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Jan 21, 2016

3 tips for enjoying winter city travel

Exchange District View

Other than ski holidays, people don’t generally seek out cold weather spots for vacation. But business travel can take you anywhere regardless of the time of year or temperature. So, if you’re heading to a winter city, take it from a Winnipeg gal who knows—to enjoy it, you’ve got to embrace it. Here’s how.

ONE: It’s not all about temperature

First off, know what you’re going to experience weather-wise. Understand that you can’t look at the temperature in a winter city and think that’s the whole story. You need to consider the humidity level as well as the wind chill. There’s a very tired line Winnipeggers like to use in rebuttal to those who say it’s friggin freezing here. We say, “Yeah, but it’s a dry cold, eh?”

Bannatyne Avenue in Winnipeg

There’s some truth to this old nugget. On a Winnipeg day when the temperature is -25C (-13F) it can feel warmer to your body than -10C (14F) in a city such as Toronto or Boston. That’s because those cities have higher humidity levels resulting in the damp cold that seems to seep into your bones and is impossible to shake no matter how much Tim Hortons coffee you drink.

Similarly, a -25C day in Winnipeg when there is no wind (I think that happened once) can feel downright balmy compared to a -25C day with a high wind. High wind chill ratings can result in exposed skin freezing in a matter of seconds. This is why in winter city weather forecasts you usually see an actual temperature and a “feels like” temperature, which incorporates the wind chill rating.

Winnipeg Forecast Display

So the gist of my advice here is to look at the weather forecast in advance of your visit to help you prepare keeping in mind these factors.

TWO: Dress and Deportment

The two most important things you need to thrive in a winter city are proper clothing and a positive attitude. When you’re dressed warmly, it’s much easier to be enthusiastic. Shivering can make even the sunniest person surly.

Deb & Steve at Lake of the Woods Ontario

Winnipeggers dress in layers to keep warm in winter months. Personally, I have an evangelical affinity for long underwear. Blue jeans and dress pants are typically the worst thing to wear in a single layer. The wind will go right through you. A skirt? Forget about it! If you can get your hands on a fleece jacket or thick sweatshirt this will keep you extra toasty. Layers are great because once indoors you can do the winter strip tease as you adjust to the inside temperature.

If you are heading to a winter city and you don’t have a warm jacket (aka parka), some cities have shops that will rent out the gear you need. Consider it if you want to get out, see, and enjoy the city you’re visiting.

THREE: Do Stuff!

Although some people in cold weather climates spend the entire winter hiding under a down comforter cursing the darkness and nurturing their fear of frostbite, many of us actually get out and have fun in the snow. So should you!

Find a festival

Any winter city worth its snow clearing budget cultivates fun activities to help people plow through those cold winter months without resorting to a cheap all-inclusive trip to Mexico (Although that can do wonders at the end of February when the snow’s turned to brown muck and you have forgotten what grass looks like). Canada has some epic festivals such as  Quebec City’s Carnival, Ottawa’s Winterlude and Winnipeg’s Festival du Voyageur, for example.

Snow voyageur

Many don’t know that Winnipeg has a vibrant French community. Each February during Festival everybody is French. For 10 days we celebrate voyageur, Métis, and First Nations history and culture. Activities include an international snow sculpture exhibition, beard growing competition, countless outstanding musical performances in large heated tents, traditional cuisine, and an ice bar. The ice bar features every voyageur’s beverage of choice, caribou, which is served in shot glasses made of ice.

If you’re in a city during one of these festivals make an effort to go. You’ll be surprised how warm the atmosphere (and caribou) makes you feel.

Get Active

Take advantage of activities you can really only do in a winter city. Go skating on a pond, lake or river. In Winnipeg we have a world-record-setting river skating trail that some years has stretched as far as 10 kilometres (6.2 miles). Ottawa claims the widest natural skating surface, located on the Rideau Canal.

skating trail

You can rent skates at The Forks in Winnipeg to take your turn on the trail and you wont’ be alone if you’ve never skated before. Thanks to our city’s robust immigration program, you’ll see many newcomer Canadians from warm climates experience the thrills and spills of gliding across the ice for the first time.

River Trail at The Forks

The trail is also home to numerous warming huts, which are installations from the annual Art + Architecture Competition on Ice. Even if you’re not skating, walking the trail to see these amazing structures is well worth doing.

Green Farmhouse hut Wide

wood slat warming hut

If you’re really ambitious, borrow a toboggan and find a hill to slide down. Definitely a winter pleasure.


Seek out Unique Winter City Experiences

If you’re in an NHL city and can get tickets, take in a hockey game. Most of the teams are located in North American winter cities with a few exceptions (I’m looking at you Florida Panthers). There is nothing like a passionate hockey crowd to get your heart pumping.

Winnipeg Jets Game

Check local news sites and the city’s tourism bureau to find out about other unique opportunities that might be available to you when you’re in town.

In Winnipeg each January, we have an event called RAW:almond, which is a pop-up restaurant where the Red and Assiniboine Rivers meet. Renowned local and international guest chefs prepare singular dining experiences each night of the three-week event — outside, in a temporary tent-like structure. The video below captures the spirit of the culinary adventure nicely.

A new addition to Winnipeg’s winter scene is The Great Ice Show. The show features interactive ice sculptures and structures similar to those found at the world-renowned Ice and Snow World in Harbin, China.

Ice Sculptures

Pictured under construction, The Great Ice Show is a first for Winnipeg in 2016.

Some of the best tag-along trips I’ve taken with Steve when he’s on business have been low-expectation destinations. You may regard a business trip in a winter city as something to be endured, but with an attitude adjustment, a bit of research, and appropriate clothing (yay long underwear!), it could be one of your best travel adventures.

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  1. Cheryl D
    Posted November 5, 2016 at 9:32 am | Permalink

    Love this article! I am one to hide out from the cold, but you make it sound like so much fun, and you’re right that it’s all about attitude! Thanks for a fun, informative post!

    • Posted November 5, 2016 at 9:42 am | Permalink

      Thanks for commenting, Cheryl. I’m a firm believer in dressing for the weather and getting out there!

  2. Elmer Krushel
    Posted January 23, 2016 at 11:30 pm | Permalink

    Debbie, your article was great! Among all the wonderful adventures you have listed, which you can do in the cold, I’m still glad we made the decision to retire in White Rock, BC. Keep it up, there are some people that actually enjoy the cold outdoors. I know I did for many years, but that time has passed and I now enjoy our climate. Remember, I tell people when they say, “yes, its cold but it’s a dry cold” to remind them that in Vancouver when it rains, I’ll say, ” but it’s a dry rain.”

    • Posted January 24, 2016 at 1:21 pm | Permalink

      Ha ha … I’m not sure I buy your “dry rain” claim, but your part of the country is so beautiful that rain can’t dampen its image. 🙂

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