ottens and Keith McCormick, president of the Inside Edge Club, cited the increasing popularity of the social network Meetup as a drain on club memberships.
“Meetup is a big competitor to groups like the North Shore Outdoors Club, whose head count has dropped from around 100 to 60 these days,” said Ottens, who expressed reservations about Meetup’s ad hoc organizational style. “They don’t plan ahead like we do with appointed leaders and fitness-level evaluations. We have our thoughts about how safe these [Meetup] groups are, especially as they carry no insurance.” At the same time, Ottens acknowledged that older clubs have to be more spontaneous to match Meetup’s attraction.
When reached by phone after returning from an Inside Edge Club ski outing to Manning Provincial Park, Nicole Weghsteen told the Straight that she felt her club was better organized than Meetup groups. “When we plan a trip, we book cabins or group campsites, plan intricate dinners, and rent support vehicles. We’re an all-volunteer, adult-oriented group of individuals who are looking to take part in outdoor activities.” That’s what drove Weghsteen to join Inside Edge in 1991. “My friends didn’t do anything but eat. I was looking for a place to play baseball. As a student, I was terrible at sports. I attended nine different schools and never fit in or joined a team. I like baseball, and when I moved to Vancouver, I wondered where I could go to play.”
After five years on the diamond, Weghsteen moved on. These days, skiing and mountain biking take up most of her time. She affirmed that the best benefit of membership is being part of an all-inclusive group. “We’re like a big family. If you’re new to the area, it’s a great place to meet people and make friends, but we are definitely not a singles club.”
At Inside Edge’s peak in 1993, the year a friend enticed McCormick to join, the club boasted a membership of more than 1,400. These days, that figure is in the mid-300 range. McCormick attributed the drop to the fact that there are far more outdoors clubs now than when Inside Edge began as a ski club in 1971. A decade later, it had grown to be one of Western Canada’s largest recreation and social clubs.
What really set Inside Edge apart came in 1995, when, thanks to what McCormick characterized as a “sweetheart deal”, the club bought a 20-bed ski lodge in Whistler. “Our equity in Whistler gives us a large enough bank account to cover booking playing fields and indoor facilities for volleyball, soccer, and softball,” McCormick said. “Although we’re activity-driven, we’re not competitive. We mix teams up with different ability levels so that each team has an equal number of experts, intermediates, and beginners. Socializing is the core purpose of the club.”
The 52-year-old electronics designer noted that unlike his generation, most young people now aren’t joiners. “They find connections through the Internet. In the 1970s, clubs were the only way to meet others with similar interests.” As for the future, McCormick is certain Inside Edge will still be attracting new members in 20 years.
“As long as they’re skiing, we’ll be around.”