By Angèle Alain
I love winter. I’ve loved it forever. I love the fresh air, the brightness the snow provides, the calmness of the snowfall. I have wonderful childhood memories of running outside at the sight of the first snow, using up all the snow to make that one snowman then coming in, soaking wet, for hot chocolate.
I’m willing to tolerate the blizzards, the shoveling and the driving to get the wonderful flip sides: the sports, the family time and the health benefits.
I’m aware that not everyone in Ottawa feels this way about winter. My Facebook page is filled with friends who huff and puff all winter about the weather. They genuinely hate it and wish they could live anywhere else. I wish they could too, as Ottawa isn’t the place for the winter faint at heart. But for those who cannot move, wouldn’t life be so much better if they weren’t miserable half the year?
Winter, just like life, is meant to be enjoyed, not endured.
I suggest approaching winter as a positive person approaches life. I don’t like being unhappy. I dislike it so much in fact, I’ll trick myself into being happy if I have to –which is basically what meditation is. No, I don’t meditate but I’m a self-professed, unapologetic opportunist. I use every situation to my advantage, whether it’s visiting a friend who now lives in another country or using the snow for all it’s worth.
Our children learn from us, so if you are thinking of trying to enjoy winter instead of enduring it for the sake of your children, you’ll need a plan. Our trick is to do one of the five “S” activities every weekend, usually on Sundays. We don’t go out for full days every time either because we are genuinely lazy people; even thirty minutes of something makes all the difference. The “S” activities are as follows:
4) Cross country skiing
5) Snowboarding or downhill skiing
Of course, we didn’t go out snowboarding when my daughter was two years old and I still don’t myself. We let her play in the snow while we shovelled (I guess shovelling could be the sixth S), we sled down our snowbanks or made snow angels and snow forts.
Even adults need snow pants, boots and snow gloves. It is worth the investment. It’s hard to hate winter when you aren’t cold anymore
I call this the beginner winter sport. Snowshoes are easily found at second hand sporting equipment stores and used items websites. You can also borrow them from friends. Even when we don’t want to go anywhere, we can always go down to the park and walk around fresh snow with snowshoes on. We did that a lot when my daughter was smaller. I used to wear them to walk the dog before the plow went down our street. Nowadays, we drive a few kilometers to the river and share the trails with cross country skiers. On more ambitious days, we go to one of the many wooded trail in our area. Finally, when we rent or go to friend’s cottages, we always bring the snowshoes.
There is no need to go to the crowded giant hill to have a little fun sledding. As I said previously, we used to sled down our snowbanks on our bum. Finding a small hill near our house was our next plan. In my neighbourhood, there’s one at a park at the end of the road and one by the snowshoe trails near the river. Tiny hills are wonderful because it isn’t a hassle to walk back up the hill. Winter has hassles built in, why create more? I admit we don’t sled much anymore that my child turned into a tween. But we still have plenty to do.
We put skates on our daughter’s feet for the first time at age three and it was quite a sight. I also had to bribe her with a Beaver TaiI. We didn’t go very far down the Canal - in fact, we mostly stayed around the Beaver Tail hut where the fire places are. She’s been skating ever since. Before then, we put her in a plastic sled we tied a rope to and pulled her down the ice. My husband, however, who grew up in St. Catharines, complains his feet hurt when he skates. So I don’t bring him to the Canal anymore because he doesn’t enjoy it. Instead, we discovered the Rideau Hall Skating Rink with its easy parking, heated change hut and old jazz music. But if we can’t get out there, or to the other city outdoor skating rinks (Landsdown Skating Park and Sens Rink of Dreams at City Hall), we head down to of our neighbourhood skating rinks. We walk to the park and skate around in circles for an hour before coming in and sitting by the fire with a hot drink.
Cross country skiing
I admit this is a more ambitious winter sport. We only started this sport two winters ago, when my child was ten years old. We could have started earlier, but we felt we had enough to do. We borrowed equipment from friends to try it, and when my daughter admitted loving it, I bought us used equipment. We don’t go very often, maybe a few times during the winter, but that’s already three Sundays of winter that goes by fast. We sometimes just go by the river again, and sometimes we explore new trails around in the greenbelt. My husband doesn’t cross-country ski with us; it’s my mother-daughter sport. He has the next sport.
My husband loves snowboarding. I don’t. Yet, I was very excited at the idea of my child sharing something exclusively with her father. She tried snowboarding at age four for the first time. My husband went down with her on the kiddy hill while I stood at the bottom encouraging her to get off her bum. That year, she only went twice. The next year, I think she went once, but it was enough to give her a taste for it. In fourth grade, she was part of the ski club at school and last year, she snowboarded in Nagano, Japan. That was one of the only two times she went last year.
Think about it: if you do three of these activities twice in one winter, that’s six winter weekends that will fly by. That’s more than half the winter! We usually start in January, as the holidays are too busy for anything other than building snowmen and shovelling. In summer, we count those precious weekends, feeling we don’t have enough of the total sixteen. Yet, there are no more weekends of winter. But when we have fun things to do during those weekends, we realise just how quickly they go by, and before you know it, the snow is gone!