First off, I have no right to complain about winter in Calgary. My typical work day starts with a leisurely roll out of a down-comforter warmed bed into a hot shower. I get ready in my toasty apartment, walk down an indoor staircase to a heated underground parking stall, start my frostless, snowless, already warmed car, drive a relatively short distance to work, and coast into a similarly heated underground parking stall. Once a week, I go outside to get groceries. And during that 30 second walk from car to grocery store entrance, I still have the audacity to audibly whimper as I suck in the lung constricting chill that makes each breath slightly painful. I cringe at the brittle crunch of icy snow beneath my boots and, being out of practice on the icy sidewalks, grab Tyler’s arm to stay balanced. My husband who, on a daily basis, trudges in the pre-dawn dark to a bus stop to wait in sub zero temperatures, piles onto an overcrowded bus standing shoulder to shoulder with a crowd of cranky commuters spouting coffee breath and snotty noses, looks me up and down and says, without a single ounce of pity, “do your coat up”.
So I’m a bit spoiled when it comes to winter. I have a romantic view of snow and ice similar to the outlook of the person who wrote “Walking in a Winter Wonderland” when he penned lyrics about building snowmen in meadows and sleigh bells ringing. I really do think though, that winter in Calgary can be a tolerable affair (if not enjoyable). However long the snowy months, however short the daylight hours, however low the temperatures go, it’s possible to avoid cabin fever and embrace that frosty cold ice princess known as Mother Nature. Here are some ways I stay sane:
1. Skating: pick up a used pair from a thrift store, borrow from a friend, rent from the UofC Outdoor Centre. Then, find a patch of ice (you can skate at many of Calgary’s public rinks – we’ve tried the rinks at Southland Leisure Centre as well as the Olympic Oval at the UofC), or a free neighborhood rink (Prince’s Island park has great ice. We also have a rink near our place in Windsor Park that is lit at night and almost always empty).
2. Play in the Snow: packing the car up to head out to Lake Louise for a day of skiing can be quite a production (and an expensive one at that), which is why, during some of our most penniless days as students, we took up snowshoeing. Rent snowshoes from the UofC Outdoor Centre or a number of other rental shops in the city (we rented from GearUp In Canmore), then head out to the mountains and break trail. Our favorite spots to snowshoe are Sherbrooke Lake (great for beginners) and Chester Lake (a bit longer and more difficult). Pack a lunch and thermos of hot chocolate (don’t forget the Bailey’s) so you can warm your belly for a lunch stop at the top. What a gorgeous way to spend a day!
3. Appreciate the Arts: from consumer tradeshows to winefests to any number of options for live music, cooking classes, gallery exhibits, live theatre – it’s as if the city’s creative side awakens in the dead of winter to entertain bored, vitamin D deprived, slightly zombified Calgarians. THERE IS SO MUCH TO DO IN THE CITY. And because my favorites are food, wine, and entertainment, here are some places I look if my upcoming weekend looks a bit blah, blah, blah.
4. Cook a Meal: I believe it is the North American way to “get dinner over with”. Most days, when I get home from work, I’m starving. I haven’t even taken my coat or shoes off as I feed my equally hungry cat, and ravenously grab at the first thing in my cupboard to satiate the rumbling in my belly (usually a handful of chocolate chips or a pile of soda crackers). In any case, I too have an urge to get dinner over with, for the simple fact that I’m hungry, tired, and I just want to sit in front of the TV for a mindless episode of Breaking Bad. But, on those days when I’ve had a particularly filling lunch, or on weekends when time is spent in less hurried increments, I’ve discovered a certain satisfaction in building a meal from the ground up. I am in love with the “Best of Bridge” cookbooks for their simple, tasty meals that don’t take a Michelin starred chef to interpret. From soups to curries to casseroles to quesadillas, the variety of dishes has made meal time less of a to-do list item and more of a hobby.
5. And speaking of eating… I don’t think I’ll ever get through the list of restaurants I want to try. We eat out maybe once every week or two. When there is an occasion to celebrate, or a bit of money in the bank, we scan through our “must try” list of restaurants and pick one. It could be a casual bite at Tubby Dog, gourmet pizza from Cibo, or a succulent steak dinner at Open Range, but it never ceases to amaze me how there is always something new to try in this city. Our list is compiled from a few sources: Recommendations from friends and co-workers and reviews on UrbanSpoon. Avenue Magazine also puts out an annual list of “Best Restaurants” which has never steered us wrong. PS, Canmore is a treasure trove of incredible restaurant options. It’s a favorite pastime to spend a Saturday snowshoeing in Kanananaskis, then stopping in Canmore for an après-snowshoe meal at one of the town’s many excellent dining spots. (The Trough, and Tapas are two of my favorites).
6. Volunteer: with a New Year come resolutions to “be a better person” and “get more involved in the community”. Why not dive in head first by visiting Volunteer Calgary? I’ve found opportunities through this site that have matched volunteer positions to my own interests and hobbies. Whether it’s weekends spent on casual graphic design, or doing taxes for non-profit organizations, Volunteer Calgary offers the opportunity to match your skills with volunteer hours and possibly gain some relevant experience and networking contacts along the way.
7. Play a Sport: The Calgary Sport & Social Club is a great way to link up with like-minded people who play your sport at a similar skill level. Don’t know anyone or a finding that you’re a few people short of a full team? Join up with a singles team. From indoor soccer to volleyball, dodge ball or basketball – pretty much whatever sport you’re into at whatever level you play at, the CSSC offers something for everyone.
8. Hit the Gym: I have a membership at Southland Leisure Centre, one of Calgary’s many public recreation facilities. This isn’t at the top of my list because sweating on a treadmill isn’t always my favourite thing to do (okay, it never is). I try and pick a night that will be quiet, such as late Friday evening or most week nights before close, strap on my Nike’s, get some good beats going on my ipod and put an hour in. I’m by no means a gym rat – I make it maybe two times a week – but I always feel energized after and find I get value for my money for all the additional recreation activities the pass includes. At $50 a month (cheaper if you get an annual pass), I get access to squash courts, badminton, skating rinks, pool & waterslides, hot tub, gym, and daily fitness classes. If you’re not worried about what your friends will think of you for spending your Friday nights at the gym, it’s not a bad place to spend $50.
9. Take a Course: Every time January rolls around I feel this indescribable urge to further my education. Rather than quitting my job, selling my car, and hastily emptying my bank account to get that shiny new Executive MBA, I quench the urge by signing up for night classes at SAIT. Typically, a two month continuing education course will cost around $400 plus textbook and runs one or two nights a week from 6 – 9pm. The classes I’ve taken have been practical and hands on with (generally) good instruction and takeaway skills that I’ve immediately implemented in my current job. Add to that the fact that I’m gaining more knowledge about something I like to do (in this case, graphic design), and it’s a win-win.
10. And if all else fails: Persue a hobby. I take my boredom out on this blog. On those minus 40 degree evenings, where I can’t quite remove myself from the couch, I fire up my laptop and start writing. From scrapbooking, to piano to guitar to Nintento Wii, to painting, drawing, decorating, and shopping – my apartment is a veritable museum of collected, discarded, and in-progress hobbies that I keep tucked in the corner for the cold snowy days in Calgary.
Here’s to surviving the rest of winter!