Coolest Winter Fun

Friends Cathy MacRitchie and Jane Lundin are the muses for our cover story Winter, the Coolest Season on the North Shore. Photo by Steve Smith, VisionFire Studios

There is something incredibly inviting about a clear winter morning, with wood smoke on the breeze, and new fallen snow glittering in an untouched blanket over forests and fields. The air smells cold, crisp and clean, and when you breathe deeply, somehow it feels as though it contains more oxygen. Winter is a magic time, full of festivals and twinkling lights, woolly mittens and flushed cheeks, sledding hills and hot chocolate. It is alive with children’s laughter and snowball fights, frosty breath and cold noses, sweet kisses stolen while snowflakes swirl in the air.

We are so fortunate to live in a climate that changes. Nature will always switch things up for us, so we never have to be bored. If you truly want to learn to appreciate winter, just watch a child.

The day the first snowflakes fall, catching on clothes and melting on tongues, is a day of unbridled celebration. We can all catch a bit of that joy, and step outside into a world of frosty fun.

Crisp, fresh air is what inspires Cheryl Veitch to head outdoors when it’s snowy and cold. A Pictou County resident, and avid outdoor enthusiast, who has experienced the great outdoors on both Canadian coasts, and in the Arctic, Veitch insists that the right clothing makes a world of difference in enjoying cold weather recreation. “Being that I am from the West, and the North, as long as one bundles up, activities can be done!” Veitch cycles year-round, and enjoys cross country skiing, Nordic walking, snowshoeing and snowshoe running. “I tried snowshoe running last year and loved it! I am planning to purchase a pair of running snowshoes this year to head out on Samson Trail, Trenton Park, or Powell Park trails.” For winter running and walking, she recommends ice cleats, which can be found at most sport stores or ordered online.

The Canadian Physical Activity Guidelines, released by the Canadian Society for Exercise Physiology (CSEP), state that adults need a minimum of 150 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity per week, in bouts of 10 minutes or more. This level of activity reduces the risk of heart disease, stroke, certain cancers, osteoporosis, obesity and weight issues, even premature death. The benefits of being active are improved strength and fitness, but also reduced stress, improved mental focus, better sleep, and greater overall wellbeing. These benefits come to us regardless of whether we carry extra weight, so don’t worry that you need to drop weight before becoming active, just start, and you’ll feel better. We sit still far too much, and it is hurting our bodies. Risks of an overly sedentary lifestyle include heart disease, obesity, increased anxiety and depression, even diabetes and blood clots. Canada is a leader in researching the effects of inactivity. CSEP’s Sedentary Behaviour Guidelines are the first systematic, evidence-based recommendations for sedentary behaviour in the world. Find out more about the Canadian 24-hour movement guidelines.

There are many factors that determine whether we will be healthy, or unhealthy. These determinants include things like our genetic background, our employment and working conditions, our environment, even proximity of family and social networks. Some of these factors are not within our control, but there are significant aspects of our health that are within our ability to influence; things we can do to improve our overall wellness. Getting outside can boost our mood, through exposure to fresh air and sunlight, improve our physical health through exercise and movement, and create meaningful social bonds with neighbours, friends and family. For more information on the determinants of health. Outdoor activities are among the easiest and least expensive ways to be active, and most of them are social. So, grab a friend, get outside, and play in the snow!

Clothing – To quote Cheryl Veitch, “It’s not the weather, it’s how one dresses for the weather!” Warm clothing, worn in removable layers is the best way to stay comfortable in the cold.

• A light, long sleeved base layer containing wool or silk fibres, to wick away moisture
• A mid layer to trap heat, a soft wool such as merino is preferable to synthetic fabrics where possible
• An outer layer with zippered vents so that heat and moisture can be released
Try for natural fibres where possible, with the exception of cotton. Cotton absorbs moisture and holds it next to the skin, creating a layer of moisture that gets cold and stays cold. It is the worst material for cold, wet conditions. By contrast, merino wool is soft to the touch, not itchy, wicks away moisture and holds heat, even in a light, thin weave. It will keep the body much warmer. Outdoor wear does not need to be expensive to be useful, either. Look for the fabric, not the brand, and don’t forget to check second hand and thrift shops for good quality gear at a fraction of the price.

Winter Trails – The North Shore is home to some wonderful rails to trails projects. The Great Trail (Formerly known as the Trans Canada Trail) runs from the PEI Ferry through Pictou, all the way to Oxford on the abandoned Short Line railway. As well, The Old Guysborough Railway Trail runs for more than 65 km from Springville in rural Pictou County, through Guysborough. These trails are kept groomed by local snowmobile clubs and are designated multi-use. That means they are meant for motorized (snowmobile, ATV, etc) and non-motorized (hiking, cross-country skiing, etc). Snowmobilers are required to keep watch for skiers and snowshoe hikers, slow down, and pass with caution. The trails are built, managed and maintained by hard working community groups who are proud to share their trails and love to see a variety of users enjoying them.

Snowshoes – Snowshoeing is quickly becoming one of the most popular winter activities, and for good reason. It is an activity that requires very little skill to get started. If you can walk, you can use snowshoes. They are readily available to borrow, rent, or buy, and can be adjusted to suit a range of weights and sizes. Hike Nova Scotia works with community trail groups each year to create and publicize a series of guided snowshoe hikes in communities all over the province. Their website provides a wealth of information, including a listing of where to borrow free snowshoes in each region. Many municipal recreation departments, schools and community centres have sets of snowshoes, and Nordic poles available for loan to the public at no cost. See the list here:

Sledding Hills – The Albion Ball field, in the heart of downtown Stellarton, is located at the bottom of a beautiful, long slope, perfect for sledding. The Town’s recreation and public works department make special effort each year to make sure this hill is safe and ready for sledding, and it is in constant use, all winter long. In Port Hawkesbury, informal sledding is popular at Prince Street Park. Many golf and country clubs also open their spaces in winter to invite sledding, and winter activity. Check with your local golf course to find out, and hit those hills!

