Whether you’re heli-skiing in the Selkirks, snowshoeing through the Laurentians, snowkiting Canmore’s Spray Lakes, or ice climbing the rocks of Northwestern Ontario, there’s no shortage of options to stave off the winter blues and keep your blood pumping in Canada. But when you’re planning a winter adventure, the list of considerations—where to stay, what to wear and how you prepare—are that much more important, because something as simple as ill-fitting socks or too many layers could completely dampen your fun. Follow our beginner’s guide to getting the most out of your winter adventure, and you’ll have nothing but love for the coldest, darkest season of the year.
When you step out of your comfort zone, you’re always better for it—or at least that’s what your significant other will tell you when you’re atop a gladed run on the side of a mountain, even though you’ve always said that skis and trees don’t mix. If you really want to get the most out of your adventure, think of something that will be fun but also challenge you. If you’ve never skied gladed runs, it might be easy to shy away from them, but any experienced skier and boarder will tout the benefits. It’s these runs that will test your skill, offer fresh powder stashes, and leave you feeling closer to nature. If you’re planning a snowshoe adventure, consider upping the ante and turning it into a winter camping trip. Sure, making snow angels outside a toasty cabin will get you in the winter spirit and leave you feeling nostalgic for your childhood, but it won’t give you the same satisfaction you’ll get from conquering a fear or overcoming a short bout of stress and anxiety.
Know your limits
Of course it’s a fine balance, and it’s always important to know your limits when you’re on an outdoor adventure, especially in wintertime. Pushing yourself is one thing, but you should never head outdoors unprepared. Not only are there fewer hours of daylight this time of year, but if you don’t dress appropriately or know when to call it quits, you could put yourself at serious risk of frostbite or hypothermia.
Even if you’re not at-risk of something as serious as frostbite, nothing can kill a winter adventure like being chilled to the bone. It can be hard to avoid on the dampest of days, but there are a few tricks to help, like ensuring you stay nourished and eating enough calories so your body has the energy to keep you warm. But that extra fuel won’t be worth anything if you don’t have the right clothing on, and in the winter that means avoiding cotton and dressing in layers. Ideally, you’ll have a base of thin, sweat-wicking fabric, an insulating layer made of fleece, and a protective waterproof layer to keep you dry. And though stripping down to go to the washroom might be the last thing you feel like doing when you’ve got all those layers on, being cold makes you have to pee more frequently, and holding it in just uses extra energy—energy that could be used to keep your fingers and toes toasty.
Get the right gear
Heading outdoors without the proper gear won’t just leave you cold and miserable—it could be life threatening. But after scrolling through pages of gear guides filled with technical jargon like Gore-Tex, PrimaLoft, Capilene, and Polartec, you may be left feeling more overwhelmed than anything. Dressing in layers—and knowing which fabrics to avoid—is half the battle, but there are some other key pieces you should consider. Keeping your extremities warm is crucial, which is why we recommend investing in high-quality gloves, durable wool socks, and boots with both insulation and grip. When considering which boots will keep you sure-footed on snow and ice, nothing compares to Merrell boots with Arctic Grip, a ground-breaking new technology specifically designed for wet ice. The outsole allows you to trek with total confidence, no matter what the conditions. But the best-in-class lugs don’t just provide unparalleled traction—they actually change colour to signal when you’re travelling across icy conditions.
Understand First Aid
Kudos to you if a First Aid kit was already on your packing list. But having every bandage under the sun won’t matter if you don’t know when to use them or what wounds they’re best for. One of the best ways to feel comfortable and in-control on an outdoor adventure is to know basic First Aid. And if you’re planning to do more adventures in the future, we recommend investing in a Wilderness and Remote First Aid Course, which will teach you all the basics, plus provide special material on techniques for the outdoors and providing care for up to 24 hours. It will also ensure you have the peace of mind you need to truly enjoy your adventure.
Know where to find the best snow
Despite what some people might think, Canada isn’t all snow and ice. There are parts of the country that hardly ever receive snow and others where it’s just plain inconsistent. No matter what you’re planning—skiing, snowshoeing, snowmobiling, even camping—it simply won’t be the same without the white fluffy stuff. If you’re looking for a solid dumping of some of the best snow on the planet, head to B.C.’s interior mountain ranges. In places like Revelstoke, average treeline temperatures hover around minus seven degrees Celsius, creating light, dry powder with the perfect density. And with an average annual snowfall of 40 to 60 feet, there’s no need to pick quality over quantity. If you’re looking to travel east, areas like Gros Morne National Park in Newfoundland and the Montmorency Forest near Quebec City are some of the snowiest places you’ll find.
If you’re willing to fork over a little cash for a guided hike or backcountry ski trip, you’ll have someone who knows the region like no one else, which means they’ll know exactly where to go for the best terrain, most secluded trails, and freshest snow. And just because you’re going off the beaten track doesn’t mean you have to “rough it.” There are guided adventures for every travel taste—from weeklong catered backcountry skiing, in which you return to a chalet for a sauna and gourmet meal at the end of the day, to serene journeys through Algonquin Park, which end on campsites with “hot tents” equipped with wood-burning fireplaces to keep you warm and cozy. Not convinced? For those who struggle to find people with the same affinity for winter activities in their friend circles, joining a guided trip will give you the opportunity to meet like-minded adventurers, sometimes from the other side of the world.
Indulge in a little après
A winter adventure is nothing without a little après. Even some of the most adventurous winter enthusiasts aren’t willing to brave the cold if there’s nothing to warm them up at the end of a long day. There are legendary slopeside bars, like Whistler’s Longhorns and Microbrasserie La Diable in Tremblant, and mountain-town favourites like The Village Idiot in Revelstoke. But finding the best bar in a ski town isn’t rocket science—if there’s a good selection of microbrews on tap, Happy Hour specials, and some outdoor gear piled up outside, it’s probably a safe bet. And if the clientele is comfortable donning a clunky pair of boots and hat head while enjoying a well-cooked meal, you know you’re in the right place.