Why hibernate the winter away when Canada is all about cold-weather adventure? Like the climate itself, it's a time of beautiful extremes. The invigorating rush of crisp air as you speed down a ski hill and the epic stillness of fresh fallen snow.
In partnership with MINI ALL4 All-Wheel Drive, here are a few great ways to play this winter. Whether you're after a rugged trip through the Rockies or an otherworldly night at Quebec's ice hotel, 'tis the season to pack up your all-wheel drive and explore.
2. See polar bears in Churchill
Is there a more perfect winter spirit animal than the polar bear, with its snow-white fur? A guided tour in Churchill, Manitoba, will bring you just about as close to the awe-inspiring animals as you can possibly get — though within a safe distance, of course — giving you a better idea of how they make their way through the Great White North. As an added bonus, some tours will wrap in a dog-sled tour to get you around in snow-shushing style.
3. Skate the Rideau Canal
The frozen-over Rideau Canal, one of Canada's greatest wonders come wintertime, is an ice-blue sight to behold. Running 7.8 kilometres through the heart of downtown Ottawa, the Rideau Canal skateway is the world's largest outdoor skating rink. It's a perfect place to practice pirouettes, or take on a speedy sightseeing tour of the city. Many come to the canal in the summertime for a quick boat trip, but once the temperature drops, you know it's time to break out your skates.
4. Drive B.C.'s Sea to Sky Highway
British Columbia may be the mildest of the provinces temperature-wise, but there's plenty of majestic winter vistas to catch on the West Coast. Starting about 30 minutes north of downtown Vancouver, the Sea to Sky Highway offers a jaw-dropping litany of coastline sights all year long, from the granite goliath that is the Stawamus Chief Mountain to the cascading Brandywine Falls. For many, hitting the road in the winter will mean pit stops at Whistler and Blackcomb too, to carve some powder at the mountain ski resorts.
5. Explore the great outdoors in the Yukon
Considering the vast majority of Canadians are living along the southern border of the country, the drive up to Dawson City will take some time, but the idyllic, icy setting of the Yukon is more than worth the long haul. The gold rush may have taken place over a hundred years ago, but there's so much to discover in the Yukon, whether it's studying the land while snowmobiling its never-ending snowy plains, or marvelling at the emerald glow of the Northern Lights. The temperature can drop to as low as -50, but there's plenty to warm your heart up.
6. Cheer for the home team at the World Pond Hockey Championship
About two hours outside of Fredericton, New Brunswick, you'll find Plaster Rock, home to Canada's most die-hard shinny fans. Every February, 120 teams from around the globe gather here for the World's Pond Hockey Championship. Be sure to bring along your wool socks, thermos and toque, because there are plenty of other winter activities to keep you busy nearby, like picturesque snowshoeing and cross-skiing trails. Since this year's tournament falls on the Valentine's Day weekend, you might want to pepper in some romance, too.
7. Ice fish in the prairies
Deep in the prairies, three hours north of Saskatoon, you can find some of the biggest fish around, and as it turns out, winter may be the best season to snag them. Every year Saskatchewan's Tobin Lake draws out ice fishers looking for their next big catch, with the hopeful hobbyists spending hours on the frozen body of water plucking out sturgeons and Northern pikes before retiring to their shacks for the night. The area actually holds the world ice fishing record for the largest walleye, with one angler pulling out an 18.3-pound behemoth in 2005.
Whether you're playing close to home or setting out on the road to discovery, get the most out of the Canadian winter with a MINI ALL4 All-Wheel Drive.
A previous version of this story stated that the distance between Lake Louise and Jasper on the Icefield Parkway is 23 km; in fact, the distance is closer to 230 km. The story also previously stated that the Tobin Lake ice fishing record was for the largest sturgeon; in fact, it is for a 18.3-pound walleye.