Risk your life or kick up your feet? Canada offers both possibilities in abundance. Here we review the finest
Some differences we overweigh.
I claim to care about many of them.
I actually don’t.
If you prefer cats to dogs, that’s your prerogative (let’s be honest: a bad one). But then again, there are choices we don’t weigh enough. Like this one: free from work and worry, one decides how their hard-earned free time is spent; the difference between those who choose to risk their life and those who opt for a luxurious massage is unquestionably profound.
The American columnist Jonah Goldberg said that “conservatism is comfort with contradiction” — that multiple things can be true at the same time. I rarely vouch for the conservative view, but it’s about as wise a stance on this issue as you can take. In fact, I urge readers not to dwell on this contradiction. I did and it made me extremely uncomfortable for several days. Just let it be that for enjoyment, some people choose to teeter over the abyss, while others, including me, cannot even conceive of deriving a sense of enjoyment from such an activity, from taking that risk.
Fortunately, no matter your disposition, Canada offers both possibilities in high quantity and remarkable quality. Here I explore the best of the best — the most life threatening and the most tranquil.
Dancing with Gravity: Heli-skiing
Heli-skiing was moulded in the heart of Canada’s wilderness, specifically in the vast expanse of British Columbia’s Purcell Mountains and the snow-covered peaks around Revelstoke and Whistler. This high-octane sport, in which experienced skiers take helicopters to the most pristine backcountry slopes, has seen its popularity soar in recent years.
Paving the way for Canadian excellence in the sport is Greg Hill, a celebrated Canadian ski mountaineer and heli-skier hailing from Revelstoke, B.C. In 2010, Hill set an astonishing record by skiing two million feet in a year, maintaining an average of 5,500 feet daily while conquering 71 mountains and 1,039 runs. (Not bad. But I’ll have my readers know I once made it down a “double black diamond” run with all my limbs intact. Candidly, though, I quickly retired to the chalet to call my mom and let her know I loved her.) Hill’s accomplishments in heliskiing have attracted advanced skiers and snowboarders from across the globe to Canada’s backcountry slopes, establishing them as premier destinations for those seeking the ultimate downhill thrill.
Rainforest Retreat: Nimmo Bay Wilderness Resort
If you’re not keen on your heart beating out of your chest but still want to appreciate the natural majesty of British Columbia, then the Nimmo Bay Wilderness Resort is the place for you.
From its origins as a quaint fishing lodge in the 1980s, Nimmo Bay has expanded into a world-renowned wilderness resort. Its nine private chalets offer guests extraordinary access to the beauty of the Great Bear Rainforest. If you feel like venturing away from the floating cedar sauna or the hot tub after enjoying a fresh-caught lunch, you can enjoy whale watching, heli-hiking, fine coastal dining, beachcombing, kayaking, paddleboarding, mindful hiking, glacier trekking, wildlife viewing and much more.
No Ropes, No Limits: Free Soloing
Ever get a feeling of unease just watching someone else do something dangerous? Me too. But what makes these viewing experiences bearable, even conscionable, is the awareness that there’s some form of safety measure in place — a net to catch the trapeze artist, a backup parachute for the skydiver, a nearby lifeguard for the big wave surfer.
Take that feeling and intensify it by an order of magnitude when it comes to the death-defying art of free soloing. The most hazardous style of rock climbing, free soloing beckons daring thrill-seekers to achieve what seems unimaginable: scaling steep, imposing rock formations and mountains devoid of any lifesaving security — no ropes, no harnesses, just the climber and the wall. While Canada boasts legendary landscapes for free soloing, there is no such thing as a perfect climb or environment: unpredictable variables can influence every inch of an individual’s ascent.
Some of the most extreme climbs in the world happen right on our doorstep. In Alberta, climber Geoff Powter undertook what the bouldering community believes to be one of the “boldest free solos in Rockies history,” on Mountain Yamnuska.
Another standout destination is The Stawamus Chief Mountain, fondly known as The Chief, situated in Squamish, B.C. This mountain boasts a towering granite monolith with a range of bouldering routes suitable for climbers of all skill levels. The Chief, along with much of the West Coast, is renowned as a must-visit destination for avid boulderers from around the world.
The next time you’re feeling the itch to take your life into your own hands, know that you don’t need to travel far abroad. The thrill, the majesty, the madness is all just a flight to Western Canada, several bus rides, a light 30-kilometre hike up to base camp and one hell of a gruelling ascent away!
Reviving the Spirit: Relaxing in Kananaskis Country
If, instead of attempting to climb mountains, you prefer simply to look at them, then the Kananaskis Mountain Lodge is the perfect place. Located just a one-hour drive from Calgary, this is an accessible alpine paradise.
Spend your day enjoying the nearby Kananaskis Nordic spa encompassing 50,000 square feet that features a relaxation lodge, five outdoor pools, five steam and sauna cabins, an exfoliation cabin, fireside lounges and massage treatments. Spend your night in a room with stunning mountain views and wake up to the beauty of the rolling Kananaskis Valley.
Whether you choose to soak in the outdoor hot pools while gazing at the northern lights or unwind in the tranquil relaxation areas, the Kananaskis range offers a sanctuary for those seeking a peaceful escape in the heart of the Rockies.
Exploring the Unknown: Caving
Canada not only offers beauty at high altitudes, but also at subterranean depths, and the select few brave enough to practise the extreme sport of caving can access it.
One of the densest concentrations of caves for adventurers to explore is in Vancouver Island’s Horne Lake Caves Provincial Park. This park offers a range of caving experiences from beginner-friendly excursions to more challenging spelunking adventures.
Take it from Christian Stenner, one of Canada’s most prominent cave explorers and a participant in some of the country’s most daring expeditions. Stenner is renowned for his discovery of new passages within Canada’s longest cave, the 21-kilometre Castleguard Cave in Jasper National Park, Alta., and the Bisaro Anima cave near Fernie, B.C., which descends 683 metres along its 5.2-kilometre route. Meanwhile, I’m still trying to find my way out of my local grocery store’s parking lot. Over his ongoing 17-year tenure as a caver, one thing has consistently fuelled Stenner’s passion: “To know that you are the first human to ever be in a place is an amazing experience.” That is the allure of caving here in Canada.
A Coastal Gem: Fogo Island
While caving showcases some of the best Mother Nature has to offer, the Fogo Island Inn offers the best in human architectural ingenuity and design. Perched on the rugged shores of Fogo Island off the coast of Newfoundland, this remarkable inn showcases a breathtaking fusion of contemporary design and traditional craftsmanship, blending effortlessly into its natural surroundings.
The inn’s striking geometric structure, designed by renowned architect Todd Saunders, pays homage to the island’s rich heritage while embracing modern luxury. Its floor-to-ceiling windows offer panoramic views of the North Atlantic Ocean, providing an ever-changing tableau of sea and sky.
Inside, the inn exudes warmth and hospitality, with each of its 29 guest rooms uniquely decorated and adorned with handcrafted furnishings created by local artisans. Guests are greeted with a cozy ambiance that perfectly complements the untamed beauty of the island. The culinary experience is equally exceptional, featuring a menu that celebrates the island’s bounty of fresh seafood and locally sourced ingredients. Guests can also explore the island’s dramatic coastline, hike its pristine trails or simply unwind in the inn’s rooftop hot tubs, all while being enveloped in the awe-inspiring natural beauty of Fogo Island.