As we learned last year, Ontario is home to some fantastic winter activities. If you didn’t get around to it last year, maybe 2022 is the year you strap on snowshoes, check out some winter festivals, skate at Nathan Phillips Square or spend a night ice fishing. However, if you’ve “been there, done that” and are in search of something new, have no fear: Ontario has winter-focused fun that you likely haven’t tried yet. Whether you’re setting a New Year’s resolution or looking for something to do to pass the time during Ontario’s next lockdown, this year, try something different and take advantage of the unique outdoor activities our province has to offer.
If you cringed the moment you read “winter surfing,” you are not alone. This sport is not for the faint of heart. According to a team of diehard “breakers,” winter is prime time to surf the Great Lakes, with 30 km/h winds generating a lot of great swells, especially around the Beach, Lake Huron and even Fort Erie. Throughout the winter, catch up to two dozen surfers in the water waiting for the next big swell.
It is not uncommon for surfers to encounter snow, sleet or freezing rain while paddling on their boards, but the extreme weather brings the best Great Lakes surfing conditions. As with surfing in general, there can be a lot of waiting, but the waiting is worth it for the thrill of the right wave.
The key to winter surfing is wearing the right gear: wetsuits are the most important piece of equipment. From November to April, surf experts demand a thick neoprene suit (5/4 mm or 6/5 mm) paired with boots and mitts (5 to 7 mm each). A foam-friendly board is recommended for lake surfing, although the professionals at Surf The Greats surf shop suggest a variety of boards that will weather the many conditions. Surfers have social feeds focused on the best way to dry out cold, wet boots; the most efficient ways to read the wind; and how to forecast the waves.
The Great Lakes surfing community is passionate and resolute about their sport, and they’re waiting to welcome you in.
Made popular in western Canada, ice climbing has become a hit here in Ontario too. Only in winter do massive cliffs and ledges within the Canadian shield create 100-foot natural ice towers and gigantic frozen waterfalls. These stunning formations are just waiting to be scaled by those in search of true adventure.
Regardless of skill level, there are many climbing companies, such as One Axe Pursuits in Elora or Liv Outside in Muskoka, that will guide groups of hopeful mountaineers through this thrilling sport. Outings usually last six to eight hours and include exploring a few local ice formations, meals, drinks and, most importantly, equipment.
Some say that the best ice climbing is on the rock faces and ice falls of northern Ontario, but others say that Bracebridge’s granite cliffs and the 60-foot ice climbing routes of the Elora Gorge cannot be topped. This winter, try them all and you can decide.
The Scenic Caves in Blue Mountain are famous for sculptured cliffs, overhanging rock formations, distinctive chambers, tight passageways and unique natural crevasses. Exploring these spaces while frosted with snow and ice makes for an even more spectacular outdoor adventure.
This unique part of the Niagara Escarpment is situated on 370 acres within one of Canada’s 18 UNESCO biosphere reserves. Here you will find reliable snow conditions and regular temperatures all season long. Caving equipment can be rented, and an experienced guide will take you safely through captivating twists and turns.
With so many other outdoor activities at the Scenic Caves, caving will only be a part of your winter journey. Wander through 27 kilometres of hiking trail or take in sweeping views from the 420-foot suspension bridge. Connect with over 200 species of wildlife as you snowshoe through 12 kilometres of forest or join in a family scavenger hunt. This winter wonderland is perfect for families, couples and, of course, an awe-inspiring solo adventure.
In addition to classics like cross-country skiing and hiking, winter in Ontario offers so many exciting and adrenaline pumping ways to enjoy the season. This year, challenge yourself to try something new and explore the province like never before.
Natalie Preddie is a travel and lifestyle writer, speaker and guest expert on Cityline, Your Morning and Global’s The Morning Show.