Ask any Canadian what the best thing about a northern winter is, and they’ll likely reply, skiing, snowboarding, or both. But what are the options for travellers with two left feet? Is there anything for us beyond the ski field, or should we just admit defeat and invest in a pair of ski pants with extra padding?
Fortunately, we’re in luck. Beyond the chairlifts and downhill runs, there are a wealth of amazing things to see, do and experience during the Canadian winter.
Eat, Drink, Dance And Be Merry
To prevent half of Canada’s population becoming hermits over winter, there are a host of magical winter events held across the country. The hard part is picking which ones to attend.
Montréal en Lumiere, one of the largest annual winter festivals in the world, attracts more than a million people for an 11-day celebration of music, song, theatre, dance, and even circus arts. The gastronomy program is an absolute must for foodies, with the city’s finest chefs paired with culinary masters from around the globe.
Kicking off in late January, Toronto’s Winterlicious Festival is a sure-fire way to maintain your winter warmth (dieting can wait for the spring). This food-lover’s festival sees more than 200 of Toronto’s restaurants throw open their doors for two weeks full of cooking classes and demonstrations, intimate chef dinners, tastings, pairings, and much more.
As the name suggests, Lake Louise Ice Magic Festival is indeed magical – and cold. Set in the awe-inspiring surrounds of Lake Louise, which looks just as incredible in winter as it does in summer, this annual event sees talented artists transform blocks of ice into all manner of fantastical sculptures.
Other worthwhile events include Winterlude in Ottawa, igloofest dance music festival in Montréal, and the fabulous Quebec City Outdoor Winter Carnival, where you can see ice sculptures, go tobogganing, and watch a dazzling night-time parade.
Go In Search Of The Northern Lights
Norway and Iceland are synonymous with the northern lights, yet Canada’s remote Yukon and North West Territories put on an equally impressive a display. And — a definite plus for Australians — the exchange rate is better, too!
As you wander among frozen forests, feeling like you’ve somehow stumbled through the wardrobe into Narnia, glittering shades of purple, red, green and yellow will dance across the night sky before your eyes.
Yellowknife and Whitehorse are two of the key locations to witness this natural wonder, which lasts from late August to mid-April. There’s no guarantee you’ll see the lights, but it’s still worth the effort.
And, if the idea of wandering through the woods in the dark is a bit much, you might be able to see the lights from your lodge or retreat.
Also in the Yukon, dog-sledding is an iconic way of traversing the wintery landscape. What better way to experience the frozen rivers and epic mountain ranges than being pulled along by your own troupe of energetic huskies? Muktuk Adventures and Guest Ranch offers guided and self-guided dog mushing tours in the stunning Ibex Valley, allowing you to take in the untouched wilderness of Laberge and Haeckel Hills from an incredible viewpoint.
If you’re a pro at the art of sledding (isn’t everyone?), you could take off to the sound of a hundred howls in the famous Yukon Quest – an epic two-week race across the glistening, icy wilderness of northwest Canada. Given not every team makes it to the end of this journey, spectating may be more your style.
Enjoy The Ride
Though it probably isn’t the first activity that comes to mind, fat biking is a pretty fun way to experience the wintery landscape – and warm up in the process! Borealis Bike Tours in Yellowknife have the gear and the midnight sun to make it a memorable adventure.
Or, while your friends are off falling over or whatever it is they do at ski fields, why not head out on a snow shoe trek through the Canadian Rockies? Rather than go it alone, which is definitely not recommended, join up with a tour like those offered at the Sunshine Village Ski Resort. Tours are fully guided, and there are variety of trails to suit all ages and abilities.
Canada is spectacular in any season, but winter is truly out of this world. Though it may be synonymous with skiing and snowboarding, there really is so much more to discover.
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Chris Ashton is a repeat traveller with a passion for street art, street food, and scuba diving – though not always at once. He’s written for print and online media including Australian Geographic, Tiger Tales, Time to Roam, 9Elsewhere and Escape, and will give almost any adventure - no matter how big or small - a red hot go.