Polar bear plunge
Credit: Drew Mosley

There are lots of things every Canadian should do at least once. Here's 12 of them

1. Stand at Portage and Main
So maybe there are colder places on this planet than downtown Winnipeg in the middle of January. But when that cold wind blows in off the prairie, you'll find it hard to believe.

2. Take the polar bear plunge
Okay, so real polar bears have a thick layer of blubber and also oily, water-repelling fur that allows them to spend time in icy water without freezing their faces off. Just pack on the calories and avoid washing your hair for a week. You'll be fine.

3. Try curling
No, it doesn't involve high speeds and awesome wipeouts. But to go your entire life without trying it once would be positively un-Canadian.

4. Go riding in the winter
By Jackie Davis

Maybe there's something very wrong with me, but I don't like to ride fast. I don't like the whipping-through-the-open-fields, hooves-pounding-on-packed-dirt sensation of a barely controlled gallop. I'm always half afraid my horse will stumble, fall and hurt himself. Or me. Which is why I like riding in the winter. In the winter, you can't ride that fast. It's just not possible. The trails are too slippery, or the drifts are too deep. Snow balls up under the horse's hooves, creating a solid icy mass as if he's wearing cold bricks strapped to his feet. Imagine trail running—in the winter—in platforms. Awkward!

Winter riding is slow, generally walking with bits of trotting and sometimes a steady lope if the ground allows. Most riders probably find this boring, and also cold, but I enjoy it. Ducking low under snow-heavy branches and spotting the network of animal tracks that snake along the trail, evidence of wildlife I didn't even know existed in the summer, listening only to the soft crunch underfoot and the steady in-out of breath. No hooves pounding. No galloping. Riding through deep snow makes you notice how your horse moves, and how your body affects him. Shift your weight too much and you throw him off balance. Hit an icy patch and you have to sit quietly and give him his head, even when his legs splay out Bambi-style. Horses have four feet: if one goes, the other three can still support him.

Horses are cuter in the winter, too. Fatter and fuzzy-eared, with whiskers that turn into little icicles from the condensation and eyelashes that get so heavy with snow it looks like they're wearing fake Santa eyebrows. Horses in winter seem less like horses and more like some sort of weird, woolly creatures leftover from a prehistoric era.

I plan to enjoy my winter riding while it lasts. Soon the snow will melt, the ground will harden, and I'll have no excuse to take it slow anymore.

5. Go to where the sun never shines
To experience 24 hours of darkness, you have to head way up there—at least as far as the Arctic Circle. At the Circle itself, there's only one day when the sun won't show up-the winter solstice. Farther north in Inuvik, the sun doesn't make an appearance between early December and early January, although it does hover just below the horizon for a few hours every day.

6. Build a giant snowman
According to Guinness, the tallest snowman ever—made in Maine in 1999—measured 113 feet tall. (He had a car tire nose and two 10-foot trees as arms.) Unless you rent a snow gun, building something this big is probably impossible, but try to make a snowman that will at least get the neighbours talking.

7. Get a running start
You'll get a few odd looks from people when you head out for your first run of the year at 12:01 a.m. on January 1. Ignore them. You'll start the New Year feeling great. They'll all just have killer hangovers.

8. Storm watch on Vancouver Island
Winter is the time for the violent storms that have spelled big trouble for hundreds of ships along Vancouver Island's west coast since the 1800s. Plenty of outfitters offer storm-watching tours, but all you really need is a prime viewing spot and a decent rain jacket. Peak season runs from December to February.

9. Mountain bike in the snow
No crowds, no mud and softer landings when you fall. And you will.

10. Ride a bobsleigh
Ever since you first watched the Winter Olympics, you've wanted to try it. Find out if you're really built for speed by taking a run down the 1,500-metre track at Calgary's Canada Olympic Park. You don't actually get to drive the bobsleigh, but you will go careening through 14 curves at 120 kph. Hot damn.

11. Follow an animal's tracks
For at least a couple of hours. Unless it's one of those big animals that should be hibernating.

12. Soak in hot springs during a blizzard
Ideally when it's at least —20°.