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que frozen trees ice

“Winter is coming.” Even if you’re not familiar with the Game of Thrones reference in that quote, now is the time of year when all Canadians brace themselves for the coldest season of the year. But if you’re thinking this post is going to be all about downhill skiing and snowmobiling, you’ve come to the wrong blog. Sure, those traditional winter activities may be what appeals to the 4-season athletes and winter-lovers out there, but it takes a little more to get someone like me who hates the cold to embrace winter. And I hate the cold. Fortunately, I’ve found 5 unconventional ways to enjoy Canada’s coldest months, that can even make a summer-lover like me fall for this frigid season.

1. Celebrate Winter at Carnaval de Québec

It’s the winter party to end all winter parties, in a province where the residents use any excuse to celebrate! Québec’s Winter Carnival is more than just colourful parades, rides for the kiddies and a giant snowman sporting a red sash: here you’ll also find outdoor concerts, magical palaces and one of the world’s most romantic cobblestoned neighbourhoods, made even prettier under a blanket of snow – Le Petit Champlain Quarter. So pack your toque, mitts, and snow pants, bundle up and come see what Joie de Vivre in winter is all about.

Quebec parade reindeer

Québec’s Winter Carnival parade – just one of hundreds of events in the city.

2. Get outside!

If you’re going to do some outdoor activities in winter, why not do something that you can’t do just anywhere – like riding down a toboggan slide that dates back to the late 1800s, and lands you at the foot of a castle. I’m talking about the historic toboggan slide on the Dufferin Terrace beside the Chateau Frontenac in Québec City, of course. Between dragging the wooden toboggan up to the top of the run, and the familiar feeling of cold air mixing with red-cheeked excitement, this toboggan run will spark the nostalgia in everyone and make you feel like a kid again.

Quebec City toboggan run

Québec’s famous 19th century toboggan run on the Terrace near the Chateau Frontenac

Winter’s natural wonders take on a new look in winter, too, especially if you venture a little outside Québec City to visit the frozen Montmorency Falls, a cascade of ice that you can view from pretty much every vantage point you’d imagine, including hiking to the base where its famous ‘Sugar Loaf’ mound of frozen ice and snow grows up to 70 feet tall.

Walk at the foot of Montmorency Falls

Walk at the foot of Montmorency Falls just outside Québec city.

Even for occasional skaters, there’s no substitute for skating on a frozen lake, like this one in front of Viamede Resort in the Kawartha Lakes Region in Ontario. You can even pick up a hockey stick and try a few of your best moves if you’d like to show off your inner Gretzky.

Viamede hockey rink

Viamede’s hockey rink on Stoney lake

If winter hiking (aka snowshoeing) is more your speed, Viamede Resort also offers kilometres of snow-covered trails where it’s almost a guarantee that you’ll see a deer or two while you follow their tracks between the trees. Or visit any one of these provincial parks in Ontario and Québec that offer snowshoeing trails open all winter long.

Viamede snowshoeing Deer Trail

Snowshoeing with deer on the Deer Trail at Viamede

Better yet, combine everything you love about snowshoeing and skating, and skate through the woods in Ontario’s Arrowhead Provincial Park or McGregor Point Provincial Park. These skate trails are one of the coolest ways to enjoy the winter wilderness as you glide between snow-covered trees, and you can even skate at night for an even more romantic experience.

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Arrowhead’s 1.3km skating trail Photo: Randy Risling/Toronto Star

3. Stay inside!

There’s nothing like cuddling up inside when the cold weather hits, especially inside a room – and a hotel – made entirely out of snow and ice! Yes, it sounds crazy, but there’s a whole science to how you stay warm at Québec’s Hôtel de Glace (Ice Hotel) and with more than 100,000 visitors last year, they’ve obviously got it totally figured out. (Three bars on-premise don’t hurt, either!)

quebec ice hotel bear suite

The Polar Bear suite at the Hôtel de Glace.

4. Go for a dip

Twenty below celsius is the perfect time to don your bathing suit and go for a dip outside – multiple dips, in fact. That’s the idea behind Nordic Spas, which are popping up everywhere and use a Scandinavian hot/cold water therapy to invigorate, rejuvenate (and maybe even lose some weight!) Check out Blue Mountain’s Scandinave Spa experience, or if you’re in Québec, the tranquil Siberian Station Spa not far from Québec City. You’ll be surprised how warm the air feels after a dunk in one of the cold pools!

Scandinave Spa Winter

Photo: Scandinave Nordic Spa in Blue Mountain, Ontario

5. Indulge your appetites

All this activity and effort to stay warm means you’re going to need to eat well (just ask any hibernating bear). Which is my excuse for indulging in everything from the 9-course chef’s tasting menus at Mount Julian Restaurant in the Kawarthas, to decadent afternoon charcuterie on Île d’Orléans. Winter is time for comfort, and comfort to me means comfort food. And yes, red wine counts as comfort food.

Charcuterie and Cheese plates

Charcuterie and cheese boards at La Goeliche on Ile d’Orléans in Québec

As Canadians, we live in a part of the world where winter can last for more than just one-quarter of the year, so why not embrace the best of what the season offers, and instead of fighting winter, romance it. All you need to do is remember what they say in Québec: “There’s no such thing as bad weather – only bad clothing!”

(I’m even willing to bet that if I were to move somewhere that doesn’t have winter, I would actually miss it!)

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