While often times Canadians prefer to dispel the perception that we’re all living under a perpetual three feet of snow, we do have to step back on occasion, and acknowledge that yes, we regularly get an insane amount of snow. Fortunately, though, we are all experts at playing in the snow. Here’s a list of six great Canadian snow destinations, and what you’ll want to do when you get there. This is how you do snow travel, Canadian style.
Sweet and snowy in Québec
The province of Québec was meant to be snowy; it looks unbelievably picturesque wherever you are – Eastern Townships, Mont Tremblant, or even Québec City. Because of this, there are literally endless possibilities of where to go and what to do in the snow. One of the best winter festivals around is Carnaval de Québec and its Bonhomme mascot. Hosted in Québec City every January/February, the Carnaval has absolutely everything you could possibly want in a winter playground – skating, dog sledding, canoe races (yup!), food, drink, parades, snow sculpture competitions…phew! And, of course, there’s something for everyone at every age level (read: excellent nightlife).
However, if you miss Carnaval, there are still plenty of great options for snowy fun in Québec, like heading up to Mont Tremblant or Charlevoix for some skiing, snowboarding, and spaaing. You also must make a detour to a sugar shack, and get some real maple syrup on ice, and perhaps a nice warm meal inside.
‘Tirer’ – pulling maple syrup off snow at Québec sugar shacks
Finally, probably the coolest (literally) thing to do in Québec in the winter is to check out the Ice Hotel. Open from early January to late March, it’s Canada’s only ice hotel and one of only a handful in the world. It’s not too far outside of Québec City, so if you’re staying in the city it’s worth the short (less than an hour) drive up.
The wide expanse of the Yukon Territory
I have wanted to go dog-sledding for a long time now, and the best place in Canada to do it is the Yukon. You can find tours from just outside Whitehorse, and apparently it is an unbelievable experience. The landscape is meant to be spectacular, and I bet the feeling of whizzing along on a dogsled is like nothing else.
Yukon dogsledding, photo credit: John Biehler
Another amazing experience the Yukon has to tempt you is the alluring Aurora Borealis (Northern Lights), which light up the sky with an indescribable array of colours and lights throughout the winter months. Yeah, it’s cold, but these two adventures are nothing but worth it.
The spectacular mountains of British Columbia
But of course! Fresh off its stint as host of the 2010 Winter Olympic and Paralympic Games, naturally BC comes tops of the snowy destinations. However, don’t even think that I’m talking about Vancouver (it was the warmest city ever to host the Winter Games). Aside from Victoria, Vancouver is the most un-Canadian city when it comes to dealing with snow. For a real Canadian snow experience in BC, head outside of Vancouver either north to Whistler, or east into the interior.
View of “Seventh Heaven” on Blackcomb Mountain
If traditional alpine skiing and snowboarding is what you want, Whistler Blackcomb, North America’s best resort, is where you want to go from Vancouver. However, some argue that the mountains are even better in the interior, with Big White, Sun Peaks, Kicking Horse, Red Mountain, and Fernie all providing some epic powder and supreme quality snow. Most of the time these resorts also cater to those interested in cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, snowmobiling, and for the true adventurers, heli-skiing. Just make sure you stay within bounds, unless you are a tried and true expert. Trust.
Alberta’s got its own mountains, too!
One of the neatest little mountain towns in Canada is also one of its most famous – Banff. Nestled in Canada’s first National Park (Banff National Park, of course), Banff has a certain feeling to it that makes you want to wear snowpants and knit-pattern sweaters while sipping hot chocolate with marshmallows next to a giant fire. It’s just so quintessentially snowy Canada that it’s hard not to fall under its spell. But you can’t forget about Alberta’s other mountains, like Lake Louise and Jasper, which also offer a spectacular beauty unique to the Rocky Mountains. There are all sorts of snowy activities to do in the Alberta mountains, and in some places, like Canmore, you can even go ice-climbing.
Even in summer, there’s snow on the mountains at Lake Louise
The other uber important thing to look out for while in Alberta is the Icefields Parkway and the Columbia Icefield, giant glaciers that need to be seen to be believed. There are tours available for this experience, and it is a widely recommended one for sure.
Ontario isn’t all urban…
While Ontario is home to the densest bit of population the country has to offer (Windsor to Ottawa and beyond), it’s also a massive province with a lot more to it than just Toronto. Head north from the city and you can get in deep with ice fishing, a surprisingly (for us city folk) popular past-time in the winter. There are all sorts of packages that include accommodation and fishing, so even if you’re a novice, you can still get out there and have some fun. Don’t be one of those people who forgets that Ontario has stuff to do outside the GTA!
Ice fishing in Ontario, photo credit: Peter A Wolf
Another great option if you are an urbanite and not interested in freezing your face off in a hut waiting for fish to bite, is to head over to Ottawa, the nation’s capital, for it’s annual Winterlude, held for most of February each year. You can skate on the Rideau Canal, enjoy spectacular views of Ottawa’s Parliament Hill and Gatineau, Québec, eat and drink delicious Canadian treats (like BeaverTails!), and check out the ice sculpture competition.
Polar bear fun in Manitoba
Churchill, Manitoba, has gained immense popularity as the place to see polar bears. Tours of all kinds have cropped up through multiple operators, and allow visitors the chance to see the bears engaged in their natural habitats, on the tundra of Hudson Bay.
Polar bears and tundra buggies, photo credit: ucumari
“Tundra Buggies” are used to transport visitors out into the vast expanse of polar bear territory, and the experience is meant to be just as epic as wildlife excursions in the Galapagos, gorilla viewing in Rwanda, and safaris in southern Africa. It seems only appropriate that these massive white bears are one of the best snow attractions in the country. Just don’t get too close!
So there you have it – six great things to do when it snows in Canada (which is not all the time, but definitely a lot of the time!).