Winter? We own it.

That quintessential Canadian season

photo by toque & canoe

Winter spells travel for Canadians.

We travel to skate frozen country lakes, to snowboard and ski local and distant mountains, and to snowshoe alongside icy rivers. Winter is our season.

One of my most memorable trips as a kid was a family ski holiday to Jasper. These days, my own family makes the Kootenays a winter destination where we indulge in all manner of snow and ice-inspired sport.

Occasionally, if I’m lucky, I get invited to ski in Fernie, B.C. which is – hands down – one of the greatest ski towns in Western Canada.

In spite of the cold, in spite of the frostbite and frozen toes – we know on some level that to experience winter is to experience something quintessentially Canadian. We own it.

Which brings me to Adam Gopnik’s fascinating Winter: Five Windows on the Season (essays inspired by his 2011 CBC Massey Lectures). Here’s how the book opens:

“I recall my first snowstorm as though it were yesterday, though it was, as it happens, November 12, 1968. The snow began to fall just after three o’clock. I was home from school, in an apartment at the old Expo site of Habitat ’67, above the St. Lawrence River, where my family had moved only months before.

I had seen snow in America, of course, as a younger child in Philadelphia, but that snow was an event, a once-a-year wonder. This snow introduced itself – by its soft persistence and blanketing intensity, its too-soon appearance in the calendar (mid-November!) and the complacency with which everyone seemed to accept that too-soonness – as something that would go on for months and envelop a world. I stood behind the thin picture window that looked onto the terrace and I watched the snow outline the world beyond, falling so it first italicized the plants and trees and the lights, drawing small white borders around them, and then slowly overwhelming them in drifts and dunes. I knew that I had crossed over into a new world – and that world was the world of winter.

When I think back to my youth in Montreal, I still think first of winter. I think about cold, of course. I recall moments of walking in cold so bitter that your ears seemed to have turned into ice. What had happened to my hat? What happens to the hats of all Canadian kids? They are lost to some vast repository of wool that will one day be recovered and used to re-clothe the sheep of the world…”

There’s a taste for you. And if you ask me, Gopnik’s book just gets better.

Speaking of winter gear, just yesterday I found myself sorting through a mountain of hats, scarves and mittens – in an effort to find the most fitting ensemble for an upcoming backcountry family ski trip.

The uncertainty of Canadian winter weather is both exciting and, as usual, a little unsettling.

That said, I’m reassured by something the late British traveler Alfred Wainwright once declared: “There is no such thing as bad weather, only unsuitable clothing.”

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  1. Boomergirl commented:

    Fernie is one of my all time favourite ski hills in Canada. Best snow I’ve experienced west. Nothing like a morning run on Boomerang Ridge in virgin snow. A big fan of Kimberley’s Easter Run too.


  2. Patricia Brady commented:

    I absolutely remember November 12, 1968. It was my first year of working in downtown Montreal and I lived in the east end of the city and by 5 p.m. it was impossible to get a bus from the Metro nearest my home. It took me until 10:30 that evening to get home and I did have to walk quite a distance in a pair of very inappropriate patent leather pumps, no gloves or hat, but thankfully I had worn my winter coat that morning. It was very fortuitous that I met neighbours of mine and we walked together to her parents home about an hour’s walk from the Metro station where we were given warm clothing to wear and dinner and then continued our trek the rest of the way to our homes. Low and behold by morning, all the snow had been cleared and the buses were running again so I didn’t even get the luxury of sleeping in and going in late the next day.


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