Photo Credit: Courtesy 2015 Canada Winter Games/Dustin Hall
Playing Games: Touring northern BC with the Canada Games
I’ve never been one for competitive sport. It could be that I’m a bit too lazy, or maybe I’m just inherently not competitive. But just because I don’t have a competitive nature doesn’t mean I dislike sport in general. In fact, the opposite is true. I love getting out to play, whether it’s strapping a snowboard to my feet and ripping down the ski hill or playing a few games of Ping-Pong with a friend. And while I’m pretty sure I’ll never end up standing on a podium, I know that competition is great—it motivates amateur and professional athletes alike to improve, to challenge themselves. It’s fun, too. The few times I’ve entered a race have been a blast.
Prince George is about to get a big dose of the competitive spirit as it prepares for the 2015 Canada Games, a national competition that has been around since 1967. Together with Lheidli T’enneh, the Games’ first official host First Nation, the city is gearing up to welcome the Games from Feb. 13 to March 1. This is a big deal for Prince George. The northern city is the first in BC to host the winter version of the Games, and it’s the largest multi-sport event ever held in the North. Soon, over 2,400 athletes from across the country will come to compete in a varied mix of sports, including everything from archery and alpine skiing to table tennis and wheelchair basketball.
Travellers who come to northern BC often arrive armed with bikes, kayaks, canoes and skis, in search of the ultimate northern outdoor pursuit. But northern BC isn’t just an outdoor playground—there are plenty of other sports to be played throughout the region. Using some of the Canada Games official sports as a launching point, we’re taking a look at what you can do when you come to the region. To find out more details (including links and contact info) about any sport opportunities below and more, take a gander at the Pacific Sport website for northern BC. For a full list of the official sports and other information about the Canada Games, visit canadagames2015.ca.
A little game of Robin Hood, anyone? Prince Rupert, Terrace, Smithers and Prince George all have archery clubs and ranges for practice. Most groups have an outdoor range (or share a facility) and some have indoor ranges for winter use. Contact info for these four clubs can be found at archeryassociation.bc.ca.
Competitive badminton is amazing to watch. Skill, finesse, speed and agility all come into play on the court. On an amateur level, badminton is a fun game that all ages can pretty easily get the hang of. I, for one, spent many summer hours playing badminton outdoors in my childhood. Many northern towns have facilities for badminton open to the public. The Jim Ciccone Civic Centre in Prince Rupert has several courts and for just a few dollars anyone can grab a racket and bat the birdie around for a couple of hours—a nice escape from the wet weather, if you need time to warm up. In Prince George, the University of Northern BC has great facilities for enthusiasts. Both Smithers and Terrace have clubs, hosted at local secondary schools.
Cross-country skiing and biathlon
I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve been cross-country skiing. One of my first times out, I pulled off a spectacular, sprawling bail in front of at least 60 people. My ego was more bruised than my tailbone. Away from the crowds at the lodge, I’ve been able to relax into the feeling of moving through the landscape, occasionally even looking up at the scenery without falling into the snow bank.
Cross-country skiing is an inexpensive winter sport that can be either athletic and intensely competitive or as relaxing as taking a Sunday stroll. It’s a great way to get outdoors in the cold weather and stretch your legs. There are far too many amazing spots in northern BC to include here, but a couple of the larger, more developed facilities include the BV Nordic Centre in Smithers, the Otway ski trails in Prince George and the trail network in Burns Lake maintained by the Omineca Ski Club. Smithers’ facilities include a lodge, lit trails for night skiing and a dog trail so you can take your furry friends along.
Admittedly, biathlon can be a tricky sport to squeeze into travels, but again there are plenty of places where you can get out and carry a rifle while skiing. Check with the local Nordic centre or ski club in the town where you’re hoping to practice, and they should let you know what facilities they have and what you need to bring. You might even connect with some locals and get a tour —or an impromptu competition—while you’re at it.
Apart from hockey, there’s no other sport as quintessentially Canadian as curling. My late grandfather used to “throw the rock” and he was the epitome of Canadian. A longshoreman by trade, he said “eh” at the end of most sentences without thinking about it, watched hockey religiously and wore plaid daily. For drop-in curling opportunities check out Curl BC’s website and look for the individual sites based in Prince Rupert, Kitimat, Terrace, Smithers, Fraser Lake and Prince George.
