If you’re a skier or snowboarder, I don’t need to tell you about the quality of the snow in Canada, the stunning alpine scenery, the long runs and uncrowded slopes where you can ski a whole run and not see a soul. Then there’s the wilderness, the breathtaking scenery and the powerful energy of the mountains. Winter is my favourite season in Canada but not for the reasons most travellers choose to visit at that time of the year. Skiing isn’t one of my stronger talents but I love Canada in winter for all those reasons above and all these reasons below. Here are 20 things to do in winter in Canada. I bet you’ll find a few for your bucket list too!
1- Dog sledding
Dog sledding is available just about anywhere in Canada in winter and shoulder seasons between October and April. The best places to go dog sledding are in the Yukon and the Rocky Mountains. There’s also the famous Yukon Quest, which is an endurance race between the Yukon and Alaska.
Major ski resorts in British Columbia and Alberta (including Whistler, Sun Peaks and Lake Louise) offer dog sledding. If you’re planning a skiing or snowboarding holiday you might want to fit in a half-day dog sled tour.
Some tours will give you a taste of what it’s like to drive your own dog sled. But there are longer tours, such as the Ghosts of Fortune Mountain tour, where you can spend two days in the wilderness to learn the skills of mushing in the Rocky Mountains and sleep a night in a tent.
2- Horse-drawn sleighs
The tinkling of sleigh bells and the clatter of hooves are some of the sounds of winter in Canada as you ride through valleys and forests in a horse-drawn sleigh.
Most Canadian winter resorts offer sleigh rides and some will drop you off at a mountain cabin restaurant for a hearty winter dinner.
Snowmobiling in Canada in winter is a Canadian experience through and through. Actually, the skidoo was invented in Quebec so it’s not surprising that the best snowmobiling spots are in Quebec’s back country. But it doesn’t matter where you are in Canada, you’ll not be hard-pressed to find a snowmobiling tour.
One of the best things about visiting Canada in winter is there are plenty of ways to get active. And if you’re not that keen on skiing or snowboarding then have a go at snowshoeing. It’s a fun outdoor activity that gets you right in the midst of nature.
Don’t think it’s going to be a walk in the park. Snowshoeing will give you a good workout and you’ll appreciate that soak in the spa later.
5- Outdoor spas
Soaking in a hot tub or an outdoor bath while the snow falls around you is a dreamy experience.
Most winter resorts have some kind of outdoor Jacuzzi but for a special treat check into a Scandinave Spa.
There are four in Canada and one in Whistler is particularly enchanting. The treatment is a series of hot and cold Scandinavian style baths in a sprawling complex located in a picture book forest setting amidst spruce and cedar trees.
6- PEAK 2 PEAK Gondola
Even if you’re not a skier or snowboarder, Whistler Blackcomb’s Peak to Peak Gondola is a sightseeing experiencing worth doing in winter.
It’s the longest (3.024km) and highest (435m) lift in the world, with mind-blowing vistas of a white winter wonderland from the sky.
For skiers and snowboarders, the PEAK 2 PEAK Gondola opens up options as it connects the high alpine terrain of both Whistler and Blackcomb mountains.
7- Ice Fishing
Wherever there’s an icy lake, there’s an opportunity to go ice fishing. There are many places where you can stay warm in a heated hut and fish through a hole in the ice.
Fishing is a way of life in the Northwest Territories and this part of the world does fishing well. You can fish for trout or pike on an inland lake. You can even travel to your ice-fishing destination by dog team to jig for Char on the Arctic coast.
8- Ice walking
Caves, fossils and frozen waterfalls are some of the jaw-dropping sights on an ice walk. The most popular ones are in Maligne Canyon and Johnston Canyon in the Rockies.
On a guided walk you’ll be equipped with tread-enhancing cleats and warm winter boots then you’ll walk along a frozen canyon floor through an ice kingdom of ice caves, natural ice sculptures and waterfalls that look like a wizard has cast a spell.
If you’re adventurous there’s the opportunity to try ice climbing too.
