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10 essential winter activities to try in Canada

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Original blog post featured on The Journal by Intrepid, by Hannah Edensor.

Ah, winter in Canada; it might be a cliche to chase the powder in one of the most glorious parts of the world, but it is SO worth it when you get there!

Whether you’re a hardcore skier or boarder, or seeking out some of the ultimate snowy adventures you can’t find anywhere else, Canada – specifically the Rocky Mountains – is the place to be. For me, Canadian winter spells big, puffy jackets, beanies, mugs of mulled wine, a roaring wood fireplace, and, of course, the kind of activities other resorts can only dream of.

As we inch closer to a sticky summer in the Southern Hemisphere, and bleak, rainy winters everywhere else in the north, I can just hear the Canadian Rockies calling my name. And by the end of this list, you’ll probably hear it too.

1.Snow-shoeing

Two snow-shoers in Bow Lake, Canada. Photo by Noel Hendrickson

For something that started as an essential mode of transport thousands of years ago, snow-shoeing has evolved into something that’s completely unique (and hysterical) at the same time. The activity is exactly what it says on the box; you strap on large tennis racket-looking “shoes” that are designed so your feet don’t sink into the thick snow, and take a leisurely stroll through the stunning surrounds of one of the Rocky Mountain’s national parks, continuing down to Invermere on the Lake Windermere, a quaint lakeside town in the glorious Columbia Valley.

That being said, I won’t lie and say it’s a piece of cake. There is a slight learning curve to the process, which often involves a few stumbles, face-plants in the snow, and lots of laughter from your mates – before they inevitably fall themselves. But before you know it, it feels completely normal, and you’re free to soak in the serenity of the winter wonderland around you.

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2.Ice Hiking

Ice walking in Johnston Canyon, Canada. Photo by Paul Zizka Photography

If snow-shoeing doesn’t quite give you the adrenalin-rush you’re looking for, then maybe an ice-walk across a frozen creek bed floor might be more your style. Ice hiking involves strapping special hiking crampons to your boots, and exploring otherwise inaccessible areas like waterfalls, cliffs and rivers. In the case of this Canadian Rockies expedition, the final destination is Johnston Canyon, a cathedral of ice in Banff National Park, where you’ll not only experience ice climbing yourself, but may even catch a glimpse of some serious daredevils scaling frozen waterfalls 30 metres overhead.

3.Dog Sledding

Photo by Noel Hendrickson

Is there anything more quintessentially winter than dog sledding through the snowy forest around Lake Louise? I didn’t think so. For this adventure, make like an ancient explorer (or Cuba Gooding Jr. in Snow Dogs) and hop aboard a husky-led sled for a one-of-a-kind experience. And you can rest easy knowing when you travel with Intrepid, only companies who adhere to strict ethical and humane animal guidelines will be used.

4.Sleigh Rides

Travellers on a sleigh ride at Lake Louise. Photo by Paul Zizka Photography

Ok, I lied when I said there was nothing that spelled ‘winter’ more than dog sledding; in fact I’m pretty sure it’s a close second to sleigh rides. Rugged up in a thick, woolly coat, wearing beanies and mittens, with the feeling of snowflakes on your nose as you trot around in a gorgeous, old-fashioned sleigh; yep this, my friends, is what Canadian winter is all about. It doesn’t hurt to have the sleigh ride take place around beautiful Lake Louise, either.

5.Fat Biking

For someone who’s not much of a biker at home, I can absolutely vouch for how much more fun fat biking through the snow is. These bad boys are tailor-made for the craziest of winter conditions, and have oversized tyres that keep you in control on snow-covered trails, and even come with hand warmers for added comfort. Spend a few hours traipsing across the slopes and you’ll feel like a seasoned mountain biker in no time.

And if you’re already a keen cyclist – or maybe want to sneak in a mid-holiday workout – there’s more advanced tracks to try out all across the Canadian Rockies, with majestic mountains and snowy silence your only distractions.

6.Ice Hockey

Ever wanted to live out your Mighty Ducks fantasy, scoring the final goal and winning the championship? Well, a winter visit to Canada provides the perfect opportunity. Strap on the gear – from shin pads and helmet to gloves and skates – and hit the ice for a heart-pumping experience.

For lucky travellers on an Intrepid trip, they’ll even hook you up with a few professional hockey players to get you in tip top shape for your ultimate game. It’s an iconic Canadian tradition, after all.

7.Curling

Speaking of Canadian traditions, another wintery apres ski activity you have to try is curling. Whether you’re an expert sweeper like Marge from The Simpsons, or you’ve never heard of curling in your life, you’re in for a treat with this distinct sport. An interesting combo of lawn bowls, shuffleboard, and your humble kitchen sweep (I’m only half kidding), curling involves players sliding stones on a sheet of ice towards a specific target area to score points, while also using broom-like objects to manipulate its path as the stone glides across the ice.

The end result of participating in this activity – quite different from the Olympics version – is usually plenty of mistakes, a few falls on the ice, and a healthy competitive spirit that gives new meaning to the broomstick. And it’s something everyone needs to try at least once.

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8.Ice Skating

Ice skaters in Canada. Photo by Globe Guide Media Inc

As someone who idolises choreographed dance routines performed on rollerblades to Beyonce, skating of any form is A-OK in my books. So if there’s ever an opportunity to indulge in rollerblading’s romanticised cousin, ice skating, I’m all for it.

Far removed from the superficial rinks in shopping malls, ice skating across the snow-dusted Lake Windermere in Canada is the real deal; think enormous frozen lake, elegant skaters holding hands, streamlined winter coats, and ear muffs. The whole activity just screams winter wonderland, and once you get past the first couple of wobbles, it’s like floating on air.

9.Skiing

To be perfectly honest, of all the places I’ve skied in the past, Canada has to be #1. It’s got bucketloads of mountains, runs for all ages and levels, and powder for days. It doesn’t matter if you’re taking your very first shaky turns down the mountain, or if you’ve been in ski boots since you were two, the Canada Rockies is ready and waiting. There’s truly nothing that compares to the feeling of a cold breeze on your face as you carve up the slopes, weaving in and out of snow-capped pines, and taking in the stunning vistas.

10. Hot Springs

People sitting in a hot spring in the snow in Canada. Photo by MagicVova

Canadian winters are brimming with delightful activities that epitomise what a snowy escape should look like. And this list wouldn’t be complete without the pièce de résistance that is sinking into a steaming hot spring to soak your weary, worn-out bones.

Rich with minerals and enveloped by snow-covered forests of Kootenay National Park, you might be sleepy from the luxurious heat and all your fun adventures, but trust me when I say, you’ll never feel more relaxed in your whole life.

Oh, Canada

It’s a safe assumption that almost everyone has dreamt of a white, wintery adventure, where you finally have a reason to pull those mammoth coats and Pom-Pom beanies out of the closet. And in Canada, you won’t just be graced with the perfect winter weather; you’ll be invited into a magical, snowflake-filled environment, where there’s plenty in store for you both on and off the slopes.

If picturesque mountains, icy forests and all the adventures a snowy winter can offer sound like something you might fall in love with, then the Canadian Rockies is the place for you.

Feature image by Noel Hendrickson.

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