Winter Fun In The Yukon

We are very lucky to live in the Yukon: we have incredible indoor facilities and the spectacular outdoors.

Over my years living in Whitehorse, I’ve been lucky enough to try a number of different winter sports. Some I’ve taken up as full-time sports during the dark, cold winter days; and some, well, let’s just say, some are not my cup of tea.

I like to try and get outside and, as much as possible, do things that give me and my dogs, Phil and Charlie, exercise. So let’s explore some outdoor activities in Yukon’s winter!

Cross-Country Skiing

When I first moved to Whitehorse, I was surprised by how many people cross-country ski. There are a few types of skiing that I’ve learned, including classic and skate skiing. You can even attach yourself to your dog and hope you don’t die … For me, well, my dogs do not go straight.

I always thought, Why would you cross-country ski when you can downhill ski?

But I’m so glad that two years ago I tried it and fell in love. I go to Mount Mac (Mount McIntrye Recreation Centre) and love doing all of the dog-friendly trails with my boys. I tend to do classic skiing rather than skate skiing, but it’s probably because I need to practice a bit more. There are also some fun races and events, throughout the winter, to explore more trails and potentially win some prizes. I tend to go straight after work and up to about -20 C. You can also rent gear to try before you commit to the sport: www.xcskiwhitehorse.ca/rental

Pros

  • You can go anytime of day
  • Cheap ski passes, and tracks are groomed daily
  • Lots of types and lengths of trails in Whitehorse
  • Dogs love it

Cons

  • Skate skiing is tough if you’re not coordinated (hills are my nemesis)
  • Aerobic exercise can be tough on the lungs in the cold
  • Trying to layer for the exercise and temperature
  • Expensive to get into (gear)

Downhill Skiing

I learnt to downhill ski at 25, being from Australia. I was a late bloomer to the sport. But, basically, from learning it, I spent every winter being a ski bum, until I moved to Whithorse in 2017.

Mount Sima is a great ski hill and I’ve had a lot of fun skiing there. I was able to teach my husband to ski and he loves it (now, not at the beginning when he would fall over, couldn’t put his skis on and would throw them down the hill in a fit of child-like anger).

The ski hill isn’t super challenging for me, and I can’t take my dogs, so I haven’t gone in the past couple of years. I think, though, now that I’m expecting a baby, I’ll be making my way back so my child gets to experience this incredible facility.

The ski hill tends to be shut at -25 C or colder (trust me, you wouldn’t enjoy skiing at those temperatures anyway).

You can also rent gear to try the sport before you commit: www.mountsima.com/rental-shop/

Pros

  • Kids love it and there are different styles of skiing, from freestyle to slalom
  • Trails for all skill levels
  • Relatively cheap secondhand market for gear

Cons

  • Ski passes are expensive
  • Ski lift shuts down, at times, due to cold and wind

Backcountry skiing

Backcountry skiing or ski touring is where you walk on your skis up a mountain and then ski down. It’s definitely not for the faint of heart and can be quite technical and difficult to get into. However, exploring a mountain and watching the sunrise burst over remote mountains is an incredible experience. Unfortunately, this is not a sport you can simply go try out; you need to commit to this. Mount Sima does have scheduled Uphill Nights, over the winter, that allow you to go up the mountain and then ski down. This would be a good, safe way to try this, to see if it’s a sport you would like. 

Otherwise, taking an avalanche course and getting the right gear would be your first steps for this sport. The weather is unpredictable and you need to be prepared for wilderness survival.

