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Cold Play in Canada

Canada comes alive in the winter months with snow and ice providing a playground for young and old. Jo Gardner looks at what’s available for the season beyond skiing

Cold Play in Canada

Canada comes alive in the winter months with snow and ice providing a playground for young and old. Jo Gardner looks at what’s available for the season beyond skiing

Despite trying many hair-raising activities in my time – from skydiving to whitewater rafting to mountain biking – I’ve never understood the appeal of zipping down a snowy mountain on two planks of wood. 

That doesn’t mean I swerve ski resorts altogether, however; quite the contrary – these are some of the most beautiful spots in the world. It’s just that when everybody else is tumbling down a mountain I’ll be bubbling away in a hot tub, tucking into fondue in a restaurant with a view or – today’s activity – ice skating on Lake Louise, a body of water that freezes each year as temperatures drop. 

I’m staying at the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise in Alberta’s Banff National Park, a property so akin to a fairytale castle I almost expect to see Rapunzel letting down her hair. 

The snow-capped Rocky Mountains, emerald-green Lake Louise and Victoria Glacier frame the view like a postcard. 

It’s a crisp, blue sky kind-of-day when I head to Chateau Ski and Snow Rentals to get my skates. With no barrier to cling onto I feel nervous about taking my first step. 

“The ice was definitely NOT this slippery when I was a child,” I mutter to myself as I gingerly push forward – and fall over. This happens several times until I find my stride. 

Ten minutes later, I’m gliding around the lake with ease, the fresh air as intoxicating as the views. 

Two hours’ later, I’m contentedly sipping wine by an open fire whilst watching the snow fall outside, mine an unsympathetic ear listening to weary skiers complain about various aches and pains. 

Winter finding its feet

Covid, rising fuel costs and staff shortages may have caused Canada – like most countries – to lose its footing over the past few years, but fully-open borders and a roster of previously cancelled events  returning bigger and better than ever are contributing to positive growth in tourism.  

“There was huge demand going into 2023,” confirms Chris Hedley, Chief Executive for Canadian Affair, who says the operator has doubled up staff in both call centres and on the road to keep up with demand. 

“Despite the rising cost of living, people still have the propensity to spend on once-in-a-lifetime experiences,” he adds.

That demand isn’t just for skiing and snowboarding holidays either, with visitors looking to experience Canada’s winter wonderland in different ways – from carnivals to snow shoeing and dog sledding to Northern Lights tours.

“Banff is a great place for non-skiers as there’s ice skating and dog sleddging at the resort itself,” says Michael Williamson, Ski Product Manager for Frontier Travel.

“Agents could also suggest that they drive to Jasper from here to see more of the region, or team Whistler with Vancouver for a winter city break; it’s nearby with loads to do beyond the slopes,” he adds. 

When asked about demand, Williamson says flexibility is key. “We tailor-make our itineraries so holidaymakers can jet off for nine nights, rather than seven – say, leaving on a Tuesday and returning on a Thursday….we will find them availability.”

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Experiences off the slopes

Bathe in bubbles: Nothing beats being warm and cosy when it’s cold outside, and hot tubs are the perfect way to experience this juxtaposition. Dart across the snow in your cossie and sink into warm, bubbly water to admire the wintery scene. Many Canadian hotels have great spas with alfresco hot tubs for relaxing the muscles after a day on the slopes – try Québec’s Spa Fairmont Le Chateau Montebello. fairmont.com/montebello

Hair of the dog: Join the pack and race through the snowy mountainside on a sled pulled by huskies. Get your own personal musher or take the reigns and learn everything about this time-honoured tradition. Various tour operators in the Yukon offer a half-day excursion with the option to include an overnight stay with the possibility of seeing the Northern Lights. 

Tour the lakes: Join Mountain Park Transportation for the only interpretive sightseeing tour in Banff National Park that visits some of the most iconic lookouts and lakes in the area. From classic Lake Louise, travel up the Icefields Parkway, where every winding curve fills the windshield with a new view. Admire Hector Lake, Crowfoot glacier lookout and the historic Num-Ti Jah Lodge at Bow Lake. mtnparktrans.com

Icy reception: There’s only one ice hotel in North America and that’s Hotel de Glace in Québec, an annual, made-from scratch property created using 500 tons of ice and 30,000 tons of snow. 

It takes 60 people five weeks to build the hotel, which includes 45 rooms and suites, ice beds, an ice restaurant and bar and an ice chapel. Fire pits, mattresses and insulating sheets keep guests warm. The Nordic Relaxation area boasts outdoor hot tubs and saunas. valcartier.com 

Winter warmers: Toronto’s annual Winterlicious food festival celebrates local cuisine, with over 200 of Toronto’s top restaurants offering fixed price menus for a fortnight and giving visitors the chance to try top-end restaurants at rock- bottom prices. 74 of the city’s restaurants are included in Canada’s first-ever Michelin guide this year, too, making the event even more delicious. destinationtoronto.com

Fat bike in Fernie : If you can ride a bike, you can ride a fat bike. The oversized tyres on these off-road bicycles allow riders to peddle through the snow with ease. Fernie, British Columbia, has a trail system perfect for winter riding. There are easy, multi-use community trails, groomed shared trails and challenging singletrack. tourismfernie.com

What’s new

Air Transat is operating a new thrice-weekly route from Manchester to Toronto for Winter. 

Whistler is home to a new, fine-dining restaurant, cocktail bar and lounge with a focus on elevated Pacific Northwest cuisine, sustainable seafood, and local ingredients. 

Wild Blue Restaurant + Bar boasts seating for 150 guests indoors, plus a private dining room, raw bar, and open kitchen.

Sun Peaks’ Snow Limo has returned, allowing guests that may not ski a chance to safely experience the high alpine and stunning vistas on various tours around the mountains. 

Once guests are buckled into the specially designed sled, their professional guide jumps on the skis behind them and leans into turns just like skiers do.

Forest Park Hotel by Pursuit opened in Jasper in summer 2022 as the first new property in Jasper since the 1980s. 

Located on the edge of town, it is the ideal base camp for visitors looking to immerse themselves in nature while staying close to the town’s vibrant downtown shopping and culinary offerings. 

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