The Zenventures Winter Survival Guide

Do you hate winter — or at least moderately dislike it? Me, too! Let’s overcome it together. Here’s my list of tips to make winter more enjoyable, or at least somewhat bearable.

No matter how many warm days come our way, winter is the bleakest season.

With the holidays behind us and spring far ahead, this time of year is particularly tough for those of us who don’t deal well with cold conditions and minimal sunshine. (Seriously — we’re at a record low for sunshine. I miss the sun.)

Every winter, I find myself in this lull where I want to do is bundle up and hibernate until spring. If you’re anything like me, you might understand the feeling — but you also understand how ridiculous it is.

Winter isn’t going anywhere. In fact, the coldest days are yet to come. That doesn’t mean we can’t do anything — in fact, there’s so much more to do!

Instead of letting the season get us down, it’s time to conquer it. Here’s how I plan to “weather” the rest of the winter, both indoors and out.

Try out a winter sport. This winter, I decided to combat my hatred of the season by taking on a new challenge and signing up for skating lessons at the Harbourfront Centre. I signed up for the intro level, which is designed for complete beginners. Over the course of my lessons, I went from being completely petrified by the thought of falling, to learning the basics, to actually being able to skate for fun!

Enjoying a recreational activity turned out to be a great first step toward enjoying winter. In Toronto, this is the only season where you can take advantage of our outdoor rinks — like Nathan Phillips Square, evidently one of the coolest in the world. Or, as I like to tell myself: if you can conquer the totally counter-intuitive motion of an adult human sliding across ice on tiny blades, you can survive anything.

It doesn’t have to be skating. Challenge yourself to learn a new winter sport, or improve your existing skills. You can learn to ski or snowboard, pick a trail to go snowshoeing, or try out curling — all without even leaving the city. Did you know that snow-kiting is a thing? You can do that here, too.

The more I learn to associate winter with fun winter activities, the less there is to hate about it — maybe you’ll find the same!

Conquer a snowy hiking trail. Okay, so maybe the idea of recreation sounds like a good way to combat the winter blues, but developing a new skill in below-freezing temperatures doesn’t appeal to you. Take a hike — literally! Many trails within Toronto operate year-round, and can be uniquely scenic in the winter months.

The Taylor Creek trail is accessible from the Victoria Park subway stop on the east side, and the Humber River Valley is accessible from Old Mill on the west. High Park operates year-round, and its hiking trails take on a new life under a coating of snow — and you can snowshoe, too!

If you’re after an exceptional view, check out the lake from the scenic vista of a cliffside hike through the Scarborough Bluffs. While it does get colder by the lakeshore, the payoff is a view that is beautiful in a truly otherworldly way.

Speaking of the lakeshore, have you seen this year’s Winter Stations installations? Nine of the designs are Toronto-based, and you can visit the winners along Lake Ontario.

Dress the part. I may not love the cold, but I love dressing for it. One awesomely warm article that I acquired this winter is my blanket scarf from MUJI, which makes it so much easier to pretend I’m still curled up in the covers. Likewise, wrapping myself in a cocoon cardigan on cold days makes me feel super cozy in lieu of actually hibernating.

Layer, layer, layer! Sartorial choices aside, one thing I learned from skating lessons in way-below-zero temperatures is that a good layering system is crucial. For example, my layering system for pants looks like this:

  • First layer: Base. I use fitted yoga pants, or leggings from the UNIQLO Heattech line.
  • Second layer: Insulation. A warm pair of fleece-lined leggings from SweetLegs.
  • Third layer: Shell. When I don’t need ski pants, I use MEC‘s waterproof running pants.

If you’re trying a new winter activity on a really cold day, this kind of layering system is your best friend. I wish I’d adopted a method like this sooner — it’s much easier to learn something when you’re not freezing!

Reward yourself with a hot drink. The chillier it gets, the easier it is to justify splurging on something warm and chocolatey. My latest hot chocolate craving was sated at Voodoo Child, where the bartender-ista warned me not to let my drink get too cold as I snapped pictures of his handiwork. Seated in such a cozy spot with a delicious beverage cradled in my cold hands, it was difficult not to appreciate the season that necessitated it.

If you’d rather stay in with your hot chocolate, I’m a huge fan of the drinking chocolate you can get from ChocoSol, which produces chocolate with a socially-conscious mandate. Their drinking chocolates come packaged in a small “puck” which you can melt down into a warm, rich beverage.

This winter, there’s a growing trend toward hot chocolates made with burnt, toasted, or blow-torched marshmallows. You can find that campfire-y flavour all over the city, from Bobbette & Belle on the east side and midtown, Sweet Esc to the north, Peace Treats due west, and Fugo in the downtown core.

Wrap yourself up in a book. If you’re not going to explore winter outside, explore it through literature! I’m currently re-reading The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey, where the beautiful depictions of snow sound so much better than the view outside my window. Next on the list is If On a Winter’s Night a Traveller by Italo Calvino.

While you’re at it, make a cup of tea. Tea can be especially soothing in the colder months, and it’s a great way to perk up your mind while relaxing your body! The Toronto Tea Festival is a warm respite at this time of year, and it may inspire you to explore some new blends or discover a specialty supplier here in the city.

Image courtesy of Rahim Lalani

Finally: if you can’t beat winter, run away from it. It’s basic fight-or-flight! This time of year tends to be one of the cheapest times to travel, and if you have the ability to do so, a well-timed last-minute getaway could provide the sunshine-y solace you need to survive the rest of the season.

If a getaway isn’t in the books this year, look up your dream destination, divide by 12, and figure out how much you need to save each month to make it happen at this time next year. Future You deserves a break!

I’ll be taking this last bit of advice to heart and departing in favour of a warmer climate very soon. Look forward to some India-themed content over the next month!

Do you love winter, or hate it? What are you doing to combat the cold? Share your surefire winter survival tips in a comment below!

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