10 essential tips to prep for a winter cottage visit

Winter cottage scene with sunshine through the trees Shutterstock/icealien

Swap the sound of boats on the lake for snowmobiles on the ice, bikinis for snowsuits, and campfires for roaring fireplaces, and winter at the cottage isn’t so different from summer. As long as you’re prepared. Here are a ten tips to turn up your winter cottaging game, and let you enjoy one of the most serene seasons at the lake.

1. Put on your snow tires
Whether you do it yourself or have them done at a shop, winter tires make a huge difference on snowy, icy cottage roads. The softer rubber grips that snow and ice, giving you traction when you need it most.

2. Be prepared to dig out
Of course you drive with a goal of not careening into a snowbank or nestling your tires into deep snow, but it happens. Have a way to get out: throw a shovel in your trunk; got a cat? Kitty litter is great for traction; or, in a pinch, laying your floor mats out in front of the wheels could let you drive out of that bind. (And make sure your phone is charged, in case you do need to call for a tow.)

3. Stock up on wood
Wood haulers deliver all winter, but you don’t want to wait until you’re almost out only to hear they’re running low. Stock up early—you’ll want that fire going. (And don’t forget to stock matches, too.)

4. Don’t forget about the darkness
It gets dark early in the winter, and even earlier the further north you go. Keep a flashlight or headlamp in your car for when you arrive—especially if you shut the power off when you leave.

5. Beware of the pipes
If your cottage isn’t winterized, you’re probably used to bringing water up. If it is winterized, there’s still always a chance of the pipes freezing or pump failing, so it’s a good idea to fill a jug at home or keep water in the cottage as backup if you have an area that stays above zero.

6. Keep backup lighting ready
We all remember the Christmas of multiple-day power outages in 2015. Winter weather is fickle and power is precarious—have candles and solar lanterns on hand just in case. (Luckily, you’ve already stocked up on matches.)

7. Shelter your shovel
You’ll want a path between the car and the cottage (and possibly the outhouse), so make sure the shovel is left somewhere accessible and not in a place that gets, ironically, buried in snow.

8. Keep the axe handy
As well as splitting wood for the oh-so-important fireplace, if you’re without water, chipping ice from the lake with an axe is a much more efficient means of getting meltwater than snow. The volume of snow compared to the water it melts down to will make you weep as you sweatily haul bucket after bucket inside—and dehydration would be counterproductive.  

9. Plan for dead car batteries
In some areas of the country temperatures can drop low enough in cottage country to kill car batteries. Having an extension chord to run from your cottage to plug in a block heater isn’t a bad idea—and jumper cables are always advisable.

10. Connect with your neighbours
Lakes tend to be a lot less populated in the winter—it’s one of the best things about winter cottaging, but it also spells isolation. Find out who else is heading up—in case the smoke rising from their chimneys isn’t obvious enough—so you know, in an emergency, who’s around. If you don’t know them, now’s a good time to introduce yourself and swap phone numbers—and take a post-holiday tin of cookies for extra points.

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