Here’s a checklist for those facing their first-ever Canadian winter
The first flakes floated around in the Friday skies on the downtown campus, hailing the true end of summer and the proper start of Canada’s second season: winter.
Welcome to the cold season. Population: you. From here on out the weather gets progressively colder and nastier till even Fahrenheit and Celsius get together and agree, “it’s bloody cold out.”
Here is the bad news: winter is coming, and it’s one frigid, icy, relentless season that will haunt you every time you dare to brave the outdoors. Here is the good news: it’s actually survivable.
Take it from the Vancouverite whose previous winter experience consisted of owning a solid pair of rainboots; I’m walking proof that you can make it through the next six (or seven) months and live to see the green shoots of spring.
For those of you in my (last year’s) shoes, here is a checklist of survival necessities. Send me a postcard from spring; I’m heading for some poutine in the meantime to prepare.
First and most importantly: a winter jacket. A parka is best, with down or synthetic filling that reaches at least to your knees (because frostbite on your thighs is a real thing). You want sleeves with elastics at the end of the arm, and a hood that entirely obscures your head. That fur lining (real or synthetic is fine) around the hood, when the jacket is fully zipped up, should entirely obscure your face because it keeps heat in near your skin and snow and ice off your eyelashes/beard. I wish I was kidding.
Second most important is a solid pair of thermal lined, entirely waterproof boots. They should have thick rubber treads, and if you are not comfortable wading through ankle-deep piles of salty, grimy slush right out the door in them, they are not good enough. Uggs are most fashionable (and will keep you snug if you coat them with a waterproofing spray), but Sorrels work just as well, and will save you a couple hundred extra bucks.
These are both large financial investments, but remember that these are two things you will wear every. single. day. for the next five or so months. Talk to sales clerks while browsing and let them know you are a winter virgin, as their input and advice is invaluable and will ensure you get the right gear.
Don’t spend too much on gloves or toques (knitted hats, welcome to Canada) as they are just base layers against the cold. Your hands will mostly be in your parka’s pockets and your hood will cover your head most of the time, but for that half-second you have your hands out and hood down, you’ll be grateful for them. Fleece and wool are warmest even when soaked in sweat from the several minutes you spent on the Metro.
Another life hack is buying cheap but super-thick wool (warm) sweaters from thrift stores and long underwear or fleece leggings to wear under your pants. It’s an odd bit of science, but jeans are incapable of keeping your legs warm at all, yet keep them like icicles for hours after you re-enter a warm area.
Scarves too. They’ll keep icy blasts of frigid air from ramming down your neck and you can pull them over your face to prevent frostbite if you’re outside for long periods. Wool is warmest but can be itchy against your skin.
Constant below-zero temperatures and the hot and dry air inside are really rough on your skin. Using a moisturizer to slather your entire body every time you get out of the shower will help keep your skin from cracking, flaking, bleeding, or breaking out. Full-body moisturizing is a necessity, trust me.
Different moisturizers are recommended for your face and hands, unless you are a skin superhero and can use one for all. Your hands need a super-strength moisturizer and your face needs something lighter. Shop around and find something that works for your skin; we are all unique snowflakes, especially when it comes to skincare.
General Life Hacks
A hot water bottle. After being outdoors for anywhere from five minutes to an hour, heading inside feels like stepping off of a plane into a tropical paradise. Here’s the problem: sometimes with the relative temperature change, you don’t realize how cold you still are. Hypothermia—or being so cold that your body can no longer generate heat and you can die—is an actual danger. Symptoms include feeling suddenly warm, sleepy, and no longer shivering. Heading to bed while hypothermic is dangerous because the blankets only insulate your cold body to keep in the cold. A hot water bottle is a life-saver. Toss it under your covers a couple of minutes before bed to avoid that icy-blankets feeling, use it to defrost your legs and toes after being outdoors for more than five minutes, and allow it to soothe your aching muscles after falling on the ice for the eighth time that day.
Plastic window insulation. Most (all?) windows in Montreal are double-paned for increased insulation against the cold, but windows still feel like they’re seeping icy drafts into your cozy home when it’s 20-below out. Adding a layer of plastic insulation is a cheap and easy way to keep your home warm and keep your February Hydro-Quebec bill from being (as) horrifyingly expensive.
And finally, a pair of skates! Winter is a long—sometimes seemingly endless—season. But Montreal is an amazing place in the winter and there are still tons of activities to do during the cold months. Almost every park is turned into a free skating rink where pickup neighbourhood hockey games are played. Snow shoeing and cross-country skiing are possible in the winter wonderland of Mount Royal park. And don’t get me started on the winter festivals like Igloofest and Nuit Blanche.
Winter is coming, but it’s survivable. And if you keep warm and take advantage of all winter has to offer, who knows. You might even find yourself sad when the warm winds of spring blow and it’s over.