How a foreign sees the winter in Quebec
Winter is a kind of season that everyone sees differently. Some people like it, some people hate the cold weather. In my opinion, it depends on where in the world you experience this magical season.
Let me share with you my feelings and experiences about winter as a person, who lived in different countries during the years.
You might not know but I was born in Hungary and I have great childhood memories about the winter time over there. I still remember that I loved the show because we could play for hours outside with my friends.
In Hungary, we used to have a lot of snow and always had a white Christmas when I was a child. It used to be very cold as well, it wasn’t so unusual to have -10 or -20 °C as the lowest temperature.
Hungary is quite a poor country and when I was a child, winter sports such as skiing, snowboarding, ice skating, etc were considered as a luxury sport. Nobody really had the money for ski equipment and the slopes were not as well developed as they are today. Besides, Hungary is quite a flat country, the highest peak is 1014m.
Us, kids, we were mainly left with the sledding and snowball fights.
As the years went by and I left my country, I was busy with life so I didn’t really notice that the winters have changed in Europe drastically. They became milder and milder each year and we barely have snow now. Also, the winter in Europe is very humid so we are left with the temperature that feels much colder than it really is because of the humidity.
Winter in the UK
My first time ‘abroad winter’ was in England. And to be honest, I don’t remember seeing any snow there during the time I spent in Woodstock/Oxford. It was the typical weather as England is famous about : rain, rain, rain and some more rain …
When I look back in time, I have to say that I have some beautiful memories of snow in Scotland (where I lived for more than 1 year). The whole climate is different there, so the winter is not so snowy either. But when they have show, it is very magical.
Winter in Switzerland
After Scotland, I moved to Switzerland where I got back to the same climate that I used to have in Hungary. Well, almost …
Swiss winters are actually very nice if you live in the mountains. But if you live on the ‘plateau’, somewhere in a town that is somewhere between 300 and 500 m of altitude, then you don’t get much snow either.
I still remember the first time I moved up to the Swiss mountains (at around 1000 m altitude), right in the first year, we had so much snow that in some days it was a bit hard to cope with. It was snowing non-stop for a week. And once it stopped, I could barely see the surrounding buildings.
It was in Switzerland where I learned to ski after all. Well, it was in Switzerland and France. You see, here, you can easily hop on the ski lift in Switzerland and end up skiing in France. The Swiss/French Alps are a great place to learn and to perfect your technique any way.
It was also in Switzerland where I tried ice skating for the first time … It was so much fun with friends and let’s just say that I still need a lot of practicing.
As much as I enjoyed my newly learned winter sport, for some reason I started to feel a resistance toward the winter and its temperature. Looking back now, I think it’s mainly because of the humidity during winter time. I started to do more indoor activities during winter because in Switzerland there is not much to do unless you go up to the mountains for some kind of winter sports.
Winter in Florida
A few years after living in Switzerland, I met my husband and right after we got married we had the opportunity to go and live in Florida for a while.
For the first time, I was so happy to leave the real winter behind us and just enjoy the warm weather in the Sunshine State of the United States. I’ve sworn that I don’t want to deal with the winter cold and snow ever again in my life …
Winter in Florida turned out to be very different at the first time. It was funny to see the palm trees decorated everywhere around Christmas time. And after all, not having winter clothes and shoes to put on but instead the sandals and flip flops was actually quite nice.
We did manage to see some fake snow here and there though :
Winter in Canada
Little as I knew, someone up there has decided that nice and warm weather for us is over for the winter time. This time we got the opportunity to move up to Canada. The first thing that I said is ok, but I want to see first how the real Canadian winter is, as at that time I was still convinced that I don’t want to live in a place with a real winter again.
You see, in Europe, Canada actually has quite a reputation because of the long, cold winter and way too much snow. As it turned out, it’s not that bad at all! I was very surprised to see so many people outside doing all kinds of winter activities (even when the temperature was as low as -20 °C).
Winter in Quebec
I was really surprised how much I loved our first visit to Canada during winter time. Maybe because we were lucky and we had a lot of sunny days (and as we know, sunshine makes everything much better).
But don’t worry, if it’s getting that cold after the sun goes down, you just go and find one of the many outdoor fireplaces and warm up a bit.
The first thing that I noticed is that even if I see our thermometer showing some really low temperature, it’s not as cold as I thought. In Europe, I used to be cold a lot because we have the humid kind of winter. But in Canada, even if the temperature is lower than we used to have in Europe, I noticed that the air is drier so it doesn’t feel that cold after all.