9- Ice Skating
Most winter resorts have an ice skating rink but for that quintessential frozen lake experience head to Lake Louise. Rent skates at the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise and glide (or wobble) out onto the frozen lake, which is cleared each day.
The lake, with its backdrop of Victoria Glacier and the Rocky Mountains, has a spectacular setting. Watch this for inspiration
10- Sno Limo
Glide down the mountain like an expert skier without being able to ski. The Sno Limo is a smart British Columbia invention that allows non skiers to experience the thrill of skiing.
Although tubing doesn’t quite provide the thrills of a Sno Limo, it’s a fun activity for all the family. It doesn’t matter what age you are, try it once and you’ll want to do it again and again, like Instagrammer Lauren Bath did at Mount Norquay in Alberta.
12- Ice Hotel
The Ice Hotel (or Hôtel de Glace) near Quebec City is an icon in Eastern Canada, with soaring ceilings, snow vaults and ice sculptures. It has 44 rooms with beds of solid ice.
There’s a mattress on top of the ice and plenty of blankets but most people sleep keep warm by tucking into an arctic sleeping bag.
13- Ice canoeing
Ice canoeing on the St Lawrence River in Quebec is pretty unique experience. It’s a huge river where solid ice slabs float with the currents.
The river currents reverse direction during the day, adding to the magical experience of ice canoe.
You will have the impression of being on a giant treadmill while striding in front of a city boasting 400 years’ of history
14- Heli sightseeing
A bird’s-eye view of Canada’s mountains, rivers and valleys from the sky is stunning at any time of the year. The landscape has a particularly powerful allure in winter, when the vast blanket of snow and ice spreads as far as your eye can see.
The scenery shows off the power of nature, the simplicity and serenity of the mountains. You’ll find helicopter trips in the major centres, such as Banff National Park and Whistler Blackcomb, and many of the smaller resorts.
Here’s a winter activity you’ve probably never heard of. Snowtagging is where you snowshoe to a remote lake where you use your snowshoes to “draw” on the surface of the lake. Using a pre-designed picture drawn on a laminated sheet which also has the compass co-ordinates, you might end up creating, say, a picture of a spider.
It’s an activity that has taken off in Quebec. At La Mauricie National Park, the staff supply you with a compass to interpret the co-ordinates. You stamp the snow down with your snowshoes, creating a picture on the lake. Sound intriguing?
16- Whistler Sliding Centre
Live your Olympic dreams at the Whistler Sliding Centre, which was a venue for the Vancouver 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games.
Take an adrenalin-charged ride in a bobsleigh speeding at 125 km/h, launch headfirst down the world’s fastest sliding track or have a go at the luge.
17- Sugar shacks
The fun ritual of “sugaring off” is more of a spring attraction, although in Quebec where sugar shacks attract thousands of visitors, it’s likely to be still snowing in March and April. Canada’s sugar shacks are fun for all the family.
Drink thick pea soup and munch on home-cured ham lathered with maple syrup and buckwheat pancakes.
18- Rocky Mountains wildlife tours
Spot elk, coyotes, wolves and sheep on a winter wildlife tour of the Rockies. While the wildlife might sometimes by a little shy in winter, you’ll learn a lot about the animals and the mountain eco-system they live in.
19- Arctic Winter Road
It’s a thrilling winter driving adventure on an icy freeway over the frozen Arctic Ocean. You’ll see caribou and musk ox, pyramid-shaped pingos (hills heaved out of the permafrost) and meet the Inuit.
20- Northern Lights
Looking up and seeing a green pulsing curtain in the sky is a spectacular sight. The Aurora Borealis is a surreal spectacle of nature.
They can appear anytime in the sky between September and May. Seeing them in real life far surpasses watching a documentary. In Canada the sky becomes a giant screen of pulsing colour. Is it magic? Sure it is!
Christina Pfeiffer has personally experienced 16 of the 20 Canadian winter experiences. She hopes to return to Canada soon to experience the rest.
Popular spots are the Rocky Mountains, for its breathtaking scenery and national park skiing, Quebec, for its fun festivities and sugar shacks, and the Yukon, where you just might see the Northern Lights.