Watching storms in British Columbia

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Scoring a front-row seat to nature’s splashiest spectacle

It’s not my norm to hunt for the perfect storm—as a general rule, I prefer mai tais on the beach—but when my weather app informed me the skies would turn from grey to ghastly, I bolted to the cusp of Canada’s West Coast to suit up like a seal and take to the sand.

Standing beside a kaleidoscope of kelp and grasses washed ashore by the enraged waves, I panned my surroundings only to realize I was on the edge of the world straddling the divide between land and sea in Tofino, British Columbia.

Located five hours from Vancouver via car and ferry (or 45 minutes via air), the sea-sprayed town of Tofino is one of Canada’s first points of contact with the Pacific Ocean. (If you had a NASA-grade telescope, you might spot Japan 4,600 miles in the distance.)

A place where the flow of frothy waves never takes a break, the town of 1,600 has become famous for its physical features: multimile beaches, a centuries-old coastal rainforest, and inclement weather. During the winter—a.k.a., storm-watching season— these natural “cast members” perform in a show so spectacular, it’s priceless. For VIP access, all you have to do is show up.

The storm is a-brewin’

“Tofino is Canada’s original storm-watching destination, and the best place to storm-spot from Alaska down to Mexico” according to Charles McDiarmid, a long-time Tofino  resident and managing director of the splurge-worthy and award-winning Wickaninnish Inn.

After nearly two decades cutting his teeth as a tourism director and hotel executive around the world, Charles was lulled back to his hometown’s rainforest-meets-ocean perch to open his family’s rustic-elegant inn in 1996. Enthralled by Tofino’s art of the storm, he made sure each room was kitted out with swell-spotting essentials: aquarium-like viewing windows, a soaker tub for two, a fireplace, a balcony adorned with Adirondack chairs, and rubber rain gear for every guest.

Viewfinder Tip: Stay in Tofino for three nights for an all-access, 360-degree view of winter storm season. 

While I highly recommend viewing the wind, rain, and sea synch-up like a Riverdance crew from your ocean-facing soaker tub, seeking the eye of the storm, in person, is a multisensory must. This is where my room’s rubber rain getup came in handy as I traipsed down to 1.5-mile Chesterman Beach for the show of a lifetime.

As the wind picked up and the waves started surging past my boots (now sinking into the sandbar), I sloshed backward, knowing Act 1 was about to unfold. By Act 2, I was awestruck by the wild, untamed, and raw power of nature swooshing the ocean to and fro as it pummeled the nearby rocks and shot upward like a geyser. 

When the wind calmed down, my appearance, doused in a unique “Eau du West Coast” blend of Douglas Fir needles, sea spray, and ocean essence, was the best evidence of my free, come-one-come-all VIP seat. The experience prompted me to add “bring ski goggles” to my list of storm-watching essentials for the next trip. That can’t come soon enough.

What sort of natural beauty do you like to witness while traveling?

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Trip Styler

Trish Friesen chose an unlikely profession given her fear of flying and propensity toward car, air, boat, train, and chairlift sickness. Thanks to Gravol, Sea-Bands, and cruise ship stabilizers, the reluctant—yet enthusiastic—jetsetter packs her bag once every two weeks to swim with sharks in the Great Barrier Reef or to sample the latest libation in Portland. Trish unpacks her suitcase in Vancouver, Canada, Eh! where she’s the editor-in-chief of TripStyler.com, a travel lifestyle website for aspiring jetsetters. Find her moonlighting on Expedia, Fodor's, Jetsetter, and as a travel expert on TV while circumventing the globe with her entourage: a MacBook Air, an Olympus camera, and the biggest carry-on she can fit on the plane.

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