Outdoor Skating – There are so many opportunities for outdoor skating in towns and communities across the North Shore. Here is a quick (non-comprehensive) list of outdoor rinks:

  • Amherst Downtown Skating Rink – Located between Victoria and Electric Street with parking available off Maple Street. Also, Dickey Park Skating Rink, 132 East Pleasant Street.
  • Springhill and Area Outdoor Skating Rink – At the site of an old arena, on Lisgar St near the Anne Murray Centre.
  • Wallace Outdoor Skating Rink – At the Wallace Community Centre, 13938 Route 6.
  • Westville Skating Pond – At Acadia Park, 1945 South Main St.
  • New Glasgow – Outdoor rinks are located at the West Side Community Centre, 181 Lavinia Street, and at the North End Recreation Centre, 534 High St.

Beaver Mountain Provincial Park in Antigonish County offers miles of Cross Country Ski and snowshoe trails, with beautiful views of Antigonish and Cape Breton Island. 472 Beaver Mountain Rd.

Port Hawkesbury – Informal sledding at Prince Street Park, and the trail systems are open for winter use. Port Hawkesbury organizes an annual winter fun festival, which includes a “S’mores Walk” on the trail. Walkers gather ingredients at stops along the trail, and the walk ends with a bonfire where everyone can gather and toast their s’mores. As well, snowshoes can be borrowed free of charge from the community’s recreation department.

Cape to Cape Trail – The Cape to Cape Trail is a hand-built, long-distance footpath, perfect for winter snowshoe hiking. It spans Colchester, Cumberland, Pictou and Antigonish Counties, and is a work in constant progress. Popular sections include the Rogart Mountain trail system at Sugar Moon Farm in Earltown, Fitzpatrick Mountain, and Six Mile Brook trails in Pictou County, and the trails at Cape Chignecto and Cape George.

Keppoch Mountain – “The Keppoch,” near Antigonish, encourages everyone to get outside and play year-round. The former site of a downhill ski resort, Keppoch is now a destination for mountain biking, hiking, cross country skiing, and snowshoeing. Fat tire bikers love the slopes in the snow, and families enjoy sledding and the popular annual Family Winter Fun Day. General admission to the park is $5 per person, or $20 for a family. (Annual memberships available) Snowshoes are available on-site for $5/day.
If the fun gets too frosty, visitors can retreat to the beautiful 2000 square foot lodge, with seating, a blazing fireplace and washroom facilities. General manager, Paul Basile is an avid fan of winter activity, and offers an encouraging perspective on getting outside year-round. “We live in four wonderful seasons. If you don’t go out and experience all of them, then you’ll miss something big.”

Cheryl Veitch treks through Trenton Park.

Need equipment? The Town of Antigonish offers loans of cross-country skis, and snowshoes, and Antigonish County Recreation offers snowshoes, skates, helmets and loans of adaptive equipment for mobility challenged users, such as Sledges, and Snow Coach sleds. Active Pictou County has Sledges available for loan, as well as snowshoes, class sets of skates and helmets, and Nordic poles.

Ski Wentworth – An alpine ski and snowboard facility in the Cobequid Hills. Ski Wentworth is the largest alpine ski hill in Nova Scotia and features 23 alpine trails, a half-pipe, terrain parks and cross-country ski trails. There is an equipment shop on-site, equipment can be rented, and Ski Wentworth hosts an annual gear swap and sale for budget conscious skiers and snowboarders.

Trenton Park – Trenton Steeltown park is a wonderful place to walk and snowshoe in the winter, with more than six kilometres of trails, including newly built sections of Canada’s Great Trail: Founders Trail, and Smelt Brook/Trenton Airport Trail. The park itself is a 565 acre, old-growth forest within town limits, and is a popular spot for families, hikers, mountain bikers and dog walkers. Trenton Recreation hosts an annual winter fun day called “Frostfest” with horse-drawn sleigh rides, snow play, treats and a cozy bonfire.

Nova Scotia Connect – A website database holding records on all the active living opportunities (outdoor and indoor) available in Nova Scotia. It is categorized by region, and searchable by keyword. If there is an outdoor activity you are looking for right now, it is probably listed in Nova Scotia Connect.

Experience winter through new eyes – Many of our communities have seen an influx of new residents to Canada. Through refugee settlement programs, corporate and student recruitment, foreign worker programs and more, rural Nova Scotia has welcomed many newcomers in recent years. Enjoying traditional winter activities with people who are experiencing them for the first time, is truly wonderful. Check out your local multicultural, or newcomer group, and find out how you can join an event, or volunteer to show a newcomer how amazing winter really is. For information on how to get connected, contact YMCA Newcomer Settlement Services in Cumberland and Pictou Counties, and Pictou Antigonish Regional Library Newcomer Welcome Centre.

Why go out in the cold?
To those who appreciate winter’s charms, the great white outdoors is an irresistible playland with free admission for all. There are things you can only do at this time of the year: skating on a frozen pond, building a snow fort, skiing and sledding. Also, with snow and frozen ground, on snowshoes or skis, you can get to locations you otherwise would not be able to reach. Winter opens doors to unique adventures. Layer up, put on some wool, bring a friend, and let’s go outside!