Alberta Cancer Foundation

5 Winter Sports to Try

When the snow is flying, and the temperatures are still below freezing, an outdoor workout might seem less than inviting. But exercising outdoors, even at this time of year, has proven physical and mental benefits. A 2009 study published in Environmental Health and Preventive Medicine found that being in a natural environment lowers blood pressure, reduces stress and improves mood and self-esteem. A scientific review published in 2011 had similar findings: compared to exercising indoors, exercising outdoors increases energy and decreases feelings of depression.

Paul Chiddle, manager of the University of Calgary’s Outdoor Centre, says that an outdoor winter workout also provides a sense of adventure. Here, Chiddle shares his tips for a few winter activities that will have you working up a sweat in the chilly weather.

1. Fat Biking

Illustration by Andrew Benson.

Why it’s worth it

Fat bikes are similar to mountain bikes, but have larger, thicker tires to help you navigate snowy trails or icy paths so you can enjoy riding throughout the winter. Because these bikes are heavier than mountain bikes, you can expect to ride at a slower, more controlled pace. Wider tires also mean it’s easier to balance.

Where to try it

Head to Canmore Nordic Centre Provincial Park where there are designated single-track trails where fat biking is permitted. Try the Canmore Trail or the Orchid Trail. These beginner routes are relatively flat and don’t require technical biking knowledge to complete.

Pro tip

“Don’t forget to read the terrain ahead of you, so your bike is in the right gear as you approach hills,” says Chiddle.

2. Cross-Country Skiing

Why it’s worth it

This is a great low-impact alternative to winter running that improves aerobic fitness and endurance. It is also a full-body workout. And you don’t need to go far to enjoy it — many city parks groom trails after it snows specifically for it.

Where to try it

The Edmonton Nordic Ski Club developed and maintains the extensive cross-country ski trail system in Edmonton’s Goldbar and Goldstick parks. Between these two parks, there are more than 10 kilometres of trails. Start with the Two-Way Lake trail in Goldbar Park, a flat, 1.1-km trail.

Pro tip

“Think about your pacing — you don’t need to ski fast for a good workout,” says Chiddle.

Illustration by Andrew Benson.

3. Ice Skating

Why it’s worth it

Ice skating is a low-impact winter sport that works your balance and coordination. It’s something the entire family can enjoy together — new skaters can use a skate stabilizer to help with balance as they learn.

Where to try it

Calgary’s Bowness Park Lagoon is a picturesque, familyfriendly outdoor rink. You can skate around the pond or adventure up the inlet. The U of C’s Outdoor Centre operates the Bowness Park Skate Shop, where you can rent skates on-site or have your own sharpened.

Pro tip

“Make sure your skates aren’t too tight and that they’re laced up properly to provide ankle support,” says Chiddle.

4. Winter Walking and Running

Illustration by Andrew Benson.

Why it’s worth it

Heading to your favourite park, pathway or trail for a walk is a great way to begin embracing outdoor exercise in the wintertime. Start by setting small goals — your first winter walk or run might be 20 minutes — then increase the duration by a few minutes each week.

Where to try it

The City of Lethbridge has more than 170 km of paved pathways for walking and running. Visit Henderson Lake Park and walk the 2.5-km loop around the man-made lake, or challenge yourself to the 4.3-km trail that goes around the perimeter of the park.

Pro tip

“Consider buying mico spikes or cleats that fit over any normal running shoe,” says Chiddle. “These are useful on popular paths when snow gets packed down and slippery.”

5. Snowshoeing

Why it’s worth it

Snowshoeing is easy to master because it’s much like walking or hiking. Plus, snowshoes allow you to explore snowy trails that are otherwise inaccessible in the winter. Use poles and you’ll also incorporate your upper body into the workout.

Where to try it

Kananaskis Country has numerous marked snowshoe trails, all of which offer scenic views. If you’re up for an adventure, try the Lower Kananaskis Lake Trail. It’s 3.9 km one way, passes through thick forest, and offers impressive views of Mount Indefatigable and the Opal Range.

Pro tip

“In the winter, consider using trekking or ski poles to help with your balance,” says Chiddle.


How to Dress for Winter Workouts

Being prepared for an outdoor winter workout means wearing the right gear. Paul Chiddle shares some useful tips.

1. Protect your extremities.

“Always wear a good toque and a set of gloves.”

2. Layer your clothing

“Layer synthetic clothing under a breathable jacket so you can take layers off as you heat up.”

3. Don’t forget sunglasses

“Even in the winter, it’s important to protect your eyes.”