Winter is coming, and we can't ignore it anymore. This last winter was tough—there’s no denying. While we were all out celebrating a wonderful summer of sun over the past few months, we (blissfully) ignored that the next winter was well on its way in.
But the coldest season of the year doesn’t have to be most dreaded. In Canada’s winter wonderland landscape, huge dumps of snow, freezing temperatures and the quick pace of days makes for the ideal setting to conjure up self-reflection and the perfect amount of time to spending some of it with those closest to us. The activities we’ve chosen are a mix of high and low intensity, blood-pumping and soul-altering things to do in Quebec—in our opinion, the province that comes most alive during the winter.
Here, 9 winter activities in Quebec personally selected (and experienced) by GLORY staff to fight the winter blues.
Start the day aboard a floating spa
A trip to Montreal is incomplete without a sample of the city’s namesake bagels, a mouthful of smoked meat, and a peaceful morning spent at Bota Bota. One of Montreal’s (if not the country’s) best urban retreats, this Old Port spa is a must-visit no matter the season. Yes, it’s that good. Winter makes the multiple all-season outdoor thermal pools all the more tantalizing. Featuring a no speaking policy, the floating spa values creating moments of ultimate relaxation for all guests. Picturesque views of the city from the port emphasize the beauty of the city’s architecture and is best experience—if doing the water circuit—in the wee hours of the day when the air is crisp, the number of spa-goers is small and the first rays of the morning are pleasing.
Catch a Montreal Canadiens game
I wouldn’t be lying if I said stepping into the Centre Bell to witness a Montreal Canadiens home game is the polar opposite of a relaxing sojurn at Bota Bota—in the best way possible. There’s greasy food, loud super fans, flashing lights and buzzers, and, of course, a very nerve-wracking game being played out on the ice. That doesn’t mean you should skip out on a game if you’re lucky enough to be in town when there’s a game on and have access to tickets. Even if you know nothing about the sport, visiting this rink is entertaining in a purely sociological sense. The Habs (as they are known locally) have a very, very…very dedicated fanbase cheering on for their team with a passion that is sometimes missing for hockey in a city like Toronto. In my opinion, it’s just as important to overwhelm your senses from time to time as it is to relax your mind. And, for the ardent fans looking for a unique experience, here’s an insider tip: book your seats in the Coors Light Zone. It’s not for the faint of heart, but with live music performances and the Hab’s rowdiest supporters, it’s the best energy in the house.
Chill out in the Old Port
There’s always something going on at Montreal’s Old Port, whether it’s an all-out energy-consuming outdoor winter dance music festival like Igloofest—a must-see if only for the spectacle of ravers in parkas and ear muffs—or a chill post-dinner evening looping the Montreal Observation Deck. The Natrel Skating Rink located at the foot of the observation is visited by all types of Montrealers and a communal meeting ground for those looking for a relaxing evening activity in winter time. With hot chocolate and snacks nearby, plus the stellar waterfront views, it’s easy to lose hours circling the rink. With waterfront views comes the waterfront breeze so make sure to dress appropriately with layers, gloves, scarves and toques.
Where to stay: The centrally located Hôtel Bonaventure is less well-known than its world-famous neighbour, the Fairmont Queen Elizabeth—where John Legend and Yoko Ono hosted their second and final bed-in for peace during the Vietnam war. Bonaventure, a rooftop hotel makes up for what it may lack in historical significance with an outdoor duck pond and swimming pool to boot (the two water features are in separate courtyards). The hotel is worth a try for exquisite winterscapes—guests are guaranteed a pleasant winter landscape whether their room faces the interior courtyards or the Montreal skyline.
Where to eat: Now open in Toronto too, LOV—an acronym that stands for local, organic and vegan—is a popular Montreal restaurant group with a plant-based menu. Chuchai is great for sharing small plates of Thai food, and also has a robust vegan-friendly menu to boot. Omnivore is good for middle-eastern comfort food featuring all the favourites including hummus, kofta and fattoush.
About 20 minutes from downtown Montreal is Laval, a sleepy town with a tourism industry built off conferences and junior tournaments, and enough space to afford playing host to dozens of mid-sized in-door recreational activities and countryside outdoor activities unavailable in the compact spaces of the city. With Laval’s great expanse comes plenty of space for large-scale activities that couldn’t feasibly run out of a city like Montreal. What it may lack in Montreal’s big-city charm, it make ups for with plenty of ways to pass time well. It’s closer to the airport than Montreal’s downtown, cheaper overall and quite a bit less busy on the streets, which makes it an easier place to get around. A great option for those not quite the lodging types, but interested in exploring more than what a city can offer.
Miss fishing at the summer cottage? Ice fishing is quite a bit different from its summertime counterpart but most of the essentials remain the same—all you really need is bait, a fishing line and plenty of time. The rest can take care of itself. The Mille îles River Park in Laval simplifies the activity quite a bit by renting heated (you’re in the middle of a frozen river, so take that with a grain of salt) cabins, firewood, bait, ten fishing holes and equipment. For the novice, to ice fish, it is first necessary to burrow a hole through snow and ice. Because temperature are consistently below freezing, the holes will require routine maintenance lest they freeze onto themselves. A tip-up will do most of the work for you while you remain (mildy) warmer in the provided cabin. You may not catch a fish big enough to cook for dinner or at all, but the unique new experience is well worth the wait and the temperatures. For regular ice fishers, look into a private cabin further up the river for a little more privacy and a better chance of baiting the fish of your dreams.
