Where to spend winter in Canada

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Exploring the best of five Canadian winter wonderlands

Having grown up in Vancouver, British Columbia, at the foot of a ski mountain, I know Canadian winters. They’re cold. They’re snowy. Case in point: I owned a snowsuit before a swimsuit, and skates before shoes. 

Not surprisingly, all of my early family vacation memories revolve around snow—a trip type I’ve continued to pursue into my 30s. 

Sip a cocktail from an ice glass at a snow bar: check. Ski in waist-deep powder 7,350 feet above sea level: check. Plunge—polar bear-style—into an ice hole at an outdoor spa: check. Stay in the world’s largest log cabin: check. 

Traveling from coast to coast in search of my home country’s snow globe-worthy escapes, here are, IMHO, Canada’s coolest coordinates for the winter season.

Vancouver

Winter in my area code is akin to a choose-your-own-adventure novel; the options are endless. While it rarely snows in the city, the white stuff is a mainstay on the mountains, the closest of which are just a 25-minute drive from downtown. Up where the air is cool, a trio of nearby hilltop recreation areas offers skating, downhill and cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, and sleigh riding to keep winter spirits bright. If you’d rather carve figure-eights in an untouched bowl, Vancouver Heliski can transport you from street to peak in 10 minutes or less (and have you back at a downtown cocktail bar in time for Happy Hour). For overnights in this great city, I recommend Four Seasons Hotel Vancouver, a sophisticated stay for elevated explorations. Cheers to the urban version of holidaying in the North!

Viewfinder Tip: For ultimate outdoor enjoyment, Canada’s cold is best paired with a down jacket, lots of thermal layers, and polar fleece.

Whistler

Constantly hailed as the No. 1 ski resort in North America by the likes of Ski magazine (and the pile of pro skiers who call it home), Whistler’s winter wonderland is not all adrenaline junkies vying for first tracks. Beginners seeking runs called “cruiser” or “easy street” flock to the hills, too. Beyond every winter pastime you can imagine—including snowmobiling up to a mountaintop hut for fondue!—spas, farm-to-table dining, and the world’s coldest (-25 degrees Fahrenheit) vodka tasting room round out the chilled out environs, making Whistler the ultimate destination to sip while taking in the charms of Canada’s frosted frontier. Here, I recommend staying at The Westin Resort & Spa, Whistler, which is positioned perfectly next to the Whistler Mountain Gondola in Whistler Village.

 

Exploring the hills above Canmore, Alberta

The Canadian Rockies

Moving westward, the Canadian Rockies offer peaks of exploration and valleys of calm for winter seekers of the extreme and tame variety. While most first-time visitors flock to Banff’s postcard-perfect setting, nearby Canmore should not be overlooked for its local approach to winter. Sporting more Olympians per capita than any other town in the world, Canmore’s powder keg of ski hills and land protected by national parks draw Jack Frost fanatics in droves. Pair the outdoor fun with an abundance of organic chefs (each with their own restaurants) who ski by day and cook by night, and you may even come home from your winter vacation a few pounds lighter than when you left. (In this region, I like to stay at the Paintbox Lodge, an Olympian-owned, five-room retreat in the center of Canmore.)

Saskatchewan

Once the cold weather settles in for the season, Canada’s flatland and farming province turns into a wonderland of outdoor activity. To help navigate the vast expanses, enlist a team of canine companions from Sundogs Sled Excursions to conquer the Canadian backcountry by dogsled! Learn how to harness and prepare the pack for your ride, drive the sled, and run the team through trails in the Boreal Forest. Once the heart-pumping adventure winds down, retreat to the outdoor camp (think: Wood-heated trapper-style tent), or rest your head on a more plush pillow at the nearby Elk Ridge Resort, a fun-for-the-whole-family escape. 

 

Snowshoeing in Quebec

Quebec

Hiding away in Quebec’s Laurentian Mountains between Ottawa and Montreal, Montebello guards a cozy Canadian secret: It is home to one of the world’s largest log cabins. In fairness, “cabin” is an understatement—the cedar-built ode to the outdoors also doubles as a hotel and winter playground situated in 65,000 acres of wilderness. Here, the Fairmont Le Château Montebello takes winter travel into legendary territory, offering 16 miles of cross-country ski terrain, ice fishing, curling, tobogganing, and Canada’s only Land Rover Off-Road Driving Experience. Welcoming everyone from royalty to U.S. Presidents to winter enthusiasts such as moi, Montebello is indeed a storybook setting for my snow globe getaway.

What’s your ideal winter escape?

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Trip Styler

Trish Friesen chose an unlikely profession given her fear of flying and propensity toward car, air, boat, train, and chairlift sickness. Thanks to Gravol, Sea-Bands, and cruise ship stabilizers, the reluctant—yet enthusiastic—jetsetter packs her bag once every two weeks to swim with sharks in the Great Barrier Reef or to sample the latest libation in Portland. Trish unpacks her suitcase in Vancouver, Canada, Eh! where she’s the editor-in-chief of TripStyler.com, a travel lifestyle website for aspiring jetsetters. Find her moonlighting on Expedia, Fodor's, Jetsetter, and as a travel expert on TV while circumventing the globe with her entourage: a MacBook Air, an Olympus camera, and the biggest carry-on she can fit on the plane.

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