Health and Fitness blog: Staying active in Ottawa’s bitter winters

The beginning of every winter is enough to send someone born and raised in Ottawa into existential crisis. “Did I really live through 24 of these winters?” I ask myself. I have no idea how I did it. I repress the memories of biting winds, ridiculous snowsuits and sidewalks made of sheer ice entirely. Each winter I am genuinely shocked that people live here, and that I am included in this category.

But each time, slowly, all of the memories of survival come back. Post-workout euphoria transcends all climates anyways, and sure enough, I realize after a hard indoor workout, that the availability of snow piles to jump into is really a blessing in disguise.

(*Disclaimer: this is not actually recommended by coaches or physiotherapists or—on that note—even really by me)

The point is that there is no reason why physical activity should come to a standstill in the winter. There is also no reason why it should be confined to inside the walls of a gym. We are extremely lucky in Ottawa to have so many accessible outdoor activities—they even work on a student schedule and budget.

Gatineau Park

To start, Gatineau Park is a paradise for cross country skiers, snowshoers, snow bikers and anyone who enjoys pretty views and fresh air. The park is located in Chelsea, about a 20-minute drive from Ottawa’s downtown core. In winter, all parkways and some access roads in the park are closed to motor vehicles, and converted into cross-country ski, snowshoe and snow bike trails. Four starting points in the park are accessible via public STO buses (daily), as well as Transcollines (weekdays).

Daily student passes for the park are $12, and student season’s passes (December—March) are $110. Passes include access to all these trails. The prices vary for snowshoeing and/or snow biking, but snowshoes can be rented at the visitors’ centre for a small fee.

You can also try cross country skiing at the park. Skis can be rented at Fresh Air Experience on Bank Street in Ottawa for around $20, or Greg Christie in Chelsea (near Gatineau Park) for around $35.

For conditions, directions, and other information on the park, check out: http://www.ncc-ccn.gc.ca/places-to-visit/gatineau-park/things-to-do/cross-country-skiing-gatineau-park.

Ottawa Snowshoe and Ski Trails

If you aren’t in the mood for a trip across the Ontario-Quebec border, there are the dozens of cross-country ski and snowshoe trails all over the Ottawa area. Last year, the 16 kilometre multi-use Sir John A. Macdonald Winter Trail was launched just behind the War Museum for the first time. Now in its second year, the Winter Trail officially re-opened a few weeks ago. The trail connects the Canadian War Museum with parklands along the Sir John A. Macdonald corridor, all the way to Westboro Beach. It’s open to cross country skiers, snowshoe enthusiasts, snow bikers and walkers. Best of all: it’s free! Check the trail out on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and Instagram.

There are 40 kilometres worth of trails in the Greenbelt area, which are mechanically groomed by volunteer groups. See the National Capital Greenbelt All Seasons Trail Map.

Downhill Skiing

If you are more into downhill skiing, Camp Fortune and Edelweiss Valley are both about a half hour’s drive from downtown Ottawa. Both hills vary in their pricing, but there are great deals on Tuesdays, Saturdays and Sundays, as well as for day passes. Their deals change often but the most current information can be found online.

Camp Edelweiss: https://www.sommets.com/en/ticketing/ski/sommet-edelweiss/tickets/

Camp Fortune: http://campfortune.com/en/lift-tickets/

Classes and Lessons

For those seeking a group or some guidance with skiing or snowshoeing, the Ottawa Sport and Social Club is a great place to start. They have group classes in both cross country skiing and snowshoeing, running 8 week sessions for around $150. See http://ossc.ca/sport-listing/classes.

For more group and individual lesson options for cross-country skiing, http://www.xcottawa.ca/ski_lessons.php is a helpful resource. Both Fortune and Edelweiss offer lessons in downhill skiing as well.

To sum it all up, we are all kind of crazy for living in this climate. But the people of Ottawa clearly know how to make the best of the situation. Join me with your turtlenecks, thermal gloves, and balaclavas. There’s comfort in knowing that in Ottawa, staying active throughout winter is the way to be.  

– Photo by Angela Tilley