Nobody does winter like Canadians. When it’s twenty below and school has been cancelled for snow, most people put a kettle on the stove, turn up the thermostat, and curl up in a blanket.
Canadians, on the other hand, bundle up the kids, pull on a toque, and head for the sledding hill.
Yes, Canadians have made an art of enjoying the cold. (How else could you explain our passion for curling?) But even we forget how many awesome winter activities we’ve developed over the years. To help remind us of all the rad things there are to do this winter, I asked 12 travel bloggers to share their favourite Canadian winter adventures.
Here’s what they told me.
Take a Snow Bath at the Quebec Winter Carnival
Quebec City’s Winter Carnival is a 62-year-old tradition that brings the city to life during some of the coldest weeks of winter. The carnival has some amazing entertainment, like an extremely serious snow sculpture competition and a crazy snow canoe race.
Will Tang of Going Awesome Places, however, recommends the communal snow bath during which, he says, “50 or so crazy people strip down to their bathing suits and run outside to below-0 temperatures and dance to music in front of an entertained crowd.”
Sleep in an Ice Hotel in Quebec
While we’re on the topic of insanely cold things to do in Canada’s French-speaking province, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the famous ice hotel.
According to Sofie Couwenbergh of Wonderful Wanderings, “a visit to the Hôtel de Glace or Ice Hotel in Quebec City is an absolute must. Each year, tons of ice are turned into beautiful sculptures to create a winter wonderland you can actually spend the night in.”
Hang Out with Polar Bears
People I meet around the world are fascinated by how common bears are in Canada. Recently, one town in northern Manitoba has been making headlines for how closely it lives with polar bears and for their tours that enable tourists to see these majestic beauties up close.
According to Carole Terwilliger Meyers of Berkeley and Beyond, “Viewing the polar bears way up in the remote, tiny town of Churchill in Canada is a stellar wildlife experience… Participants ride in a tundra buggy—it’s like a school bus on tractor wheels—and get very close to the bears.”
Give Dogsledding a Go
Dogsledding is a pretty uniquely Canadian activity, but so many of us forget about it when we’re trying to think of something novel to do on a winter day, which is too bad because you can dogsled all over this frozen country.
Leigh McAdam of Hike Bike Travel tried it in the Yukon. She says, “It’s exhilarating and terrifying all at the same time. The scenery… a sinuous frozen river, a mere drop in the expanse of Canada’s North, feels both lonely and beautiful. This dogsledding experience is like no other—a real adventure and one that by day’s end will leave you feeling at one with the dogs.”
Karisa Klee of Flirting with the Globe says, “dogsledding in Banff is one activity you can’t leave without experiencing,” while Mary Chong of Calculated Traveler calls dogsledding in Ontario “one of those iconic winter adventures that combine scenic views, the love of animals and the enjoyment of nature.”
Most every Canadian enjoys a good hike, but as soon as the snow falls we tend to hang up our boots for the season even though we don’t have to. Snowshoes enable us to jaunt through the wilderness any time of year, anywhere in the country.
Snowshoeing can be done pretty much anywhere. For those in Quebec, Will Tang of Going Awesome Places suggests “Monts-Valin National Park, which offers some of the best snowshoeing in the province. Valley of the Ghosts is a well-marked hiking trail that gets its name from the ghoulish pine trees encased in snow up at the top of the mountain.”
If you like your winter walks a bit more epic, then you may want to try heli-snowshoeing in the Rockies. According to Sue Slaght of Heli-snowshoeing brings Canadian winter adventure to anyone able to walk on a flat surface. The thrill of hovering over snow-covered peaks and exploring remote areas of the Canadian Rockies will leave adventurers of all abilities with a memory of a lifetime.”
Test Your Mettle with a Polar Dip
Every Canuck has heard stories of people jumping into icy water in the middle of winter for fun.
Why do we do it? I have no idea, even though I too once succumbed to the urge to jump into a glacier-filled lake.
I felt an intense burning sensation followed by extreme fatigue.
Sue Slaght, on the other hand, described the experience as “Mind numbing. Paralyzing. Shocking,” after she took the plunge at the Calgary Polar Dip on New Year’s Day.
