Think winter. Think fun. Think Sunshine Coast. That’s what Sherry Royal, manager of the newly formed Sunshine Coast Tourism organization, hopes Lower Mainlanders will do this month. On the phone from Gibsons, Royal told the Georgia Straight that after years of attempts, SCT is the water-locked region’s first destination-marketing association.
Things got off on the right foot last April. “As usual, the summer was strong, and the response to our early efforts luring people here full-time has been good. Growing the off-season is the next big step.” A 33-percent reduction in ferry rates until January 31 on all routes, including the Sunshine Coast, will certainly help achieve that goal. “I wish we could take credit for the cut,” Royal said with a laugh. “That came at the suggestion of one of our board members from B.C. Ferries.”
If the thought of leaving your winter burrow to seek recreation a few hours from home has appeal, head up the Sechelt and Malaspina peninsulas, the twin protrusions bounded by Howe and Desolation sounds. By turns rocky coves, sandy beaches, and boardwalk promenades, the 140-kilometre stretch of shoreline from Langdale in the south to Lund at the north is always the most welcoming place to start immersing yourself in the Sunshine Coast’s altered-reality ambiance. Most often the Strait of Georgia laps the waterfront like a contented puppy. Royal finds this is especially true at Davis Bay, south of Sechelt, where views across the inland sea’s flat expanse roll uninterrupted westward toward Vancouver Island. “This is where I like to walk the beach, sit on one of the benches dedicated to locals, and treat myself to fish and chips from the Beach Boy,” she said.
Where the village of Roberts Creek spreads along the forested shore north of Gibsons, Loragene Gaulin’s thoughts stray to higher elevations—Dakota Ridge, to be precise. When reached at the region’s first bed-and-breakfast, Country Cottage, co-owner Gaulin told the Straight: “There’s more to the Sunshine Coast than a big, romantic tea party.” She ought to know. Over the past 22 years, she and her husband, Philip, have not only harboured guests in their two cozy, dog-friendly cottages, they’ve made a habit in winter of leading snowshoe and cross-country ski excursions along the Caren Range ridge that snares copious quantities of powder snow as winter storms pass inland. “Over the past year, the access to our winter playground has really improved, though you still need a four-wheel-drive with chains if you go on your own,” she said. “We take our guests with us or they can go with our neighbours at Alpha Adventures.”
In 2000, Jamie and Sarah Mani created Alpha Adventures to cater to the growing year-round demands of both paddlers and skiers. When reached at home, Jamie told the Georgia Straight the beauty of the Sunshine Coast environment is that you can try one activity in the morning and another in the afternoon. “Outfitted head to toe in neoprene, at this time of year we paddle in sheltered areas like Porpoise Bay or Smugglers Cove,” the part-time Chatelech secondary school physical-education instructor said. One of Mani’s fondest memories is of a wintry New Year’s Day in 2003. “I’d been snowshoe guiding the day before, then changed my kit completely from mountain to ocean gear to lead a group along the coast. It was a magical way to begin the year.”
For the past seven years, the Manis have been offering cross-country ski and snowshoe tours on Dakota Ridge, a 30- to 45-minute drive from their Roberts Creek base. “In those early days, we were part of the fledgling Dakota Ridge Winter Recreation Society,” Jamie said. “There were lots of work parties to clear the trails in this mini-area northwest of Mount Elphinstone between Gibsons and Sechelt.” Last year, the society’s efforts were rewarded with an Olympic funding grant. At that point, the Sunshine Coast Regional District stepped in and granted Dakota Ridge park status. Among other benefits, a grooming machine was purchased to manicure the trails for both classic cross-country and skate skiing. So far, the ridge offers 12 kilometres of trails, complemented by an extensive network of snowshoe routes beneath the sheltering forest canopy. “Much like Mount Seymour, you can stick to the marked and mapped trails or head out on your own to find scenic vistas overlooking the strait,” Jamie, a certified Nordic ski instructor, explained. “Unlike Hollyburn, where I learned to ski, the snow quality here is drier and the terrain less hilly.”
Lately, the Sunshine Coast is enjoying an embarrassment of recreational riches. Jamie pointed out that in the past year, two community centres have opened: a new swimming pool in Sechelt and an ice rink in Gibsons. “I’ve been telling people that Dakota Ridge is a third rec centre all in itself,” he enthused. “This is where to head to shed the grey doldrums of winter. Leave that all behind and get buoyed by the beautiful brightness of the snow.” That’s a bit of thinking that Sherry Royal would surely approve.
Access: To contact Sunshine Coast Tourism, visit www.sunshinecoastcanada.com/. For Country Cottage Bed and Breakfast, visit countrycottagebb.ca/. Alpha Adventures rents skis and snowshoes as well as offering guided tours, lessons, and shuttle-bus connections to Dakota Ridge. For information, contact www.outdooradventurestore.ca/. Updates on conditions in Dakota Ridge Winter Recreation Area are posted on the Sunshine Coast Regional District’s Web site.