12 July 2021 by Emma Sanger-Horwell
Winter is Canada's longest season. However, rather than shutting down, the country comes alive with opportunities for activities and festivities. Essentially it turns into one giant winter playground. So, although some opt to hibernate like bears or fly south like the birds, the majority simply embrace the experience and turn this snow-clad season into a time of fun and adventure. Here, Wexas Travel's Emmas Sanger-Horwell wraps up warm and jumps into the best of the Canadian winter.
Our Top Canada holiday ideas
- Northern Lights & Rockies – 12-day tailor-made journey
- Winter Escape at Sacacomie Lodge – 7-day tailor-made break
- Vancouver to Calgary Escape – 11-day tailor-made holiday and great rail journey
Banff National Park, set up more than 125 years ago, was Canada's first national park. 80 miles from Calgary, deep within the Rocky Mountains, it offers every imaginable winter sport, including skiing, which takes place on Mount Norquay. Banff itself has hot springs, unusual shops, art galleries and good accommodation. There's even the chance to spot elk ambling in from the nearby forest.
Less than an hour on from Banff, Lake Louise has one of the largest ski areas in North America; there are 4,200 acres of land to explore. At the heart of the area is the Victoria Glacier where you can snowshoe, dog sled, skate or hike through an ice canyon. There are plenty of chic lodges, such as Chateau Lake Louise and even one of Canada's finest restaurants to try at the Post Hotel.
The road north from Banff to Jasper is one of the great, scenic drives of the world. At the end of the three-hour journey through the Icefields Parkway, past the Columbia Icefield and Athabasca Glacier, lies Jasper National Park, home to the iconic Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge, which makes an exceptional base from which to explore.
Whistler, North of Vancouver, has been a winter sports favourite forever; it also hosted the Winter Games in 2010. It's home to the largest ski area in North America with more than 200 marked trails and 37 chair lifts amidst 8,100 acres of tree and glacier skiing. Check out Blackcomb too for bobsled and skeleton rides. There's also a panoramic PEAK 2 PEAK Gondola spanning the 2.7 mile long gap between the two summits; the 11-minute journey is as exhilarating a ride as any on the snow below.
Whistler-Blackcomb - image: Sam D'Cruz/Shutterstock.com
Resorts at the foot of the mountains, including the Fairmont Banff Springs, Chateau Whistler and Four Seasons are well planned, fun and full of great places to stay and eat. If you're still here in April, enjoy the TELUS World Ski and Snowboard Festival, a celebration of snowsports, music, arts and mountain life.
Monashee and Bugaboo
Heli-skiing started in the Bugaboo Range almost 50 years ago, with choppers carrying adventurers to uncharted slopes with pristine powder to carve their way through. Combine this range with the Monashee Mountains and you've a massive ski terrain to explore. Hire a guide and take to the wilderness for a ski trip unlike any other.
Stood on the western coast of Vancouver Island, Tofino is part of the Pacific Rim National Park. There's little snow here but the windswept beaches boast towering waves, making it ideal for the tough characters who tackle the O'Neill Coldwater Classic pro surfing championship. Hole up in a cosy inn such as the Wickaninnish Inn and watch the wave riders do battle with the gnarly surf from beside a roaring fire or even the comfort of a hot tub. Alternatively, grab a good wetsuit and join in.
North of Winnipeg lies Churchill, on the shores of the Hudson Bay. Hurry here in October and November as large numbers of polar bears begin to come together in preparation for the moment the ice freezes and they can start to hunt seals.
Polar bear, Manitoba
Photo safaris and wildlife watching expeditions abound, with chances to see Arctic foxes, wolves, caribou, moose and snowy owls as well as bears. In March, the Northern Lights dance across the night sky in a surreal spectacle. in the same month, look out for the epic Hudson Bay Quest, a 250-mile dogsled race across the ice. Don't worry though if you don't have the gear to to insulate and protect you from the Arctic weather as this can be hired for the duration of your stay.
Ontario and Quebec
With more than 400 years heritage, Quebéc City is a romantic, architecturally interesting place to spend winter. Hip hotels such as the Fairmont Chateau Frontenac overlook the St Lawrence River or hide in the heart of the old quarter. Every January the Ice Hotel is remade; the only one in North America, it is fashioned from chunks of ice and stands 5m tall. It boasts fireplaces and fur-lined beds as a means of combatting the cold. Cross country ski through the town or downhill ski on the nearby slopes of Mont Ste Anne. Come from the end of January to mid-February and enjoy Carnival, which celebrates a host of winter activities and includes night parades, fireworks and concerts.
Fashionable, funky Montréal is home to a number of excellent places to eat and drink. The culmination of winter features the High Lights Festival, which celebrates the city over 10 days. The entire city also turns out for Montréal en Lumiere, a succession of live music performances, light shows and free events every February. Close to the city are the Laurentian Mountains. The highest peak, Mont Tremblant, is one of the biggest ski resorts in the region, with good-quality skiing, snowboarding and sleigh rides. Thrill seekers can also scoot along rails on a toboggan for close to a mile at Mont Saint Saveur.
Canada's capital, Ottawa, is home to the Rideau Canal Skateway, the largest naturally frozen rink in the world. Over almost 5 miles, skaters slip past the Canadian parliament buildings, the National Arts Centre and ice sculptures. Warm up with cocktails overlooking the canal or dive into the ByWard Market to find more than 120 places to eat, drink and shop. For culture hit the National Gallery, famous for Inuit art. In February the city hosts Winterlude, a fantastic festival for family winter fun.