When Bruce Douglas packs up and heads south for the winter, it's not quite the deep south that most Canadian snowbirds aspire to.
Douglas has just headed off from his home in Grande Prairie, Alta., to the sunny skies of, well, Sunshine Village Ski Resort in Banff.
Call him a contrarian, or the anti-snowbird, if you will, but he's a happy one at that. Unlike most of the estimated 500,000 Canadians who are considered snowbirds – people who avoid our winter – Douglas does what he can to embrace it.
"What can I say? I much prefer the cold to the hot. It's that simple," says Douglas, who has bought a condo in Canmore, just outside the boundary of Banff National Park. While he's not unique, it is unusual – many ski condos in the West are weekend retreats for Albertans and British Columbians or rentals used by Easterners or international visitors.
For the past decade, Douglas has spent six weeks on the Sunshine slopes, with his partner Carol-Lee Eckhardt joining him when she can take time off from her job in Grande Prairie.
"The United States now is very expensive, and when I go to Mexico I react to the food there," he says. "But really I like skiing. There's fresh air, no pollen. Winter is one of the most enjoyable times of the year."
Originally from Weyburn, Sask. (where alpine skiing would be difficult), Douglas began his anti-snowbird lifestyle after he sold his successful software business in Ontario as well as his house in Mississauga in 2005.
"I switched my residency to Alberta in 2005," he says. He began purchasing season's ski passes in Banff even before that, some 20 years ago.
Douglas says he spends up to 115 days a year in ski country, splitting it between the end of each year and after Jan. 1.
Usually at a minimum, "It's at least three weeks before Christmas and three in the new year. More typically, "I'm in Grande Prairie spring and fall, in Ontario in the summer and here [in Canmore] for five months," he says.
The lifestyle of the anti-snowbird brings some advantages. People like Douglas don't have to contend with an unfavourably low Canadian dollar, which has added more than 25 per cent to the cost of a U.S. winter stay.
It can also be less crowded than, say, Arizona or Florida. Though Canmore is a beautiful mountain town, it isn't even close to making anyone's list of the top 10 snowbird destinations for chilly Canadians in winter.
A study by the University of Florida's Bureau of Economic and Business Research in 2005 found that more than a million people 55 and older come to Florida alone every winter (some are short-stay vacationers, not just snowbirds), and 82 per cent are Canadian.
Another advantage is that people like Douglas don't have to worry about foreign residency rules or out-of-country medical insurance. As an Alberta resident who winters in Alberta, he can't be disqualified from his provincial health insurance, either.
It's all downhill in terms of costs for older skiers, too. Most ski areas have special rates for seniors, and at some resorts skiing is free for ultra-advanced-age senior skiers, usually those over 80.
Douglas' Canmore condo also manages to generate some income every year, as he rents it to vacationers when he and Eckhardt aren't using it. Although nearby Banff is a four-season vacation destination, they usually spend their summers at Douglas' cottage near Haliburton, Ont.
"We get there after black fly season. I don't like bugs," he says.
"It's always complicated having three homes," he adds, though this is a logistical challenge, not a disadvantage.
There are real challenges to being an anti-snowbird, though (besides the cold), Douglas says. It's not for everyone – at 70 he has the energy and stamina of a much younger man, but not all 70-year-olds are the same.
Sojourning to Sunshine for several weeks and then heading back north to Grande Prairie also requires a flexible schedule that even retirees don't always have. Douglas says he is always busy with various short-term projects as well as his winter lifestyle.
"I wouldn't call myself retired," he says.
"Getting around storms can be a challenge, too," Douglas adds. "I drive up the Icefields Parkway [the main highway through Banff and Jasper national parks] and when the weather is bad it can be tough and I don't want to go."
Usually, though, he is not deterred.
"The cold doesn't scare me," Douglas says.