With the arrival of the first snowfall, Winnipeg transforms into a picturesque winter wonderland, offering a magical and unique experience for its residents. As newcomers to the city, we soon discovered that winter weather in Winnipeg can be challenging, with temperatures frequently dropping below -20°C (-4°F), with added windchill and ample snowfall. It definitely takes preparation and the right mindset to make the most of this season.
In this article, we’ll share our tips and experiences on how to survive and thrive during a Winnipeg winter. From dressing appropriately to discovering fun winter activities, we’ll cover everything you need to know to enjoy the winter season in this beautiful city.
Winter compared to other Canadian cities
Having lived in milder climates like Belgium, South Africa, the UK and New Zealand, we weren’t prepared for the bone-chilling temperatures in which a few days of the year can drop to -40°C (-40°F) with the wind chill.
Winter weather in Canada varies across the country, with each city experiencing its own unique challenges. Winnipeg stands out as a place of some severity. In contrast, the winter climate of Vancouver is comparatively gentle, and cities like Toronto and Calgary enjoy milder conditions than Winnipeg's. Bottom line: Winnipeg is blanketed by snow on the ground for over four months, however we noticed that life in Winnipeg doesn't grind to a halt when the snow falls.
The city embraces cold and turns it into a celebration of all things winter, making it an experience that you won't find in too many other cities.
What to wear in Winnipeg in winter
Having lived in Canada for the past eight years, we assumed our other winter travels around the country would have prepared us to tackle Winnipeg winters, however, we soon realized we were missing certain gear and started to invest in the right clothing and footwear which is crucial for enjoying the city. Layering is essential, with moisture-wicking base layers, warm mid-layers such as fleece or down jackets, and waterproof, windproof outer layers. Insulated boots with good traction are a must for icy sidewalks, as well as gloves and a warm hat that covers the ears.
When temperatures drop to -20 degrees Celsius or below, with wind chill, add extra layers for warmth. We recommend mittens instead of gloves for trapping heat and keeping fingers warm. A face covering protects cheeks and nose from harsh winds and heated sachets in shoes and mittens provide added warmth. Keep in mind that gear for quick trips outside differs from clothing needed for long hikes or winter activities.
To prevent frostbite, take precautions by keeping fingers, toes, ears, and nose covered and protected, and take breaks to warm up. Don't forget to protect your skin from the sun's rays with sunscreen and lip balm. Even though it's cold, the sun can still cause sunburn and dryness to the skin. To combat this, we always use a high-quality moisturizer after outdoor activities.
Outerwear such as parkas, snow pants and snow boots can be costly, but it's important not to skimp on quality when it comes to protecting yourself from the cold. Consider thrift stores for vintage or gently used coats. Many retailers offer sales and discounts on previous seasons' outerwear during winter clearance events.
Getting around the city
When driving in snowy and icy conditions, it is essential to prepare yourself for the challenges that come with it. We make sure our car is equipped with winter tires, not all-season tires, as winter tires are designed to provide better traction and handling in snowy and icy conditions. We also keep a winter survival kit in our vehicle including a snow brush, shovel, windshield snow cover, ice scraper, flashlight, spare batteries, rope, jumper cables and a first-aid kit. This way, we’re better equipped to handle unexpected winter surprises on the road.
Public transportation is another great option for getting around in winter, although it's important to be aware that delays and service interruptions can occur due to inclement weather. We usually opt to use the Winnipeg Skywalk, an extensive network of pedestrian skyways and underground tunnels that connect many downtown buildings. With around 2 km of sheltered walkways, it makes it easy to get around downtown Winnipeg without having to constantly brave the cold.
When it comes to snow-clearing, Winnipeg does an excellent job of keeping streets and sidewalks clear, especially compared to other cities we’ve lived in. It’s quite the sight seeing a whole convoy of snowplows working their way through the city streets!
The city gives regular updates on the snow-clearing operations and outlines current parking bans so snowplows can do their job effectively. You can keep an eye out for updates here and see a map of Winnipeg and the percentage of streets and sidewalks cleared of snow.
While winter in Winnipeg may seem harsh at first glance, it's also a season of great beauty and outdoor adventure. We have participated in many exciting activities around the city, from ice skating at The Forks to snowshoeing at FortWhyte Alive.
Located at the confluence of the Red and Assiniboine Rivers, The Forks is a must-see destination during winter. As temperatures drop, the area transforms, providing a variety of activities for visitors to enjoy. Ice skating on the frozen rivers is a popular activity and a personal favourite. The picturesque skating trail winds through the heart of the area and skate rentals are readily available at Iceland Skate Rentals within the Forks Market, making it easy for all to participate.
FortWhyte Alive is another winter destination in Winnipeg that offers a magical outing. The crisp air, the sound of snow crunching underfoot, and the beauty of the natural landscape all come together to create a stunning winter experience. Take a guided snowshoe hike and learn about local flora and fauna from knowledgeable guides. Cross-country skiing is also popular, with well-groomed trails and different levels of difficulty for both beginners and experienced skiers.
Kendricks Outdoor Adventures offers several types of rentals to enjoy around Winnipeg. We’ve rented their ice bikes at The Forks, a unique way to enjoy the frozen river, and also their fat bikes at FortWhyte Alive to cycle along the trails through the beautiful nature reserve.
Life still goes on in Winnipeg in winter
Even during a cold spell the city never stops moving.
Unlike our previous home city of Vancouver, where even a small amount of snowfall can bring daily life to a standstill, we were pleasantly surprised to find that life in Winnipeg, for the most part, continues as normal, even in the face of challenging winter weather. The local farmers’ markets, for example, continue to thrive indoors. The Downtown Farmers' Market operates on alternate Thursdays inside Cityplace, while St. Norbert Farmers' Market, which runs every second Saturday, is located under a canopy on the market site.
As snow continues to fall, the city comes alive with a flurry of winter festivals and events. From the Festival du Voyageur, which is the largest winter festival in Western Canada, to A Maze in Corn, which features the Guinness Book of World Records’ largest snow maze, with stunning snow carvings, snow games and a beautifully detailed snow bar, there is so much to enjoy and experience.
But perhaps the most striking thing about winter living in Winnipeg, is the resilience of the locals. School closures and snow days are virtually non-existent, as residents brave the elements to make their way to work and school. Life may slow down a bit, but it never comes to a halt.
Winter in Winnipeg is truly a unique and unforgettable experience. As newcomers to the city, we were initially intimidated by the harsh conditions and cold temperatures, however, we soon discovered that there is so much to love about this city in winter, as long as you are prepared. From the festive atmosphere to the abundance of winter activities, Winnipeg is still very much alive in the winter months.
Lies and Ash are digital nomads who have lived around the world and the travel writers and photographers behind Non Stop Destination.