With its dazzling colour palette of azure and white, Canada is the “home of winter”. Expect peerless ski resorts, snowboarding, dog sledding, and fat biking. Enjoy incomparable scenery and the Northern Lights. Plus: a swag of unique winter festivals
From the lofty Rocky Mountains in the west to the Precambrian rocks of the Laurentian Mountains in the east, Canada’s topography drives the action. World-class ski resorts offer pristine slopes, thrilling downhill runs and immaculate scenery.
Family-friendly British Columbia shares over 10 mountain ranges. Yes, there’s the world’s best powder and second-to-none cat-skiing and heli-skiing, but there is also snowshoeing, storm watching, ice climbing, snowmobile adventures, and trails illuminated for night skiing.
Some of the best skiing in BC is along the Kootenay Rockies’ Powder Highway, with its storybook villages.
Follow in the steps of athletes who competed at Canada’s two Olympic Winter Games (1988 in Calgary and 2010 in Vancouver). Whistler Blackcomb saw Lindsey Vonn rocket to gold glory in the women’s downhill. At Cypress Mountain in Vancouver, try to hit the bumps like gold-medal winning freestyle skier Alexandre Bilodeau. In Alberta, Nakiska was built for the 1988 Winter Games and has since lured skiers from Calgary and beyond to its 79 trails.
Alberta boasts 30-plus ski resorts! Head to the Rocky Mountains in the south-west corner for long peak-to-base runs with plenty of shorter schussing options in between.
Ontario’s largest family-friendly ski destination, Blue Mountain Resort, delivers 147 hectares of skiable terrain, ranging from the north section’s more technical trails to the village and south section’s vast mix of runs. After sundown, 30 of the 42 trails are lit until 9pm.
Québec’s 102-trail winter playground regularly tops the best ski lists in the east. Start in the Laurentian Mountains or Tremblant, less than two hours from Montréal. Meander down the easy 6km Nansen run or the super-steep Dynamite run. Your reward is Tremblant’s cobblestoned village with its bistros and boutiques.
Turning on the lights in the Yukon
The aurora borealis, also called the Northern Lights, is powerful solar activity. It is cosmic choreography that generates curtains, ribbons, rays, spirals, and flickers of light – eerie green, shimmering purples, pinks, and yellows.
is a bucket list perennial. Appreciate the aurora from late August to mid-April. The current solar cycle is set to culminate later this year when aurora activity will be at its zenith. Best time to see the lights is around midnight – 10pm to 2am is the window, so be prepared to stay up late.
Experience this magical phenomenon beside a cozy wood stove or roaring campfire with Arctic Range Adventures, who offer northern lights viewing at the Aurora Centre, an idyllic location just outside the city of Whitehorse.
Northern Tales Travel Service has several multi-night Northern Lights immersion tours. View the action from a cosy prospector-style wall tent, once used by gold seekers and trappers, 30 minutes from Whitehorse. Up North Adventures will pick you up in the evening and take you to Fish Lake, 20 minutes from Whitehorse, to stay in an authentic yurt.
The Aurora Glass Chalets at the Northern Lights Resort & Spa are a magical way to experience a wintry star-filled sky and the Northern Lights, from the comfort of a warm bed. The chalets overlook the beautiful Yukon Valley and surrounding mountain range. Or watch the sun rise over Tagish Lake from the balcony of a cabin at . (We’ll have more on Northern Lights viewing in an upcoming issue.)
Ultimate winter activities
Ice-skating in Québec, dog-sledding in British Columbia, snowshoeing in Nova Scotia, or ice fishing in Saskatchewan … winter activities in Canada can’t be beaten.
Fat biking is mountain biking with oversized tires that grip the snow. It’s gaining traction in every province from British Columbia to Nova Scotia. On Prince Edward Island, find Mark Arendz Provincial Ski Park in Brookvale, hire a bike, and enjoy nearly 10km of groomed, single-track options deliciously named Shortbread Trail, Buttertart Trail, and Maple Fudge Trail.
In British Columbia, zip through old-growth forest on a three-hour Canadian Wilderness Adventures ride. Or choose from longer tours with Cold Fire Creek Dogsledding further north in Alberta. In Churchill, Manitoba, Wapusk Adventures offers a taste of dog-sledding led by teams of rescue huskies, with a side of First Nations culture.
In Alberta, Sturgeon, Bear, and Snipe Lakes near Grande Prairie are popular ice fishing destinations. Companies such as Ice Fishing Alberta use sonar and underwater video cameras on guided trips near Canmore and Kananaskis country.
Craving the exhilaration of Canada’s cross-country skiing? For something completely different, explore 95km of trails around the Canadian Forces Base Valcartier near Québec City or Torrance Barrens Dark-Sky Preserve in Ontario.
Keen to do the snowshoe shuffle? There are trails at White Hills Resort in Clareville on the east coast of Newfoundland and Labrador, with some open till midnight. Indian Falls Chalet offers a guided snowshoe excursion and tales of indigenous culture. Look for hikes across Cape Breton Island in Nova Scotia where squirrels and fluffy little chickadees will also be enjoying the fresh air.
Ice-skaters won’t want to miss a visit to Muskoka Lakes Farm & Winery in Bala, Ontario, where, from December 27 to March, they can glide over 4.8 hectares (12 acres) of frozen cranberries. Another imperative is the Rideau Canal in Canada’s capital city of Ottawa which, from January to early March becomes the 7.8km-long Rideau Canal Skateway. From February to April, Paint Lake Provincial Park in north-east Manitoba doubles as an ice-skating rink.
Get the blood rushing aboard a snowmobile. New Brunswick has an extensive trail system (Fundy Highlands we’re looking at you!), while the Northern New Brunswick Odyssey offers a snowmobiling adventure along the Acadian Peninsula, passing massive Maritime mountains. British Columbia has an epic route in the Gold Rush Snowmobile Trail between 70 Mile House and Horsefly.
Essential winter festivals
This year marks the 70th anniversary of the Québec Winter Carnival, an outdoor festival that celebrates winter between late January and mid-February. For 17 days, the city turns on thrilling canoe and dog-sled races, creative ice-carving, ice-skating, cosy gourmet dining and atmosphere to burn!
During the three action-packed weekends of Ottawa’s Winterlude in February, ice skate on the world’s largest ice rink, play in an ice hockey tournament, watch an ice sculpture competition, or just enjoy the music, dancing, and the food you’d expect from a street party.
Every January, Banff and Lake Louise kick off their SnowDays celebrations. Lake Louise turns into a glittering display of ice sculptures and the streets of downtown Banff become larger-than-life galleries with giant snow sculptures. Skijoring – horse-riding, trick-riding, and ski stunts – is always popular with thrill-seekers lining the streets.
From November to January each year, the Niagara Falls Winter Festival of Lights powers up. This is extraordinary storytelling courtesy of more than three million lights and 75 colourful displays. Walk or drive the course and be dazzled. The Hot Chocolate Trail is your reward.
Experience culture on steroids as the Festival du Voyageur in Winnipeg celebrates, each February, the liveliness and excitement of Manitoba’s French culture and Métis heritage. Yes, there is ice sculpting, beading, painting and dancing, and artisan goods to shop for, but music is the sell – from French-Canadian fiddle, to local singer-songwriters, rock, indie, pop and rap. Choose your tent!