Sports, Winter Sports

The McGill Tribune’s comprehensive guide to winter sports in a pandemic

In many cities, winter is a time to stay indoors and wait until the snow begins to melt. In Montreal, however, the colder months offer a slew of activities for everyone. Even in the ongoing pandemic, many outdoor sports remain available with set restrictions, letting anyone take a break from their screens and venture into the great outdoors. The McGill Tribune offers its guide for enjoying winter activities while still respecting COVID-19 regulations. 

Downhill skiing and snowboarding

Even as the Quebec government maintains its curfew, mountains for downhill skiing and snowboarding remain open during business hours, albeit with several new restrictions: Lessons and classes are not permitted, skiers can only go with members of their family bubble, and night skiing is not allowed in accordance with the 8 p.m. curfew. In addition to these restrictions, common regulations such as reduced chairlift capacity and mandatory masks continue to be enforced. 

For Montreal’s avid skiers and snowboarders, Quebec offers numerous ski resorts within driving distance of the city. Mont Tremblant, perhaps Quebec’s most famous mountain, features diverse terrains for all skill levels. However, its popularity means Tremblant can be extremely busy, a concern especially prevalent during the pandemic. Mont Sutton, though a smaller mountain, is renowned for its glade skiing, with tree-covered trails for any skill level. Finally, Mont Saint-Anne, while a three-hour drive from Montreal, makes up for the long distance with some of the best skiing conditions year-round. 

Skating

Whether going alone, with friends, or with family, skating is an activity that anyone can enjoy. While indoor arenas remain closed for recreational skating, Montreal offers over 200 outdoor rinks across all its boroughs. On the City of Montreal website, each borough has a list of rinks and their skating conditions. As with most other activities, rinks close at 7:30 p.m. to allow people to return home in time for curfew. 

For those close to McGill, Parc Jeanne-Mance features two well-conditioned rinks. Parc La Fontaine, although farther from the core of McGill student life, has two hockey rinks and one illuminated recreational rink. Altogether, the Plateau-Mont-Royal borough has 13 rinksboth recreational and athleticspread out across six parks. 

Sledding 

Although sledding is typically seen as a children’s activity, the exhilaration of jetting downhill on a thin piece of shabby plastic is fun for anyone. Moreover, any park with a downhill slope already provides the perfect conditions for sledding. 

For McGillians close to campus, Parc Jeanne-Mance and Parc du Mont-Royal Park both offer hills for enthusiastic sleighers. Further away, Parc Jean-Drapeau’s Espace 67 provides obstacle-free riding, with a designated path to walk back up the slope.

Unlike other winter sporting activities that require specific apparel and equipment, sledding only requires something to descend on, along with the usual winter attire. Even without a proper toboggan, anything from inflatable pools to laundry baskets to garbage can lids can be repurposed for some lightning-fast downhill sled runs. 

Cross-country skiing 

During any snowfall, Montreal’s avid cross-country skiers make their way to Mont Royal. The local mountain has a wide range of cross-country ski trails with 22 kilometres of marked trails. As the sport does not require much interaction, COVID-19 restrictions only require a mask in washrooms and buildings. 

While downhill skiing is expensive, with some one-day mountain tickets selling at over $200 dollars, cross-country skiing requires no mountain and no chairlift tickets, making it a more accessible winter activity.

Apart from McGill’s neighbourhood hill, Montreal boasts over 100 kilometres of marked cross-country ski trails. Parc Jarry has a 2.1-kilometre trail for beginners and families, as does Parc-nature de Bois-de-Liesse with its nine-kilometre wooded trail. For those who want to build their technique with assistance, Parc Jean-Drapeau offers free beginner’s classes on site. 

Snowshoeing

Snowshoeing is believed to be over 10 thousand years old, first used in the migration over the Bering Strait from Siberia to Northern Canada. While snowshoeing is no longer a necessity, many still choose to strap on their raquettes and go out for a brisk walk in the woods. Snowshoeing allows people to stay active in a time of year where they would otherwise be indoors clinging to the warmth of their tiny student apartments. 

Montreal has dozens of parks and rental locations that make this the ideal winter sport for those looking to explore new parts of the city. Parc du Mont-Royal, Parc Jean-Drapeau, Parc-Nature Pointe-aux-Prairies, and the Lachine Canal offer rental services and several kilometres of trails. Many paths have fireplaces en route, locations ideal for birdwatching, and even bistros at the end of trail for those looking to warm up after a long day of exertion.

Hockey

In many cities, the most difficult part of playing hockey is finding ice time. Montreal, however, eliminates the problem with dozens of maintained hockey rinks available for use. The rinks at Parc Jeanne-Mance, Place des Arts, and Parc La Fontaine are ideally situated for students in the downtown area.

In winters past, rinks were packed to the brim with locals looking to get some time on the ice. Dozens of informal leagues pop up throughout the city, with players of any skill level able to find equivalent competition. While the city has limited hockey games for the duration of lockdown, rinks are still open for individual practice and skating. Now is the perfect time to work on your skill set, so grab your skates and lug a bucket of pucks to your local hockey rink and work on that slap shot and hockey stop.

Fat Biking

While most deem Quebec winters too frigid for cycling, every year a select few break out their fat bikes: An off-road bicycle with oversized tires designed to grab at groomed snow. 

Fat Bikes are ideal for those looking to get in some mileage during the period when cycling is otherwise inaccessible. Parc Jean-Drapeau and Parc du Mont-Royal are fantastic options for those looking to stay in the city, as they offer on-site rental booths and regularly groomed trails. Parc national des Îles-de-Boucherville and Mont Tremblant boasts longer woodsy trails that are removed from the city, making them ideal for more serious cyclists on a full day excursion. 

Tubing

Nothing says wintertime like speeding down a hill in an inflatable doughnut. Thankfully for tubing fanatics, Montreal has several prime locations. For those living in the downtown area, Parc du Mont-Royal and Parc Jean-Drapeau both offer inner tube rentals and groomed trails close to home. 

Further north, Les Super Glissades St-Jean-de-Matha boasts scenic views and the fastest sliding tracks in the province, allowing tubers to reach speeds of up to 100 kilometres per hour. Alongside tubing, Les Super Glissades also is also ideal for a variety of other winter activities, including snowshoeing, skating, and cross-country skiing, perfect for those who aim to cross all winter activities off their list.

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