If you find it difficult to peel yourself away from the Winter Olympic and Paralympic Games coverage around this time every four years – and your heart swells when you see our athletes climb the podium – then perhaps it’s time to take your fandom to new heights. Luckily, it’s easy to channel your inner Olympian here in Canada: Maybe you want to pull on a pair of skates, grab a stick and make like Marie–Philip Poulin and the women’s ice hockey team at a local rink, or strap on skis and attempt to conquer some Rocky Mountain moguls like Mikaël Kingsbury. Heck, you can even load into a bobsled in Whistler and speed down a world–class course à la Christine de Bruin and Kristen Bujnowski. Whether you’re at a former Olympic venue or in a natural winter setting, here are six spots to go in Canada to release some of your Olympic and Paralympic spirit.
Whistler Sliding Centre, Whistler, B.C.: Bobsleigh
Built for the Vancouver 2010 Olympic Winter Games, the Whistler Sliding Centre is a training facility and competition venue for athletes from all over the world – but you can also hop into a bobsled (or onto a luge) yourself. The only active sliding track in Canada offers Passenger Bobsleigh rides, where you will slide through the course’s 10 twists and turns at speeds of more than 125 kilometres an hour – in a bobsled captained by a trained pilot, of course. A full safety orientation is given before you load into the sled, and, at the finish line, you will get a commemorative photo certificate with your pilot. Looking for more than a one–off? The Centre’s Learn to Slide offerings range from introductory sessions for beginners to full–season training programs in bobsleigh, skeleton and luge.
Olympic Oval, Calgary: Speed skating
Not only is the Olympic Oval a legacy venue from the 1988 Olympic Winter Games, it’s the building where some of the world’s fastest skaters, past and present, hone(d) their skills, including Catriona Le May Doan, Cindy Klassen, Denny Morrison and Gilmore Junio. Hop on the ice for a relaxed public skate around the 400–metre loop – the largest indoor skating surface in Alberta – or dial things up by renting a pair of speed skates at the on–site Skate Shop. They take some getting used to, but what better place to try them out? (Hockey skates and helmets are available, too.)
Mission Ridge Winter Park, Fort Qu’Appelle, Saskatchewan: Snowboard
Saskatchewan – probably not what you were expecting here. But, Mission Ridge Winter Park, a resort located just an hour’s drive from Regina, is where Saskatchewan’s own Mark McMorris, a recent three–time bronze medalist in snowboard slopestyle (and one of the most decorated athletes in snowboarding history), got his start as a young ’un. Hit the jumps and rails in the resort’s two terrain parks (just don’t attempt a backside triple cork 1440 – yet) or take it easy on one of the 15 runs, before ending the day by the wood fire at the Red T–Bar Lounge, where live music is a regular occurrence.
Barbara Ann Scott Ice Trail, Toronto: Figure skating
Today’s figure skating fans may be more familiar with Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir, Keegan Messing and rising star Madeline Schizas, but Barbara Ann Scott is Canada’s original figure skating celebrity. Born in Ottawa in 1928, she was the first Canadian figure skater to win an Olympic gold medal – in St. Moritz in 1948 – and the first female to be voted Canada’s Outstanding Athlete of the Year a record three times in 1945, 1947 and 1948. Take a spin in her honour on the Barbara Ann Scott Ice Trail, a five–metre–wide skating loop that circles the whimsical Frog Fountain, which opened in downtown Toronto’s College Park in 2019. When you need a rest, grab an impeccable French pastry (a pain au chocolat, or, if you’re in the mood for savoury, a cherry tomato and pesto Danish) from Le Génie Bakery & Espresso, located right on the park square.
Mont–Sainte–Anne Cross–Country Ski Centre, Beaupré, Quebec: Cross–country skiing
With 200 kilometres of trails, the Mont–Sainte–Anne Cross–Country Ski Centre, located a quick 30–minute drive from Quebec City, is one of the largest of its kind in North America. Make tracks where many international competitions and qualifying events are held, and where current and former Olympic and Paralympic athletes train(ed) (Alex Harvey, Antoine Cyr and Laura Leclair, to name a few). Make it a weekend by booking the Chalet du Fondeur, a 26–person lodge in the heart of the cross–country ski area complete with a fireplace and sauna.
Bally Haly Country Club, St. John’s: Curling
The Bally Haly Country Club is one of two home clubs for Olympic curler Brad Gushue and his team, who are currently competing in Beijing. Pick up the sport on ice fit for the St. John’s–born, gold–medal winning skip: The club offers Learn to Curl programs for kids and adults on its four sheets. After throwing some rocks, enjoy the view of Signal Hill and the Atlantic from the dining room with a pint and an order of fish ’n’ chips. Fun fact: The club is just north of Quidi Vidi Lake, where curling was first played in Newfoundland in the 1830s.