Is jumping into frigid water in winter fun? That’s debatable.
Is it something you should try? That’s debatable too.
Is it a story you’ll bore your friends with repeatedly? Absolutely.
Hit the Slopes
How could I write about Canadian winter activities without mentioning skiing and snowboarding? Of course, there are ski hills all over Canada, so I wanted to mention a few.
Personally, I’m partial to Whitewater near Nelson, B.C., because of the amazing snow and sidecountry access, but this isn’t about me. These are the hills that our travel bloggers prefer and their reasons why.
Mike Cotton of Nomads on the Road says, “Fernie isn’t your typical ski town… Up to 37 feet of snow can fall each year, filling the five bowls which make up the ski hill. I know every small ski town in British Columbia claims to have the best snow, for me however, it is Fernie which rules the roost.”
Carrick Buss of Along for the Trip prefers Whistler-Blackcomb for entirely different reasons—its family-friendly atmosphere. He says, “unique family-friendly activities include the enchanted Tree Fort and Magic Castle. They offer a fun, on-mountain retreat to get away from the crowds and have some fun family time in the snow. Nintendo has sponsored gaming lounges where kids can pull up a stool and play games for free during a lunch break, and the entire family will love racing down the mountain at the tube park.”
Jenni Quante of The Snow Chasers, on the other hand, points out that “with a 7-month-long season, Sunshine Village has one of the longest ski seasons in North America, which gives you more opportunity to hit the slopes.”
Bobsledding at the COP
If hurtling down a slope of snow at breakneck speed doesn’t appeal to you, how about hurtling down a track of ice in an oversized bullet on skates? Matt Bailey says that bobsledding at the Calgary Olympic Park “was one of the most exhilarating and rough things I’ve ever done… I felt like a turtle soaring down the ice track at 120 km/h with my head tucked deep into my shoulders, bracing for the impact of 5 G-forces at each and every turn. Talk about a rush!”
According to Mary Chong, “Ice Fishing is one of those ‘rites of passage’ for any Canadian, and I highly encourage this unique adventure at least once in your life… That time spent hanging out with your friends as you patiently watch over your fishing line for the slightest hint of movement is priceless whether you catch a fish or not. It’s a chance to bond with friends over drinks, food and a big hole in the ice.”
Get High on Ice
Although it looks extremely hard, ice climbing is actually easier for beginners than technical climbing, and Big White Resort near Kelowna, B.C., has taken the beginner experience to new heights with a one-of-a-kind, man-made ice tower.
According to Claudia Laroye of The Travelling Mom, “The hulking ice tower is constructed out of four telephone poles, with ice walls three feet thick. Whether you’re 4 or 94 years old, you can suit up in a harness, strap on crampons, and grab ice picks to assist you in your ascent up the tower. A friendly, trained Adventure Park staff member will hold your safety lines and shout encouragement when your arms and legs feel like they’re about to fail. The sweet sound of your ice pick hitting the cowbell at the top of the tower will echo all the way to Happy Valley Lodge, signaling your successful tower ascent to the world.”
Take Canada’s Most Spectacular Winter Hike
I couldn’t resist throwing in my two cents about the Canadian winter adventure that left a deeper impression on me than any other in recent memory: the Maligne Canyon Icewalk in Jasper, Alberta.
Maligne Canyon is a marvellous natural spectacle. It’s a deep gorge—150 feet deep in some places—on the continental divide, with sheer walls of smooth stone carved out of the tectonic plate by the surging river.
In the winter, however, the water that feeds the river all but freezes and the water level drops to near the bottom of the gorge and freezes solid. Water from subterranean ducts seeps through the gorge walls and freezes, creating all manner of ice formations, while the ice at the bottom of the gorge becomes strong enough for hikers to walk on, creating a flat—although slippery—path for exploring this beautiful natural ice palace.
It’s one of the most stunning natural spectacles I’ve seen. This hike, along with the Jasper Icefields and Jasper’s chill small-town vibe, put the Alberta town at the top of my Canada winter road trip list.