Ask any old-timer, we haven't had a winter come this early since the olden days. Do you want to complain about the snow or play in it? The cold, white weather brings opportunities to ski, skate, slide, ice fish, dog sled, snowshoe and saunter. This holiday break, give Netflix the flick and get outside.
OUT OF TOWN
Get tubular at Glen Eden (Milton)
Sit on tube, point downhill, scream, get a lift back up, repeat. Glen Eden's tube straight-aways are built for speed. The dedicated tube chutes have a vertical drop of 70 metres, taking the thrill of wind-in-the-hair tobogganing to a whole new level. Pay for packages at roughly $4 per ride, must be 42 inches tall. 5234 Kelso Rd. You can even get there by transit, via Milton Transit bus 61 from the Milton Go station (info at milton.ca). gleneden.on.ca
Ski steepish and deepish at Horseshoe Resort (Barrie)
Skiers at Horseshoe will unwrap mid-winter snow conditions for Christmas, a present last received in 1996. New this year is a 250-metre-long magic carpet lift for getting beginners up the hill with as much grace as possible. The hill is open day and evening, but if the legs give out, guests at the Inn at Horseshoe can retire to the spa for an indulgent treatment or mush a team of sled dogs through nearby forests and fields. Adult passes are $53 for all day and evening. Rentals available. Closes at 4 p.m. on Christmas Day. horseshoeresort.com
Snowshoe at the Scenic Caves (Collingwood)
To find snow deep enough to warrant snowshoes this early in the season, you'll have to get high. Which, in Ontario, means the Niagara Escarpment. The trails of Scenic Caves Nature Adventures are 300 metres above Collingwood and the snow-factory that is Georgian Bay. Eight kilometres of snowshoe trails include a jaunt over a 125-metre suspension bridge and a lookout from one of the highest points on the Escarpment. A full-day adult trail pass on weekend and holidays is $19. Add rentals for $16. sceniccaves.com
Nordic ski at Hardwood Hills (north of Barrie)
One of the best nordic trail networks in the area got bigger this season with the addition of a new 7.5-kilometre loop. The 40 kilometres of trails at Hardwood Hills are all mapped, marked, track set, groomed for skate skiing, and graded for difficulty. A single skinny ski trail pass is $21.95. It opens every day at 8 a.m. (closed on Christmas Day). hardwoodskiandbike.ca
Fish Lake Simcoe's hard water (Gilford)
There are so many perch in Lake Simcoe these days they're practically jumping out of the auger holes. Still, you'll want to take some tackle. Terry Goy has been operating ice fishing huts on Lake Simcoe, arguably North America's premier destination, for 15 years. His heated huts are offshore on Cook's Bay, Simcoe's southern appendage, so drives from Toronto are well under an hour. Those aged 18 to 65 will need a provincial fishing licence, but bait is free and a cooler full of fresh fillets all but guaranteed. Opens Dec. 25. Under $50 per person. 279 Beach Rd., Gilford. goyfishing.com
City skiing at Earl Bales Park
As far as skiing in Toronto goes, Earl Bales is the land of extremes. While Centennial Park offers only a mid-range slope, Earl Bales has a gentle rope tow area for beginners and a steep, sustained pitch serviced by a chairlift. Hit the slopes by TTC via the 160 Bathurst North bus. Located at 4169 Bathurst St. Open daily (closed on Christmas Day). Lift tickets are by the hour or $31.50 for the day. Rentals available. Search "ski" on toronto.ca.
Skate while others shop in Don Mills
Push and glide your way into the holiday spirit. The 135-metre skating oval at the Shops at Don Mills is a great place to do lazy laps under the lights while you watch frantic shoppers go around in circles over the next few days. After Christmas, it's an equally satisfying place to watch the same people returning things. Located at 1090 Don Mills Rd., via TTC buses 25 Don Mills, 54 Lawrence East or 162 Lawrence-Donway.
Trek with treats at the Zoo
Boxing Day is a big one at the Toronto Zoo. Not only are all the animals rested from Christmas, their only day off performing all year, but zookeepers make the rounds tossing treats and toys ("enrichment items") to animals such as Komodo dragons, hairy-nosed wombats, white lions, tree kangaroos and, of course, the giant pandas. Admission for the Christmas Treats Trek is half price, bringing the tariffs down to $11.50 for adults and $7 for those under 13. Located at 2000 Meadowvale Rd. Get to the Zoo by TTC bus from Don Mills or Kennedy subway stations or from Rouge Hill Go station. torontozoo.com
Kensington Winter Solstice Parade
And if you still really can't handle the thought of winter, then join Kensington denizens as they "unite to ignite this, the longest, darkest night." Since 1987, this street celebration has been marking the moment the sun does a U-turn and starts to head back north. Mesmerizing stilt puppets, pyrotechnics, a horn band and different theatre groups propel the procession which starts at the corner of Oxford and Augusta streets. Saturday at 6:30 p.m. Free to join, but participants are urged to bring a drum, lantern, costume … anything vaguely Pagan, really.
Explore Toronto's own desert island
Do you avoid the Toronto Islands in the summer for fear of long ferry queues? Ninety per cent of passengers sail between May and September. Navigate there in winter and you'll be among the very few to discover an ice-fractured shoreline, sheltered lagoons, quiet canals and empty woodlands. Winter ferry service is to Ward's Island, the residents of which will probably give you a knowing wink when you head west to the seasonally remote winter wonderland on Toronto's figurative doorstep. Ferries depart every half hour from the terminal at 9 Queens Quay W. Tickets are $7 for adults, half price for those under 14. Ferry information: 416-392-8193.