Your Canadian winter adventure could come in many different shapes and sizes, from climbing a frozen waterfall to relaxing in a hot tub while snowflakes flurry. The great outdoors is calling; just make sure you’re prepared.
As a British immigrant, one of the things that I love most about Canada is the Canadian enthusiasm for embracing the elements. I learned very soon that, in Canada, there’s no such thing as bad weather—just the wrong clothes.
Epic winter adventures can take many forms: from a cultural experience learning to ice fish with First Nations in deepest Quebec and skidooing across the frozen tundra in the Yukon, to heli-skiing pristine powder in BC.
Advice from an expert
But the Canadian winter brings its own set of issues, and cold conditions need to be treated with respect. We spoke to Lawrence White, executive director of the Alpine Club of Canada, for some advice for those seeking a Canadian winter adventure.
Check the weather
“It’s the most obvious thing, but always check the weather before you head out,” says White. “People overlook the forecast, because they get excited and charge off into the hills without knowing what they’re getting into and end up in a tight situation.”
Wear proper clothing and footwear
White suggests that, when preparing for an outdoor adventure, the correct footwear is worth its weight in gold. “Spend your money on sturdy, well-insulated high-cut boots, a good pair of gloves, and a toque.”
A few simple rules
According to White, newbie winter adventurers should follow a few simple rules. “Do the research, know where you’re going and what hazards you’ll be facing, and be aware of your limitations,” he cautions. “People get into trouble when they overestimate their skill and fitness levels. If it doesn’t feel right, it’s okay to turn back.”
And finally, preparation is everything. “Always hike with a backpack filled with basic supplies such as water, snacks, a headlamp, matches, and first aid kit,” says White. “Satellite phones are becoming cheaper all the time, and ‘spot’ devices, which act as personal locator beacons and send an SOS GPS message are good investments.”
Try a Chill Adventure
Of course, not every winter adventure has to be a high-octane thrill ride requiring safety briefings. Many of us prefer our snowy pleasures to be of the (excuse the pun) chilled variety.
The Danish concept of hygge can be expressed in the pleasure found hot tubbing in the snow, cold flakes kissing and cooling your skin as your hair freezes into icy spikes. The Nordic spa model cycles through slowly heating the body, swiftly cooling it, and then relaxing, ideally for at least three sessions. It can be best enjoyed in nature, so you can soak up the benefits of the thermal spa along with the stress-busting effects of being in the great outdoors.
- Gatineau’s Nordik Spa-Nature features cozy hammocks with heated polar blankets where you can snooze.
- Whistler’s Scandinave Spa is set in the beauty of the town’s soaring peaks and mossy forest.
- Ofuro Spa lets you take a trip to Japan by way of the Laurentians with its pagodas and dragons on the banks of the Green River, where you can heat up in hot pools then plunge into the icy river.
Heading off the beaten track? You’ll need to be snow-aware. Sign up for Avalanche Safety Training (AST) at Avalanche Canada. You’ll learn about terrain, become familiar with snowpack recognition, and also discover some of the lighter science around snowpack analysis. Snow is not uniform; every snowflake is different, and snow may not be as stable as it seems. AST will teach you to read the signs.
Marianne Trotier, PR manager of the Nordik Group says, “When you have sore muscles and feel tense and stiff after snowshoeing, skiing, or other winter sport activities, there is nothing like thermal therapy to recover and feel rejuvenated. Immerse yourself in beautiful settings with cozy areas surrounded by nature to recover.”
Get your heart pumping
But if you do want your snow to come with a side of heart-pumping adventure, Canada has you covered from coast to coast.
- Spend time in Manawan, Quebec, on a cultural winter adventure with members of the Atikamekw nation learning how to ice fish using nets.
- Combine your love for animals with winter sports in the hybrid sport of skijoring with Mad Dogs and Englishmen in Kananaskis Country, Alberta, which combines the skills of dogsledding with cross-country skiing.
- Learn to mush in the Yukon with veterans of the 1,000 mile (1,600 km) Yukon Quest at Sky High Wilderness Ranch, working with excitable huskies, their paws racing across frozen lakes and past snowy pines.
- Go extreme and climb a frozen waterfall in Lake Louise, surrounded by the soaring beauty of the Rocky Mountains.
Nadio Hachey, manager of adult groups at Whistler Blackcomb Snow School, says, “ We see people of all ages and abilities taking ski or snowboard lessons at Whistler Blackcomb; it’s never too late to get up into the mountains and try something new.”
Or try a winter festival
If all of that sounds exhausting, perhaps a winter festival might suit instead.
- Canadians love to embrace the cold, and no place is more joyful in the winter than Quebec City at its world-famous Carnaval. This French-Canadian cultural celebration takes in hardcore canoe races across the semi-frozen St. Lawrence River and fun dance parties in a glittering ice palace.
- Winnipeg hosts a pop-up fine dining restaurant, RAW:almond, on its frozen river with world-class chefs cooking up multicourse menus for three weeks in January and February.
- The Yukon Sourdough Rendezvous gets Northerners and visitors in a social mood with silly games and contests such as hair freezing, beard growing, and lip-synching over a week in February.