How Squamish’s summer athletes stay fit through winter

Leigh McClurg - The Squamish Chief


Let’s be honest, Squamish in the dead of winter can be a pretty challenging place to live and play. Social media feeds fill with updates about others absconding to sunnier climes to break away and get a good dose of Vitamin D closer to the equator.

Squamish is in a rainforest, after all, and so liquid sunshine falls for months at a time.

howe sound
Winter hugs Howe Sound. Photo: LEIGH AND SPRING MCCLURG

As a summer-lover myself, I have only half-jokingly remarked during such long and wet winters that I was beginning to miss my shadow — an old friend that I hadn’t seen outside in quite a while.

The encroaching cold, dark and damp can lead many who focus on summer-based sports like rock climbing and kiteboarding to simply resign themselves, to let their bodies get soft, putting on their winter coats of insulation that mirror the deep layers of snow on our mountains. Retreating into hibernation until the warmth returns.

Other local recreationists see the winter as an excellent time of year to take stock of their achievements, train and come out the other side of winter striding into summer feeling physically and mentally stronger than before — ready to scale the rock or hit the water of Howe Sound with new vigour.

“My plan is to continue the gym routine I started last winter,” said Sarah Bulford, a Squamish resident who volunteers with Squamish Search and Rescue, works as a ranger for BC Parks and uses the granite walls around town as her playground each summer. “It’s a mix of weightlifting, using the campus [climbing] board, finger training (hangs), cardio and indoor climbing. I have seen massive improvements in my climbing and overall physical shape since I started a strict [winter] training plan.”

When it is cold and dark outside it can be hard to stay motivated.

This can also lead to feelings of brain fog, lethargy and even anxiety and sadness for some.

Climbing during a cool but dry winter day up the Stawamus Chief. (Photo: Leigh and Spring McClurg)

“I believe a healthy body will give you a clear head. You will feel better when you roll out of bed in the morning to face your world, whatever it may be”, said Bulford, adding that training over the winter will not only help your overall fitness and health, but it will help prevent injury when you get after it the next summer.

Amanda Pearson, a paramedic for BC Ambulance at the Squamish station and an avid kiteboarder, says she spends a lot of time at the gym during the winter focusing on core strength, flexibility, and agility.

“Yoga is a perfect complement to kiting, and I try to practice every day,” she added.

After a kitesurfing injury on Vancouver Island, Pearson said physio was critical for her rehab.

“Since then, I’ve relied on it for maintaining my physical health and tweaking things when my body just doesn’t quite feel right. It’s helped my balance and strength in ways that I don’t think I could’ve done on my own,” she added.

It can be easy, especially with heavy training, to exacerbate overuse injuries potentially caused during the summer season, Bulford stressed.

“I also can’t advocate enough for incorporating a solid 30 minute [foam] roll session into your plan. After each workout, you should spend a minimum of two minutes on your tight muscle groups. Rolling can prevent injury by increasing circulation, blood flow and keeping your muscles from tightening up and causing discomfort or injury,” she said.

A big factor in winter is the mental aspect of feeling energetic enough to head out into the rain, snow or wind and make your way to a gym.

Bulford said how you feel after is a key motivator to keep summer climbers and kiteboarders heading back to the local fitness centre.

“I love the way my body feels when I am in a good training plan. I love going to the gym and feeling strong. It’s motivating just to feel physically fit,” she said, adding that her job as a park ranger also requires a high level of fitness.

She views her climbing training also as cross-training. “I like being able to carry weight and not be spent after a day of work in the backcountry. I stay motivated because I love the results and I know that it will all pay off. We also live in a pretty motivated community — so I won’t be the only one psyched on training.”

Pearson did acknowledge that last winter she managed to avoid the rains of Squamish for a time by flying south, which for many individuals who love the sun and have the time available is a way to enjoy their sport in the winter. She headed to La Ventana, Mexico and kited every day while she was there.

This winter she will likely go away again to kite somewhere warm, at least for a while.

Whatever the reasons for training through the winter months, it can not only have a positive impact on an athlete’s climbing and kitesurfing abilities but can also lead to a better mental outlook in general. The psychological benefits of exercise are well known and with winter training, summer-based athletes will have the anticipation and focus to make the most of the Squamish summer.