After visiting different places in Canada I have to say that this statement isn’t quite right everywhere.
You see, Canada is a huge country (it even has 4 different time zones). So having a dry winter is true on the east coast, more precisely up until Quebec City – ‘ish’. What I noticed is that the weather is different even in Montreal. Usually it’s about 5 °C warmer and during winter they have less snow than in Quebec City. If you go further towards Toronto and the west coast, it gets more humid and milder.
So after we decided to go for our opportunity and change the Florida winter for the Quebec winter, another thing just hit me : I missed the snow so much! It didn’t occur to me until the real Canadian snowfall : I missed watching it from inside. I completely forgot how magical the winter and snow covered landscape can be.
Since then, I’m just ever so grateful for our time in Quebec. It gave me back my love for winter and snow. It introduced me to many winter sports and activities that I’ve never thought that I would enjoy so much.
My favourite winter activities in Quebec
There is no question about the number one winter activity in Quebec for me : it’s definitely a visit to the Ice Hotel. It’s something I’ve never seen in my life and I truly believe that it should be on everyone’s bucket list. I still remember how excited I was for days before the first time I visited. Oh boy, and was I disappointed? Not at all! Just couldn’t stop taking photos.
Again, we had a beautiful sunny day, although we felt the warmth of the sun only outside of the Ice Hotel. Inside, it was still freezing cold but somehow I managed to not notice it until my hands and feet were ice cold. I was completely under the magical ambiance of the inside ‘decoration’ : each room had a different theme and different ice sculptures or different patterns/images carved on the wall. And I haven’t mentioned the chapel and the ice bar or the big slide yet!
My absolute favourite part about the Ice Hotel is that they make it a completely different experience each and every year. I have no idea where they find all these amazing inspirations but I just can’t wait to return and see the new themes every year.
The other thing I love about the Ice Hotel is that you can grab a nice cocktail or drink in a real ice glass at the bar. And you can sit beside a great indoor fireplace or outside on an ice cube while you are having your drink.
Number 2 on my list is the dog sledding. You see, I LOVE dogs and I grab every chance to see, touch or be near them. So it was only normal that I had to try dog sledding.
In the beginning I had concerns about the whole concept of using dogs for such hard work. But after the first visit in a ‘pourvoirie’ (a place where they keep and raise the sledding dogs – huskies, malamute, etc.), I fully understood that this kind of ‘job’ is a pure pleasure for these dogs. They get so excited to pull the sledge that sometimes it’s even hard to stop them while they are running.
PRO Tip : most of the places have puppies (all year around), so after your sledding tour, you always get a chance to play with them. Also, during your tour, you will take a few minutes break so you can pet the dogs attached to the sledge.
I’ve already tried this winter activity in 2 different places (at Lac Beauport and at Stoneham) and both of the experiences were different. It depends on your timing and your interest but I can only recommend both places. Everyone is so nice and they are happy to answer your questions.
In Stoneham, I actually took a combined tour with a helicopter ride after the sledding and let me tell you that was a whole new level. It was amazing to see the frozen world below us, especially because we had a great sunny day.
Another PRO Tip : if you go for a dog sledding, dress up even warmer than usual. You can imagine the experience just like riding a bike : you’ll always have wind in your face.
Valcartier Winter Playground
Another great experience is to have a day just like when you were a child. Spending a day in the Valcartier Winter Playground will definitely bring you back some memories from your childhood and to make some new ones for your adult life.
There are many possible ways to enjoy the day, including but not limited to snow tubing, snow rafting, ice skating and having a great indoor lunch at one of the on-site restaurants. Or you can even finish the day in the spa located in the Valcartier Village complex.
There are so many great activities and events in Quebec for everyone during winter that is incredible. And of course, beside the ones that I wrote about, there are other activities like the cross-country skiing, snoeshoeing, snowmobile, the fat bike (the bike with the wide tires for the snow), ice fishing or simply the winter hiking in the snow. Each year I discover something new and still visiting and doing my favourite ones.
The one thing I’m so grateful for is that in Quebec, I had the chance to fall in love again with the winter and the snow. Even if I thought that I’m not a winter person and I absolutely hate cold, I have to admit that there is something magical about the white covered landscape. And for that, it’s worth dressing up warmly and getting out in the cold doing these priceless experiences.