EMBRACING WINTER LIKE A NORTHERNER

For residents of the Western Arctic, winter is a time to embrace the snow and the opportunities it brings. The days become noticeably longer in February -  6.5 hours of daylight in Inuvik, north of the Arctic Circle. It’s a dramatic shift from dusk in mid-winter to full length days. The annual Sunrise Festival in Inuvik greets the sun’s return after nearly a month’s absence.

On winter nights when the sky is clear, the northern lights appear above the Mackenzie River. They’re faint at first, then brighter. They start moving across Mother Nature’s dance floor, two green bands separating and coming together like lovers in a warm embrace. Welcome to the Aurora Borealis, the best natural light snow in the world.

Winter also brings a new sense of freedom to communities that only have air service for several months of the year. Once the weather is cold enough, winter roads are built over rivers and lakes to provide a lifeline to isolated northern communities. The popular reality show Ice Road Truckers follows the exploits of truckers who drive heavy loads along ice roads to deliver goods to mines and exploration camps north in the far north.

The weather is a big part of an NWT winter vacation. Zipping up a big down parka and stepping out into minus 30c (or lower) is an integral part of the northern experience. That’s when you’ll hear the crunching sound of snow underfoot. Or feel the frost foaming on your eyelashes. Or marvel at a technicolour sunset in the middle of the afternoon.

There are dozens of winter experiences that occur only in the far north. Here are some our favourites:

Feeling like a true Canadian as you brave -35c (not including wind chill). But doing so in the comfort of a down parka with hands, feet and head well protected in warm boots, mitts and scarf.

Listening to the swishing sound of a dogsled on a snowy trail, pulled by a team of huskies.

Relaxing on a trail as you take a break from snowshoeing. Feeling the hair on the back of your neck lift as distant wolves howl in the winter darkness.

Hearing the ice crack and boom beneath you as you drive on the widest ice road in the North, the Mackenzie River, on your way north of Inuvik.

Seeing the brilliant edge of the sun as it climbs above the horizon in Inuvik for the first time, after a month of almost total darkness, and gathering with locals in the evening to celebrate the sun’s return.

Taking a dip in an outdoor hot tub surrounded by snow and watching the steam rise into the frosty winter night.

Skiing on groomed trails where a group of kids from the Western Arctic, members of Canada’s first Olympic cross country ski team, once practiced their skills.

Photographing ptarmigan in their white winter coats (zooming in on the white feathers that cover their feet) as small flocks dash across roads and over freshly fallen snow.

Watching the 3,000 strong herd of reindeer as they cross the Mackenzie each spring on their way to calving grounds.