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Wild winter sports: Get out and play

Staff writers
December 20, 2012 — Frigid temperatures and heavy snow can sound daunting to some, but one of the best ways to get through a Canadian winter is to simply embrace it.

Cycling all year round can help to reduce the carbon footprint
Cycling all year round can help to reduce the carbon footprint

Canada offers vast areas of wilderness along with extreme mountain terrain. Perfect for several winter activities to keep busy and stay fit through the long frosty season. 

“Some people get hung up on exercising outside in the cold. They're thinking it's warm and cozy at home and they don't want to go out," says Sarah Heipel, Holistic Fitness Coach in Blue Mountain. "But there's a soul factor that you have to take into account when you're outside...It does something not just for your body and for your fitness, but on a mental level, you feel better once you've been outside.” 

One of the easiest ways to adapt to outdoor winter activities is to dress appropriately and prepare for the weather conditions. An adventurous spirit can also go a long way to avoid the winter blues and enjoy a Canadian winter. 


Whether you're looking for family-oriented slopes or extreme downhill operations, there are many options for riders across Canada. Snow making machines can allow for an early start to the season at many ski resorts in the country. "We have an amazing fleet of 220 snow guns," says Whistler's Stuart Rempel. "Back in November, we had turned 73 million gallons of water into snow, so that combined with heavy natural snowfall has made for ideal conditions early in the season." BC's Whistler Blackcomb is one of the largest and most visited ski resorts in North American with over 191 acres of land, a vertical mile of skiing and a peak-to-peak gondola ride. 

Cross country skiing 

Experts say cross country skiing is an ideal way to get cardio exercise throughout the winter months. Several provinces offer plenty of groomed trails including at groomed trails including at Gatineau Park just outside of Ottawa, where over 200 km of trails are available. Officials say aside from dressing in lots of extra layers, it's important to have enough food, water and a good trail map for your trek.

Dog sledding is a family fun way to explore the great outdoors
Dog sledding is a family fun way to explore the great outdoors


Add a dog or two and skijoring offers a different kind of challenge on the trails. “If you can cross-country ski, you can skijore,” says Kristi MacDonald who skijores five times a week. “The only difference is the centre of gravity comes from your stomach because you’re being pulled by your belt, but it’s basically cross-country skiing with an engine.” Experts say the engine can also be a horse or even snowmobile, but most people prefer to spend the time outdoors with their pets. 


Historians believe snowshoes were invented up to 6,000 years ago and snowshoeing still remains a popular winter sport among Canadians. "It’s accessible to anybody with no experience," says Peter McClure who organizes adventures deep in the woods of Alberta's Elk Island National Park. "No training, no practice and you don’t have to be particularly athletic.” McClure adds that aside from some good exercise, snowshoeing gives you the chance to take in winter's beauty. “If you look around you, the scenery in winter is beautiful." 

Winter biking 

Winter isn't normally considered cycling season, especially in areas that deal with plunging temperatures and heavy snow. With the proper bike however, winter cycling can be fun. "If you were to ride a regular bike in the snow you get more like a washboard effect, you kind of track all over the place, whereas a snow bike or a fat tire bicycle will track consistently through the snow," says Matt Todd, co-owner of The Bike Shop in Muskoka, Ontario. Riding a bike year-round is also a great way to reduce the carbon footprint. "We've lost a little bit of our Canadian identity, which is to be outside in the winter, to be okay with a little bit of adversity and cold," says Edmonton resident Dr. Darren Markland who ditches his car for a bike each winter. 

Dog sledding 

Canadians can discover the thrill of dog sledding by learning to drive their very own dog team. At Winterdance Dogsled Tours in Haliburton, Ontario, experts say sled dogs are always ready for an outdoor winter adventure. "Just think back to your childhood and what you used to love to do in the winter, whether it be building snow forts or going tobogganing or the bigger sports like skiing and dog sledding and snowmobiling," says Tanya McCready with Winterdance Dogsled Tours. "Really all you have to do is drive two to three hours out of the city and you can do it all."

If you plan to embrace the Canadian winter this season, be sure to check your Local Forecast before heading out. You can also check the Snow Report for the latest conditions in your area.

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