The January 1st event in downtown Squamish is very small. The one at Porteau Cove, however, is a fair size. In 2023, about two dozen people participated in the first event. Around 100 people braved the water at the second.
Continue reading to learn about the two polar bear swims in BC’s Sea to Sky Region.
Squamish & Porteau Cove Polar Bear Swims
A couple of polar bear swims took place in the Squamish region on January 1st in 2024. There was a small one, organized by Swim Wild Squamish. It took place at the beach area at Mamquam Blind Channel in the Town of Squamish. The second event was a couple of hours later, at Porteau Cove Provincial Park, about a 20-minute drive away. Both swims were free to attend and neither required you to register in advance.
Swim Wild Squamish Polar Bear Swim
Swim Wild Squamish is a swim club for adults who want to swim in area rivers, lakes and the ocean. It’s for folks of all swimming abilities who want to swim in the “wild” as opposed to in swimming pools. Most of the club’s events are for members only. Their polar bear swim on January 1st, however, is for anyone who wants to join. Admission is free and you can just show up.
The swim club’s polar beer swim on January 1st in 2024 was in Mamquam Blind Channel at the beach at Xwu’nekw Park. Parking for the beach is at the corner of Main Street and Loggers Lane, not far from Junction Park. It’s about a block from Cleveland Avenue (which is the town’s “Main Street”). The “beach” is just a short walk from the parking lot.
We say “beach” because on January 1st in 2024 there was a very high tide, which meant that the beach area was completely under water. Also, there is a fair bit of industry in the channel, plus boats, so the water isn’t the cleanest. It’s okay, but it’s not a major beach that lots of people swim at, even in the summer. Some do though, including members of Swim Wild Squamish.
What Happened in 2024 and Previous Years
In 2024, the swimming at Xwu’nekw Park on January 1st started at 10:00 am. When we arrived, at about 9:30 am or a bit after, there were only a couple of other people there. Very slowly, more brave folk arrived (including about half of them within the last 10 minutes before the plunge).
The swim was a fairly informal affair, but fun for both participants and their supporters. About two dozen people went in the water. About the same number came to watch (like us). A small number of people actually swam. The rest of the participants just ran in, stood around for a bit in the water, and then came back out.
Within about 5 minutes pretty much everyone was out of the water. It was short, but sweet. After drying off, people either got in their cars and headed home or went to a nearby coffee shop for hot drinks. We know that at least one of the swimmers headed to Porteau Cove for a second round of icy swimming a couple of hours later. We spotted that same fearless person at both events.
This event used to happen at Sp’akw’us Feather Park in Squamish, up until the arrival of COVID-19, and until the start of construction in that oceanfront area. The last couple of years though, Swim Wild Squamish members have simply joined the polar bear swim at Porteau Cove. 2024 was the first time the club has hosted its own separate January 1st event in a few years.
Porteau Cove Polar Bear Swim
The Squamish Polar Bear Swim at Porteau Cove has been happening for over a dozen years. Whereas the earlier event hosted by the Swim Wild Squamish Club is smaller and less formal, the plunge at the provincial park is fairly large. A good number of people attend it. With this swim, you can also just show up. There is no need to register in advance. It’s also free, and there is no formal element to the event (i.e., there are no prizes).
A few people still dress up for the Porteau Cove event, at least a little bit, and Squamish Search & Rescue is on site just in case anyone hurts themselves, or suffers a heart attack because of the cold. In 2024, we estimate that close to 100 participants were in the water. In total, there were around 200 people at the event including supportive family members, friends and other onlookers.
The same as with the swim in Squamish earlier in the day, at this second event there was just the swim. There isn’t a contest, live music, bonfire or anything else. Unlike the earlier swim, however, there is a washroom at the park where you can change in and out of your swimsuit. There are not, however, any coffee shops in the area.
Where & When is the Porteau Cove Swim
The event at Porteau Cove Provincial Park takes place at the boat launch which is right by the parking lot and the wharf near the entrance to the park.
Porteau Cove is about 20 km south of Squamish and 25 km north of Horseshoe Bay in West Vancouver. It’s also about 8.5 km south of Britannia Beach (which is home to the Britannia Mine Museum which is well worth checking out).
The Squamish Polar Bear Swim takes place at noon. If you arrive by about 11:00 am you shouldn’t have a problem finding a place to park. Arrive after 11:30 and parking will be a challenge. By 11:45 am, there are a lot of people!
The countdown starts 10 seconds before 12:00 pm. By 12:05, everything is pretty much over.
Tips and Advice
Below are some suggestions to help you make the most out of your polar bear swim experiences in the Sea to Sky Region.
TIP #1: With the earlier event in Mamquam Blind Channel at Xwu’nekw Park, be sure to go to the washroom before going to the event (unless your strategy is to pee in the water to make it warmer, but that’s not such a great idea). No washrooms are open in the area before 10:00 am.
TIP #2: With the event at Porteau Cove, wear footwear in the water. The area close to the boat launch is paved. It’s not too rough, but people with tender feet might find it hard to walk on. Away from the concrete ramp, and further out in the water, where you might need to go if the tide is out, it can be pretty rocky.
TIP #3: Also at Porteau Cove, arrive early (to find easy parking), and, while you’re waiting for the event to start, have a picnic lunch and go for a walk. Porteau Cove isn’t a large park, but it’s a nice one. When the tide is out, you can walk along the waterfront for a fair ways.
TIP #4: If you want to do other things while in the area, either before or after your swim, there are a number of options. Shannon Falls Provincial Park is nearby, and Alice Lake isn’t too far either. Both are nice places to explore. The Britannia Mine Museum is also a very interesting place, and you pass right by it on your way to and from Vancouver. There is also the Sea to Sky Gondola.
For more details about the event hosted by the swimming club, see the Swim Wild Squamish website.
To learn about the annual event at Porteau Cove, visit the Squamish Polar Bear Swim Facebook page.
Other articles that might be of interest include the following:
- Lower Mainland Polar Bear Swims
- Vancouver’s Best Beaches
- Vancouver’s January Calendar of Events
- Free Events in January
- Vancouver Christmas Activities