The swish, swish, swish of snow pant clad thighs rubbing against each other is almost lost in the sound of my increasingly laboured breaths. The deluded thought that I should have joined the novice group of snow-shoers instead of the beginner group I am a part of condense and freeze in icy puffs of breath and blow away over the frozen lake. It’s all part of my mission to love winter more, and there isn’t a better place to do that in a place that bills itself as “Winterpeg”…Winnipeg Manitoba.

Thanks to a Fountain Tire ad wherein the hapless spokesman gets on the wrong plane for his Hawaiian vacation and moans “Goin’ to Winnipeg…” I found pretty much every person I told that I was headed to the ‘Peg would respond with the same silly response: “Goin’ to Winnipeg…” But what I discovered was a vibrant winter city that doesn’t take itself too seriously and has learned to embrace its reputation as Winterpeg, Manisnowba.

So what’s there for families to do on an icy vacation in the (longitudinal) middle of Canada? Here are my top five picks for frosty family fun!

Winning the Winnipeg Winter

Go for a snowshoe, take a slide down the toboggan chute, practice your “snowga” or warm up with s’mores at FortWhyte Alive!

Embrace the Snowshoe

The easy access from the city to FortWhyte Alive makes this parkland nature preserve a destination you won’t want to miss! Varied programming happens throughout the year including frozen yoga on the lake at the Fire and Ice Festival and the moonlight snowshoe I took part in.  After you explore the woods and frozen lakes, take a slide down the toboggan chute. I don’t know if there is a more prairie thing than a giant slide constructed to give poor flatland children a place to toboggan. But if there is, it would have to be some kind of curling. Which brings us to:

Have you ever seen a crokinole board like this? You’ll have to visit The Forks to try it!

Get Crokicurling

If you had an Opa or spent any part of your childhood playing in a church basement or at the farm, you probably already know crokinole.  The tabletop game involves flipping small discs with your fingers to land in the highest scoring portion of the board, while knocking your opponent’s discs out. Winnipeg has taken the game to the next level, by creating a curling/crokinole hybrid called crokicurl. Instead of flipping discs, players throw curling rocks across a sheet of ice. The game is set up outside the Forks Market and is free for anyone to use. For the record, my team won. Also for the record, I did not contribute to that win in any way except for trash-talking the other team, which I did in spades.

Some of the artistic warming huts along the Red River Mutual Trail, and a hockey player who will need to use one soon.

Lace Up your Skates

After conquering crokicurl, the river calls! Slap on some skates (available for rent) and head down the Red River Mutual Trail. The trail goes down the Assiniboine River, past the Manitoba Legislature, or travel the trail the other way, along the Red River. Scattered along the trail are artful warming huts, conceived of by local and international artists and architects. And, yes, can really go inside to warm up (although some looked like they offered more protection from the elements than others!) If open miles along the river doesn’t do it for you, the Forks offers a few other options for trails to meander through the site. Word to the wise: The section of trail that goes from the Festival Park Stage to the Children’s Museum passes a playground that was snow covered but perfectly playable!

Fatbiking in the winter! The big fat tires make it easier to grip the snow.

Hop on a Fatbike

If your family consists of people who can ride adult sized bikes (and I’m not joking about adult sized…just ask the short-legged but lovely ladies in our group who ended up hoofing it instead of biking when their sweet little munchkin legs couldn’t comfortably reach the pedals) you might want to check into renting some fatbikes from White Pine Bicycle Co. or Woodcock Cycle. The fat tires make it easier to grip and get through the snow and slush, even for a person who may not have been on a bicycle in longer than she may want to admit. Winnipeg is nicely set up for biking with bike lanes downtown, but if you don’t have a lot of experience in urban two wheeling and would rather stay off the city streets, the paths around the Forks offer a lovely scenic ramble.

Polar bears at the Journey to Churchill exhibit at Assiniboine Park and Zoo (sign image courtesy of Tourism Winnipeg)

Visit the Assiniboine Park & Zoo

Imagine standing underneath thousands of litres of icy blue water while polar bears playfully rough-house with each other above you. Watching the massive bears tossing toys and generally swimming in ways that can best be described as “gallivanting” and “frolicking” was mesmerizing. You can easily spend an entire day in Assiniboine Park (where the zoo is located) but make sure part of it is spent in the Journey to Churchill exhibit! The space has been created in a way that the barriers don’t stand out, so when you look around, you get the feeling of wide open tundra: caribou, wolves, foxes and many other arctic animals live here. Take the time to watch an interpretive film in the 360° Aurora Borealis Theatre to learn about the changing environment in Canada’s north, and don’t miss the polar bears! Observing them in the “Gateway to the Arctic” display will prime you to learn more about how we can help and the work being done at the on-site Leatherdale International Polar Bear Conservation Centre.

There is much more to Winnipeg than the average Canadian gives it credit for. I won’t deny the the Manisnowba reputation isn’t well deserved, but there is so much to see and do in a Winnipeg winter, you’ll soon be enjoying Winterpeg. As we repeated over the weekend, “Why not Winnipeg in winter?”

Many thanks to my hosts at Travel Manitoba and Tourism Winnipeg. The opinions, as always, are my own. ~JM