Not for the faint of heart

Ottawa winters can be quite brutal – but for the sake of his son, you’ll find columnist Jon Willing outdoors… and loving it

The writer’s son, Miles, and his wife, Nicole, at Winterlude earlier this year. Photo Courtesy Jon Willing


The older I get, the less hardy I’ve become in Ottawa’s cold, damp winters.

Winter activities as a kid came easy: shootouts at the local outdoor rink, organized hockey in arenas, GT Snowracing down the hills and football on snow-packed fields.

All that, and, at a much younger age, just plopping down in a pile of fresh powder and munching on the snow while gabbing with friends.

These days, my excitement has waned for layering up and trudging through two feet of snow or strapping on the skates to fire pucks at the neighbourhood rink.

With a two-year-old, things will change. 


Things must change.

And I’m looking forward to it.

But I do approach this winter with some anxiety that as parents, we won’t embrace winter activities with the gusto of Bonhomme.

We’re not a downhill skiing family. I retired from the sport around Grade 11, shortly after I, as a non-high-difficulty skier, mistakenly turned down the crest of a high-difficulty ridge at Blue Mountain near Collingwood, Ont. Miraculously, I ended up at the bottom in one piece. Not wanting to push my luck, I let the skis, boots and poles collect dust in my parents’ garage.

Cool kids transitioned to snowboarding, but for me, that never took. I could only really master turning on my heels, so every trip down the hill was a gradual slide to the right until a ski lift pole or snow fence got in the way.

We’re not a snowshoeing family, either. I’ve always had trouble finding enjoyment in walking in deep snow, even with the aid of snow-flattening platforms stuck to the bottom of my boots, though I hear it’s a great glute workout.

I find fishing dull, so you can imagine how I feel about adding subzero temperatures and an ice-marooned shack to that experience.

I’d say of all the winter activities that we might participate in with any frequency, skating might be at the top of the list. The Rideau Canal Skateway is still a must-attend domestic attraction each winter.

Now, the trick is finding the winter activities that will satisfy a toddler. The reality is, I’ll be thumbing through the pages of this edition of Parenting Times to get some ideas.

Tobogganing is a no-brainer and it’s something we were already doing, albeit on small hills in the neighbourhood, when our son Miles was only a year old. This year we’ll tackle some epic runs that are more than 30 feet long.

I know we’ll be back on the canal skateway and I’m eager to strap a set of blades to the bottom of Miles’s feet for the first time to see how he takes to skates. The advice is all over the map when it comes to the age at which parents should introduce their children to skating, so let’s see how this two-year-old makes out on ice.

While not a winter fanatic, I’m looking forward to being reintroduced to the cold-weather activities, thanks to our high-energy, risk-taking toddler. Embracing the outdoors, no matter the weather, is even more important during a pandemic.

Maybe I’ll even dust off the old skis.

More realistically, I’ll be asking my parents if the GT Snowracer is still kicking around.