Ice hockey and figure skating
Northern BC has plenty of ice, indoors and—in the winter—out. It’s safe to say that wherever you’re travelling to in this northern (read: cold) region will have some ice you can muck about on. If you want to actually play drop-in hockey, the best bet is to contact the local rec centre and ask if they have any programs that fit your schedule. Most rinks have public skates and times when you can get on the ice. There are outdoor rinks in many northern towns and often locals clear snow on lakes and ponds and throw out a net. Grab a map, pack your skates and stick, and you might just stumble on a friendly game of shinny.
Devotees of squash are, well, pretty devoted. The sport can be like a dance, when it’s played well. It’s athletic and requires graceful movement and a keen spatial awareness. I get tired just thinking about it. The camaraderie between the two squash clubs in Smithers and Prince Rupert is a storied one. Members of each club travel between the two towns fairly regularly for tournaments. A thriving scene in each town means the facilities are great. On the coast, you’ll find the courts at the Prince Rupert Racquet Centre and in Smithers they’re in the Bulkley Valley Regional Pool and Recreation Centre on Highway 16.
Skiing and snowboarding
Ah, the sharp sound of skis cutting into corduroy, the rush of icy wind, the sudden absence of sound as a jump propels you into the air. At the Canada Games, ski events include slalom, ski-cross, moguls, slopestyle and, for snowboarding, slopestyle, parallel giant slalom and snowboard cross. Hurtling downhill on a pair of planks or a board—whether you’re a beginner or a grizzled veteran competitor—is a great reason to travel in the winter.
Northern BC has a huge selection of ski resorts—for those of you scoping out ski destinations, you’re spoiled for choice. The downhill ski and snowboard events at the Games will be held at Purden and Tabor mountains, not far from the host city. Northeast of Prince George is Powder King Mountain, named for its impressive annual snowfall. Heading northwest, there’s the small but satisfying Murray Ridge in Fort St. James, the family-friendly Hudson Bay Mountain in Smithers and Shames Mountain between Terrace and Prince Rupert. The best thing about ski hills up here is there are rarely lines, apart from the ones you make as you float down the slopes.
OK, let’s face it, synchronized swimming isn’t exactly a sport geared toward amateurs. But that doesn’t mean we can’t try it, right? I mean, why not? Throughout northern BC are great public pools and in the winter months getting a couple of laps in, or a soak in the hot tub, after some icy outdoor activity is a nice change from the snowy landscapes. Next time you check out a pool in northern BC, I challenge you to grab a partner, pay attention to whatever pop tune is piped through the speakers and try to coordinate some slick moves. Give your kids (if you have kids) scorecards—I’m sure they’ll be fair judges. Prince Rupert’s Earl Mah Aquatic Centre is a great facility, as is the pool at UNBC in Prince George. In between, you have plenty of options, including Houston, which has a skookum wave pool, Kitimat’s Sam Lindsay Aquatic Centre and the Terrace Aquatic Centre. Most pools are operated by the towns themselves, so pop over to the municipalities’ websites to find out where you need to go. And don’t forget your swimsuit, cap and smile.
When I was growing up, playing a few games of Ping-Pong was an almost daily occurrence. These days, it’s not as frequent, but I still love the game. Seeing it included in the Canada Games roster brought a smile to my face. Prince George has a table-tennis club (unbctta.com) and would be a good place to start if you’re looking for an opportunity to play a few games on your travels.
Bang! Some people shoot for practice, a precursor to lining up an animal destined for the dinner table, and others shoot for the joy of it. Northern BC, a region known for its amazing hunting opportunities, has great options for taking a bead on a target. Most towns have a rod and gun club and a decent shooting range. Call up the local club in your destination town and you should be able to get in some shots at the targets.
When putting this article together, I recalled my brother’s friend who broke his back and spent several months in a wheelchair. I pictured him—a young, slightly wild, but nice, friendly guy—popping wheelchair wheelies in the hall of the rehabilitation facility. He could sustain a wheelie all the way down that long hallway. I was just a kid when we went to visit him and seeing someone with that much control over a wheelchair blew my tiny mind. Making the machine work for you on a basketball court is staggering. And that’s exactly what athletes all over the country do; it’s inspiring to say the least. Good luck to all the athletes of this sport, and all the others, who are coming to northern BC to compete in the 2015 Canada Games.