Although it often feels like winter will never end, the deep freeze and snow flurries will soon give way to a fresh burst of spring. And nobody wants to look back on winter wishing they’d done more with their time—it’s long enough already. Even if it’s bitter cold and the wardrobe is cumbersome, there are so many fascinating outdoor activities that can only be enjoyed on a beautiful winter day. So this year, instead of hunkering down until the ice thaws, take advantage of the last days of winter and embark on a cool new adventure.
It’s a great workout with unbeatable scenery and the added bonus of axe play. How can you top that? Ice climbing is similar to rock climbing, except you’re ascending frozen formations. It can be done on ice-covered cliffs and rock slabs or icefalls and frozen waterfalls. There are lots of adventure companies and outdoor locations that offer roped-off areas where beginners can learn to properly tie knots and belay other climbers, hack their way safely up a sheet of ice (that’s where the axe comes in!) and maneuver in the specially designed traction footwear called crampons. Ontarians should check out Adventure Seeker Tours for some great options in Ancaster and Elora or Muskoka Outfitters for packages in the Muskoka region. If you’re lucky enough to live out west, Yamnuska Mountain Adventures will guide you through an amazing Ice Climbing experience.
It may sound goofy, but Skijoring, which is Norwegian for “ski driving,” is definitely a sport worth exploring with your animal friend. It’s a thrilling mash-up of cross-country skiing and traditional dogsledding. You strap on your skis, attach a belt to the family dog (or a specially trained one) and off you go. As the dog runs through the snow, they’ll pull you along behind. This article outlines everything you need to know to get started. If you’re in the Toronto area, King City’s Dog Paddling adventures is a great place to learn the basics. They’ll even teach your dog how to properly lead you through the snow. Although canine skijoring in the most common recreationally, equestrian skijoring was a classic mode of transportation in Norway and is still a popular variation. In this case, the skijorer holds tug lines attached to their horse’s harness. Why bother with a bulky carriage when you can zip around with skis and a backpack?
If you live in former Olympic host cities Calgary or Whistler, you have the amazing opportunity to follow the path of a champion—a very steep, slick, twisty path! Both Olympic parks offer sledding experiences where even beginners can take a run down a shortened track. Adrenaline junkies can attempt bobsledding, a face-first skeleton or a feet-first luge. People who prefer a little more structure can team up with their friends for a four-man bobsled run. After a brief orientation you’ll be driving your own sled. Lugers will reach speeds of 60km/hr while bobsledders could clock in at 125 km/hr.
Another fun hybrid sport, snowkiting combines the fun of skiing or snowboarding with the joy of flying a kite. Riders use the kite to harness the power of the wind, letting it propel them forward. Frozen lakes are popular locales for practicing the sport, as are large snow-covered fields and small hills. It usually takes one or two lessons to learn how to maneuver the kite properly, but it’s far easier than kiteboarding (its summer counterpart), and it doesn’t require heavy winds. As soon as the breeze hits 15km/hr, you can head out. Once you’ve mastered staying on your feet, you can play with jumps and tricks. And if you have any doubts about the validity of the sport, just ask Quebec athlete Frederic Dion how he used it to travel to the centre of Antarctica! Snowkiting is offered all over the place (really anywhere you can find wide-open spaces) but people in the Toronto area should check out I Kite Canada or the Toronto Kite Club.
Sailing enthusiasts need no longer wait for the spring thaw to head out on the water. Ice Yachting is the next best —or dare we say better?—thing. The boats are designed slightly differently and much, much warmer wardrobe is required but the thrill of sailing remains in tact. Iceboats have a triangular hull attached to a perpendicular runner plank. Two runners are attached to each end of the plank and one is at the front end of the hull. Using the back runner as a rudder, iceboats glide over smooth ice, reaching impressively high speeds—up to 5 times the speed of the wind (or 100km/hr). If it’s your first time ice yachting you can go out recreationally with an experienced ice boater. But once you’ve really got a handle on how to manipulate the boat, there are tons of exciting races to enter. This year Kingston, Ontario actually hosted the World Ice-boat Championships. You’re obviously going to need to be near a frozen lake to test this sport out, but if you’ve got that covered, check out your local yacht or sailing club for to find out if it’s offered.