Pros

  • Great exercise
  • Beautiful scenery

Cons

  • Avalanche dangers
  • Expensive to get into
  • Weather and forecasting is difficult (often unpredictable, particularly in the Yukon)

Curling

I didn’t try curling in Whitehorse, but I did when I first moved to Canada in Revelstoke. What I mostly liked was the drinking aspect and found myself rather uncoordinated with the sweeping and pushing of the “curling-ball thing.” I have to say it’s not my sport, as anytime I’d push the curling ball, I’d fall over (this may have been the alcohol, but I’m generally not coordinated). But it is a very popular sport that runs in leagues. So this would be a great way to meet new people and keep yourself busy over the winter. The curling club also runs a trial of the sport: whitehorsecurlingclub.com/

Pros

  • Meeting people
  • Indoors (predictable to attend)

Cons

  • Finding a team (team-orientated sport)
  • Seasonal commitment

Kicksledding

I think if you like ice-skating or the constant fear of death, then you will like kicksledding. I have tried it once, and once was enough for me! The tiny, wooden chair-like structure, with skis over ice, was one of the more-terrifying things I’ve tried. 

Pros

  • Not really sure … exercise?

Cons

  • Terrifying

Snowshoeing

Snowshoes are a great way to get access to terrain, particularly when there has been a lot of snow. I love to snowshoe, to pack fat-bike trails and walking trails in the wintertime. It is a great way to get exercise and to explore the Yukon in a very cheap way. I highly recommend taking hiking poles or ski poles to keep balance.

Pros 

  • Cheap and simple gear (you can just wear regular winter clothes)
  • Great exercise and can help others access trails

Cons

  • Not very fast-paced for those who like more fast-moving sports

Fat biking

When I moved to Whitehorse, five years ago, fat biking was still a relatively new sport. I was like, Why!? Why would you ride a bike in the snow? It seemed like the stupidest thing I’d ever seen. Then I started getting into mountain biking, in the summer, and tried out fat biking. 

I pretty much pushed the fat bike up the hill and it was terrifying on the descent. But, over the years, it’s become one of my favourite sports. The conditions are always different and you can explore some great trails. With the more-frequent snow, though, it’s made it tough to have nice packed trails. Icycle sport has a fleet of fat bikes at Mount McIntyre that you can try before you buy: www.xcskiwhitehorse.ca/rental.

Pros

  • Lots of terrifying and challenging fun

Cons

  • Fat bikes are expensive, and there is the upkeep
  • Unpredictable weather can mean poor conditions for riding trails

Ice climbing

If you’re afraid of heights and have no upper-body strength, ice climbing may not be your cup of tea. I’m definitely both of those things and have tried it a few times in the wintertime. It’s certainly a challenging sport. You can go with friends (to Mount Sima) to try out the sport with Equinox Yukon: www.equinoxyukon.com.

Pros

  • Something different to try
  • Challenging sport and beautiful views

Cons

  • Difficult

Snowmobiling

If you like exploring, then this is definitely a great sport to pick up. You can go so many kilometres, so quickly, on many diverse trails all over the Yukon. But if you do start going off-trail, the sport can be rather challenging and, similar to ski touring, you will need to get all of the right gear and training. Plus, be prepared to dig yourself out of the snow! There are many tour operators that offer snowmobile tours so you can try it out. Also, the Klondike Snowmobile Association can help you get started: www.ksa.yk.ca/.

Pros

  • BRAAAAAP!—super fun going fast
  • So many trails, and so much more off trail to explore
  • Easy-to-find groups and people to join

Cons

  • Expensive!
  • Going 100 km/h in the cold can be colder
  • Digging a sled out of a ditch

Snow tubing

Something that the whole family can do, including the dog! Snow tubing is basically going downhill on a floatable device or a toboggan (and hoping not to die!). There are plenty of areas in Whitehorse where you can try out this adventure (Maybe wear a helmet? … Definitely wear a helmet!). 

Pros

  • If there is an incline, you can tube it
  • Cheap and accessible

Cons

  • Not having enough incline or speed, or having too much!

Some things that are still on my list, but are utterly terrifying: ice-skating and, as well, something that just seems cold and miserable: ice fishing

And if you aren’t an outdoors person or just don’t want to deal with the variable temperatures, there are plenty of indoor sports and activities in the Yukon.

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