Snow fun in Canada
The Great White North didn’t get this nickname for nothing. Wintertime adventure abounds, and you can ski till May.
By Masa Takei
Say “Canada” and many people think ice and snow. Despite the unseasonably warm spring-like weather, February’s Vancouver 2010 Olympic Winter Games likely underscored this perception, with millions watching as we turned our white into gold. The home-turf terrain and natural resources certainly helped our athletes. But you don’t need to be an Olympian to sample the epic sporting and recreational possibilities our deep drifts afford.
Here’s a roundup of activities and places to play in the snow across the country:
Ski & snowboard (X-C, cat-, resort, heli-)
Skiing? Boarding? Hell, yeah! Canada’s got a veritable buffet of skiing options, with many flavours to enjoy: resort, heli-, cat- and Nordic/cross-country. Whatever your preference, Canada has no shortage of world-class choices:
- Although British Columbia‘s Whistler-Blackcomb regularly steals the limelight as North America’s über-ski resort, there’s a lifetime of other hills to explore, spreading across to Alberta, Quebec and as far east as Marble Mountain near Corner Brook, NL.
- The world’s first heli-skiing operation, Canadian Mountain Holidays (CMH), now operates 12 heli-ski areas and lodges in British Columbia (where an estimated 90% of the world’s heli-skiing takes place).
- The world’s first commercial cat-ski operation also hails from British Columbia: 35 years old now, Selkirk Wilderness Skiing is still a family business operating near Nelson, BC.
- There are 500-plus cross-country ski areas across Canada, with standouts including Alberta’s Canmore Nordic Centre, developed for the 1988 Calgary Olympic Winter Games, and Whitehorse Cross Country Ski Club in the Yukon, with 75 km (47 mi) of trails accessible five minutes from downtown.
Initially born out of necessity for travel and hunting in deep snow, the snowshoe has evolved in form and use to something enjoyed by those more interested in getting some exercise in the crisp air while absorbing some of the splendour of the outdoors. Pretty much anywhere you can hike during the summer, you can snowshoe in winter. Some ideal locales to strap on snowshoes include:
- Gatineau Park, a short jaunt from Parliament Hill in Ottawa, ON, our nation’s capital. Here 45 km (28 mi) of lakeside trails range from easy to challenging.
- On the east coast, Newfoundland and Labrador‘s Gros Morne National Park butts against the Atlantic Ocean, making for some dramatic coastal trekking.
- A prime example of boreal forest mixed with prairie landscape is Moose Mountain Provincial Park in southeastern Saskatchewan.
Skating is a fundamental skill needed to play ice hockey, which is why many Canadians have skates put on them not long after they’re able to walk. Originally a mode of transportation for First Nations and early settlers, ice-skating soon became a recreational pastime during long winter months. Although indoor rinks abound, the full Canadian experience is to skate outdoors in the fresh air.
- The famed Rideau Canal Skateway in Ottawa, ON, is the world’s largest groomed outdoor ice-skating surface (7.8 km or 5 mi).
- A few of the longest ice-skating venues in Canada include: Assiniboine Credit Union River Trail, the world’s longest naturally frozen skating trail, in Winnipeg, MB; Sylvan Lake Track in Alberta; and Rivière L’Assomption’s Skateway in Joliette, QC.
- Two of the most picturesque outdoor skating areas include: Place d’Youville in Québec City, QC, amid the Old Town’s historic buildings in front of Palais Montcalm; and when it’s sufficiently frozen, Alberta’s iconic Lake Louise, ringed by glaciated peaks and the fairytale-esque Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise.
- In the north, Frame Lake, right in the middle of the Northwest Territories‘ capital, Yellowknife, gets a good grooming for winter skating.
- Many downtown cores in Canada sport outdoor rinks, including Victoria Park in Regina, SK and Nathan Phillips Square, outside city hall in Toronto, ON.
Of all the winter activities, none crosses as many age groups and abilities as tobogganing (from the Algonquian term odabaggan). Simply get on something that slides; a sled with runners, toboggan with flat bottom, even a piece of plastic, then succumb to gravity. Anywhere there’s a decent hill (and a good run out) is fair game. But some places to consider:
- Les Glissades de la Terrasse Dufferin (Dufferin Terrace Toboggan Slide) in Québec City, QC, beside the stately Fairmont Le Château Frontenac hotel. A holdover from a bygone era of manmade toboggan slides, the 82-m-high (269-ft) platform yields a 152-m (499-ft) ride. It costs only a couple of dollars, but you have to haul the wooden toboggan to the top yourself.
- Canada Olympic Park, site of the 1988 Calgary Olympic Winter Games in Calgary, AB, allows you to view or experience the bigger brothers of tobogganing: luge, bobsleigh (you can try these two) and skeleton.
- Just about every ski resort has a good tubing or tobogganing area, official or otherwise.
It should come as no surprise that the father of the modern snowmobile was Canadian. Joseph-Armand Bombardier from Valcourt, QC, developed a caterpillar tracks design especially suited to varied snow conditions—a design adopted by all other major manufacturers. Present-day machines, with 150-plus horsepower engines capable of reaching speeds in excess of 240 k/hr (150 mph), provide access to some of the wildest, most remote regions of the country. But there’s no need for anything extreme to make for serious snowmobiling fun. Some of the most popular Canadian snowmobiling destinations include:
- Bombardier‘s province, Quebec, is also birthplace of the first snowmobiling club in the world. The Laurentians and Abitibi-Témiscamingue, with their 3,518 km (2,217 mi) of snowmobiling trails, are considered two of the top destinations in the province.
- Ontario’s network of recreational snowmobiling trails is the longest in the world (at over 43,000 km or 26,000 mi) and includes such destinations as Vermilion Bay.
- New Brunswick‘s Great Northern Odyssey carves a 1,000-km (625-mi) trail through four towns in the most snow-blessed province in the Maritimes.
- In the west, top spots include Sicamous, BC, Crowsnest Pass, AB, Whiteshell Provincial Park, MB, and Hudson Bay and Nipawin, both in Saskatchewan.
- The truly adventurous will want to try snowmobiling in wild Labrador; with virtually no roads, it’s only accessible by snowmobile in winter, or in Canada’s remote Arctic, Nunavut.
Story courtesy of the Canadian Tourism Commission.
Photo courtesy of Tourism BC/Toshi Kawano