Yes, you could catch a flight to the Southern Hemisphere where the water is warm and the waves are natural. But, if you want to skip out on the mosquitoes, sun burns and steep holiday markups, in-door surfing is a pretty comparable experience. It’s also a great opportunity to work on your surf game ahead of your next beach vacation or learn the skill entirely in a safe environment with low risk. From first-timer to experienced expert packages, there’s room for everybody at Maeva Surf. Cowabunga!
For true adrenaline junkies, there’s nothing that can get your blood pumping quite like free falling through the air untethered. Only, that’s also a little risky. We’re not saying don’t do it—live your life! For those looking for the adrenaline-rush without the risk of inevitably falling to the ground, there’s SkyVenture. At this company—which also owns similar centres in Ontario and other parts of the country—you aren’t ever really falling. The wind tunnel is actually blowing you upward, away from the ground. The challenge is to balance your body and flow one with the tunnel. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t comparable to the real deal. Many professional bodyflight performers use the facility to practise their routines—as I witnessed when I visited. A quick safety instruction, followed by suiting up and around 20 minutes led to the longest four minutes of your life, airborne. Maintaining an equilibrium is a challenge mid-air, but the ecstasy of tuning your mind into your body in an almost meditative rhythm is unchallenged. Insider tip: the company records your entire flight to share with you after so try to crack a smile through the fear.
Where to stay: Recently renovated the Hilton Montreal/Laval features a kitchenette in some suites and a ground floor grab-and-go perfect for all the little things you could need from maple syrup to toothpaste (and great for making your own meals). Also centrally located, the Sheraton Laval has 244 rooms as well as a salt water pool, gym and sauna.
Where to eat: L’Antre-Nous is a family-owned creperie and authentic French bistro that serves a scrumptious variety of savoury and sweet crepes, and is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner—whenever you’ve worked up enough of an appetite. Talie Chocolat is located near the Mille îles River and perfect to pick up some cookies and hot chocolate for your ice fishing adventure. And, located in Centropolis—Laval’s central shopping district—Café Ricardo features dishes from the famous Quebecois chef’s repertoire. Plus the restaurant features an adjacent boutique where you can pick up all of its chic accessories (like the salt and pepper shakers from the table) and more.
Ski and snowboard down the slopes
The most popular (and best) activity to do in Mont Tremblant is—you guessed it—skiing and snowboarding down the epic slopes. Some of the best trails in the country with different experience levels. If you’re a novice, don’t embarrass yourself! Get an instructor who will help you learn the best tips and tricks on the slopes. The Tremblant Ski School features beginner, group, week-long and disabled programs. Freestyle skiers have access to 30 acres of landscaped terrain in three different sectors of the mountain.
An epic snowshoe trail (with fondue!)
Let’s get this out of the way: You will slip and fall on this winter hike. Sometimes it’s flat on your face and at other times, you’ll catch yourself before you hit the snow. On our hike down Mont Tremblant, nearly every snowshoer hit the snow at least once—and they were better for it. The journey begins at the foot of the slopes where the group rides up to the top in the gondola up the to the peak. A quick snap-on of the snow shoe later, you’re ready to descend! Slippery, narrow and step, the trail is a testament to tenacity and a keen eye. After the first hour, the decent only gets more complicated as your legs get tired and overworked. Respite comes in the shape of a couple hours at a Refuge with (very well-deserved) pots of cheese and chocolate fondue, and wine. However, don’t fill up too much because that’s only halfway. Now also in the darkness with headlamps, you can’t see more than a few feet ahead, making steep and sharp turns complicated. Ultimately back at the foot of the mountain and taking off the gear, the entire experience felt like a blur in the very best way possible.
There’s a lot more to dog sledding than meets the eye. With about a dozen dogs leading the sled, it’s easy for some to get distracted by their surroundings or each other. With uphill terrains, riders need to step down from the sled and help push it along to reduce the strain on the animals—but it is the turns that are the trickiest. Sled riders have to shift their weight delicately to smoothen the turn without toppling the entire sled. Oh, and did I mention you are doing all this while balancing on narrow slabs of wood. A bumpy ride, dog sledding is a great morning activity to finish a trip on with an opportunity to interact with the dogs after and learn about a tradition intrinsic to culture in Northern regions of the country.
Where to stay: The resort at Tremblant has numerous hotels (both boutique and national chains) on property. The ski village features an eclectic mix of dining, shopping and entertainment with something to do all season long.
Where to eat: Le P’tit Caribou has been named the best Après-Ski in the continent too many times to count. Microbrasserie La Diable is best for an assortment of house-made craft beer and the best pub fare for the winter climate. There’s even a patio for those who dare.