Get ready for the best in off-radar winter fun. Here are five essential Canadian winter adventures:
Go Dog-Skiing, BC
The antithesis of cat-skiing in more than just wordplay, Revelstoke Dogsled Adventures, in BC’s Kootenays, is (unofficially) the world’s first “dog-skiing” operation. Landing somewhere between the hard-work-is-its-own-reward experience of alpine touring and the convenience and quick travel of snowcatting, dog-skiers — you guessed it — load their snowboards and skis onto a dogsled and head upslope with the Powderhounds in search of epic Kootenay cold smoke. These friendly canines will even escort you to an au natural hot springs at day’s end. Why do this? Owner Eric Marsden puts it best, “In a time when dog teams are disappearing from the Canadian landscape, we saw it as a progressive and greener way to put people in the backcountry.” Limited opportunities are available, minimum fitness/experience levels apply; $539 per person.
Start Here: revelstokedogsledadventures.ca
High-Altitude Ice Diving, AB
On paper, this seems like a bad idea. With your scuba gear prepped and always with a buddy (or two), you’re going to cut a hole in the thick ice covering Banff National Park’s Lake Minnewanka, climb in and dive beneath the frozen surface to seek out the ruins of a ghost town hidden below 14 and 100 metres of water. Sixteen different historic sites await the experienced diver; the former resort town of Minnewanka Landing appearing like an apparition in the green glow of the winter underwater environment. Submerged in 1941 when Calgary Power Co. built a dam (with authorization granted via the War Measures Act), the townsite holds as-they-lay artefacts from the turn of the last century, made ever more mysterious by their cloak of water and ice. If this seems beyond your current experience level, Calgary’s Aqua Sport Scuba Centre offers ice diving certification courses. With the right skillset, bad ideas can be the best ideas.
Kite-Ski the Prairies, SK
What Saskatchewan lacks in elevation change, it makes up for with ingenuity. Without a hill to compete with the West and East’s best, our Prairie province still manages to dish up ski and snowboard thrills by harnessing the power of flatland-wind and making use of the wide open spaces that so typify the Land of Living Skies. This is kite-skiing and kite-boarding: outfitted with conventional downhill skis or a snowboard, you’ll learn to wrangle a kite that can propel you at eye-watering speeds overtop snow-blanketed farmland. Some experienced kiters even build big kickers, but since this is a Winter Secret, we’ll assume you’ll require Prairie Kiteboarding’s three-hour All Inclusive Lesson — kiting gear is provided, bring your own snowsuit and skis. Price, $250 per person.
Start Here: prairiekiteboarding.com
Find Winter’s Phantoms, QC
One of Canada’s most compelling snowshoe trail networks lies hidden in Quebec’s Saguenay-Lac Saint Jean Region: La Valle des Fantomes. Accessed via snowcat, which departs daily from the Parc national des Monts-Valin Discovery Centre in Saguenay at 10:30 a.m. and arrives at the trailhead some 45 minutes later, ‘shoers set out on a six-kilometre tromp to the summit of Pic Dubuc, 980 metres above sea level, passing innumerable “Phantoms” along the way — stubby treetops caked in windblown snow that appear as ghosts in the bleached-out environs. From there, take in the boundless views of Mont-Valin Massif and the Saguenay Lowlands before heading to the transfer station for a picnic lunch and back to the awaiting snowcat for its 4:00 p.m. departure. Winter huts are available and there are seven other snowshoe trails in the area, ranging from three to 16 km. (Snowcat, $53.50 per person; huts, $25.50 per person.)
Start Here: sepaq.com
Secret Storms, NS & BC
The Gulf Stream rushes off the southeast coast of Nova Scotia throughout the cold-months and creates a two-fold natural phenomenon: first, it can melt snow with ferocity, and second, it brings the gnarliest surf of the year to beaches like Lawrencetown, Martinque and White Point as well as super-secret footpath-accessed locals’ favourites in between. Perhaps best of all, due to frigid water temperatures and barely-warmer beaches, these breaks dwindle in popularity once the last storms of September send the tourists home, yet One Life Surf School (Lawrencetown) and White Point Beach Resort (White Point) remain open for lessons and rentals year-round. Not secret enough for you? Well, the Pacific Coast has winter waves too — much has been penned about the beaches of Vancouver Island, but few know about the wicked surf punishing the coast of Haida Gwaii from October to May, or the upstart North Beach Surf Shop in Masset. Untouched? Check. Rugged? Check. A secret? Not anymore.