It might be easier to stay indoors during our frozen months, but Canada has a lot to offer those who don’t mind the cold.
They call Canada the Great White North for good reason – winter likes to stick around. Most of us try and make the most out of the season – we ski, we toboggan and we play hockey, but there’s a lot more winter fun that this country has to offer than a skate around our local rink.
If you’re looking for a new snowy adventure, consider these four ideas.
The Mountain Getaway: Big White, British Columbia
Besides playing hockey, there may be nothing more Canadian than going skiing at one of the country’s top resorts. One must-visit mountain is Big White, which is about an hour southeast of the Kelowna airport. While it has plenty of runs to keep powder hounds happy, its broad winter offerings allow anyone – even those with no prior skills – to make the most of the white stuff.
Here’s how you might want to spend a weekend at Big White. When you get there, check into your one-bedroom suite at Sundance Resort, which you can pre-stock with groceries and wine, and enjoy a glass of Okanagan pinot noir in front of the fire. Then take Lara’s Gondola – convenient in-village transportation – down to Happy Valley for some ice-skating before snuggling under blankets for a horse-drawn sleigh ride over snowy forest trails to a cabin in the woods for a gourmet dinner.
The next day, sign up for a private ski lesson to perfect your turns, or let a guide take you out on the slopes via Sno-Limo, a sort of sled-on-skis that has strapped-in guests sit back as their chauffeur controls the gravity-driven vehicle from behind. After lunch, head back to Sundance for a soak in the outdoor hot tub before returning to your suite for a private wine and food pairing with a local sommelier.
On day three, challenge yourself with the 18-metre ice-climbing tower – trained staff will offer gear, tips and encouragement – before a guided two-hour snowshoeing tour on nearby forest trails to learn about local flora and fauna. In between, sample some of the resort cuisine, like tapas at Globe Café, where dessert options include DIY s’mores (you roast house-made marshmallows over a tabletop flame).
The Urban Escape: Winnipeg, Manitoba
Manitoba’s capital has truly earned its nickname Winterpeg. Residents know how to enjoy themselves when the mercury is stuck far below freezing, and there are endless ways to warm up indoors and absorb some culture and history, too.
Start your trip with a local tradition: Skate, walk, run or sled along the Red River Mutual Trail at the famous Forks, which at 6.1 kilometres holds the Guinness World Record for the world’s longest naturally frozen skating trail. While there, stop in at one of the on-ice warming huts, or take in events, such as a curling bonspiel and a bike race on the ice.
In the evening, catch a Winnipeg Jets game and listen to the city’s rabid hockey fans blow the roof off the MTS Centre, or sit back and enjoy a performance by the Royal Winnipeg Ballet, whose 2015–2016 calendar includes The Nutcracker and the newly commissioned Going Home Star, which tells the story of a young First Nations woman navigating urban life.
The next day, spend the morning at the Assiniboine Park Zoo with a focus on the Journey to Churchill exhibit, which lets you observe and learn about the muskoxen, Arctic foxes, wolves, snowy owls, caribou, seals and polar bears that reside in Manitoba’s northern regions. Warm up in the afternoon with hydrotherapy – moving between hot saunas, steam baths and cold plunge pools – at Thermëa, which is part of Quebec-based spa, Nordik Spa-Nature.
Finally, experience a meal at RAW: Almond, an annual pop-up dining experience that takes place right on top of the frozen river, with guests seated at tables of 20 to sample the customized creations from local, national and international chefs.
The Outdoor Experience: Algonquin Park, Ontario
Ontario’s Algonquin Park is renowned for its summer activities, particularly camping, hiking and canoeing. Wintertime, however, brings a completely different experience: three cross-country ski networks, endless snowshoeing terrain and year-round campsites – including seven heated yurts – that give visitors the opportunity to explore the snowy landscape.
While it’s easy to make your own way through the park, prepackaged itineraries are available, too. Eco-friendly lakeside retreat Northern Edge Algonquin, for instance, about a four-hour drive north of Toronto (or a shuttle from the airport in North Bay), offers travellers off-the-grid, all-inclusive packages all year round.
In addition to the occasional yoga retreat, the main wintertime offering is the three-day Making Tracks: Winter Explorer program. Active excursions include snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, kicksledding and skating on the lake’s natural ice – though you’re always welcome to opt out and curl up by the wood fire with a book and a mug of tea instead.
At mealtimes, join your group at communal tables for candlelit buffet-style meals by award-winning chef Gregor. A storytelling evening and hands-on wildlife discovery enhance the connection with the landscape. On at least one evening, staff will fire up the sauna so guests can soak in the heat and, if they’re brave, roll in the snow to cool down again. Round out your trip with an optional three-hour dogsledding outing that includes a short orientation to the sport and plenty of time to mush your dogs across the frozen lake.
The Snow-Filled Adventure: Quebec City, Quebec
You definitely want to bundle up for a wintertime visit to Quebec’s capital, but that’s no reason to avoid it. Residents are used to the snow and cold, and have learned to use it to their advantage. And while the most well-attended winter activity here is the Quebec Winter Carnival, or Carnaval de Québec, there’s plenty to keep you busy during the rest of the season, too – including the many nearby ski resorts.
Begin at the Fairmont Le Château Frontenac, the city’s iconic hotel. Even if you’re not staying here, it’s worth dropping in for a drink at the newly renovated Bistro Le Sam; the signature mix-your-own Negroni de Samuel, using Canadian Ungava gin, is a must-try. Then walk along the Dufferin Terrace to have a go at the toboggan run outside the hotel – most people can reach speeds of up to 80 kilometres per hour.
If you’re feeling more adventurous, make your way to the riverside to try your hand at ice canoeing, an hour-long activity where two guides and three travellers paddle the icy waters, pausing midway to sip hot chocolate while savouring the views.
Of course, you can also wander the streets of the Old Town and snap photos, or stop in at La petite cabane à sucre (the little sugar shack) for a taste of local maple products. Be sure to book a table at “boreal bistro” Chez Boulay, whose Nordic-style cuisine makes use of regional and seasonal ingredients, such as dried and marinated goose breast with peppery green alder, or Arctic char carpaccio with an elderberry vinegar marinade.