The Winter Hater's Guide to Loving Winter
Winter doesn’t have to suck. We searched the city and beyond to find fancy getaways, snow yoga (with alpacas), ice wine in an ice lounge and other cool and unusual ways to unleash a little joy and make the most of the frosty weeks to come
A spin at a new skating rink
↑ Harbourfront Centre: Toronto’s iconic waterfront skating spot was forced to close last year due to infrastructure issues, but ice enthusiasts who loved the lakeside location will be pleased to discover that there’s a brand-new rink under Harbourfront Centre’s concert stage. And it’s bigger and better than before, with a 500-person capacity plus a loop of ice that extends into the centre’s south orchard. Skate and helmet rentals are available, and DJ skate nights will return for the first time since 2019. 235 Queens Quay W., 416-954-9866, harbourfrontcentre.com
↑ The Porch: For an outdoor skate with an unparalleled view of the CN Tower, we recommend SkySkate at the Porch in the Entertainment District. Located on the bar’s rooftop patio, SkySkate is an outdoor rink surrounded by patio heaters, combining winter magic and warmth. And since skating is sure to work up an appetite, smash burgers and hot dogs are available rinkside, along with hot boozy beverages, like the Minty Fresh Hot Cocoa (hot chocolate, Baileys and crème de menthe) or the Spiced and Spiked Hot Cocoa (hot chocolate and Jack Daniels, garnished with whipped cream and a candy cane). Skates and helmets are available to rent, and reservations are strongly recommended. 250 Adelaide St. W., 437-747-5906, skyskate.theporchto.com
↑ The Bentway: There are few experiences more unabashedly urban than gliding on a frozen path under the Gardiner Expressway with cars and 18-wheelers zooming overhead. This year, a large-scale installation by Inuvialuk artist Maureen Gruben will appear alongside the ice path, showcasing sculptural sleds and highlighting their continued use in Arctic communities. Hot drinks and skate rentals will be available, along with skating lessons for Tessa Virtues in training. 250 Fort York Blvd., 416-304-0222, thebentway.ca
↑ A tumble down the rabbit hole
Immersive experiences are a hot ticket these days. First it was room-sized renditions of van Gogh’s sunflowers and Klimt’s gold-leafed beauties, and now Lewis Carroll’s classic novel gets the immersive treatment, inspiring a colourful fantasy world made even more psychedelic with bespoke cocktails served in teapots. The Alice—already a hit in Sydney, San Francisco and New York—is less an art exhibit than a Mad Hatter’s cocktail party.
It goes like this: guests arrive at a secret location and walk through the looking glass into an alternate reality tricked out with all the details of Carroll’s fever dream—including the Cheshire Cat and the Queen of Hearts—where they’ll solve riddles and undertake a series of challenges. When the games are finished, participants get to sip two Wonderland-themed cocktails, nibble “Eat Me” baked goodies and enjoy a 90-minute interactive show led by the evening’s hosts, the Mad Hatter and the March Hare. Alice extremists can even book the venue for their own boozy tea party. Bonus points for costumes. To March 31, explorehidden.com
↑ A snowy yoga session—with alpacas
Eleven years ago, Penny Burton was on a trip to New York when she fell in love with a luxurious alpaca-wool cape she found at a street market. She soon became obsessed with the gentle beasts and dreamed of quitting her job at a non-profit to become an alpaca farmer. Finally, in 2014, she bought Brae Ridge Farm, a 24-acre alpaca haven in bucolic Puslinch, just south of Guelph. Now she’s raising 11 fluffy beasts, harvesting their wool, leading alpaca tours and offering snow yoga classes, where participants can stretch their limbs in the presence of the herd. The outdoor activity began last year as a respite from the pandemic, but it was so successful that it’s back for another season.
Guests arrive at a field overlooking a forest and arrange their mats into a horseshoe shape, leaving space for the doe-eyed creatures to lie down among the participants. The yoga seems to have a soporific effect on the alpacas and, in turn, their mellow demeanours create a calming environment for the guests. After the 75-minute class, visitors can learn more about each alpaca’s unique personality and hand-feed them a healthy grain breakfast. Alpaca scarves and hats, lavender goods and homegrown honey are all available onsite. 7667 Maltby Rd. E., Puslinch, 226-924-4065, braeridgefarm.com
↑ A trippy, tropical staycation at Selva
Selva is a tropical escape smack dab in the middle of the core’s concrete jungle, from one of the founders of Rendezviews, last summer’s mural-covered parking lot turned patio in the Entertainment District. This time, an entire restaurant is the canvas—even the floors and ceiling are spray-painted with all kinds of fluorescent flora and fauna, like neon-hued howler monkeys and kaleidoscopic jungle cats hiding among palm fronds and birds of paradise. Dangling vines and flowers suspended from the rafters complete the rainforest vibe. And it’s more than just a feast for the eyes (though they will be full to bursting) because top chef Nuit Regular is in charge of the food, serving up her takes on South American dishes—grilled sea bream, mushroom tostadas, corn gelato—with the odd Thai ingredient or cooking technique thrown in for good measure.
Make no mistake, though: Selva is a bar first, restaurant second, and this becomes very apparent once dinner is done and the house-spinning DJs start their shift. Remember black lights? They’re used to their full potential here, accentuating the artwork and one cocktail in particular: the Selva Glow-Up, a signature G&T made with Tanqueray Rangpur and Fever Tree elderflower, glows like a deep sea creature thanks to the quinine in tonic water. The whole experience is a transportive one, and whether it whisks you away to the cloud forests of Costa Rica or just brings you back to your favourite nightclub of the ’90s, it’s guaranteed to be a real trip. 221 Richmond St. W., selvatoronto.com
↑ A wine and snowshoe pairing
A great glass of wine is an après-ski essential—so why not après-snowshoe? This winter, Free Spirit Tours is offering a snowshoe and wine-tasting twofer along the Apple Pie Trail, a culinary route in Grey County that links the region’s orchards, wineries and farms. Beginning at the Petun Conservation Area in the Blue Mountains, a guide will lead snowshoers on a 90-minute hike along a portion of the Bruce Trail, highlighting some of the most stunning landscapes in Ontario, from vast snowy fields dotted with evergreens to glimpses of the northern edge of the Niagara Escarpment. The trail is beginner-friendly, and the hike can be tailored to individual experience levels. Snowshoes will be provided, but guests will need to bundle up and bring their own water.
After exploring the escarpment’s winter wonderland, snowshoers shed their layers and head to Georgian Hills Vineyard to tuck into plates of charcuterie and cheese and, of course, a couple of glasses of vino. The tasting features four of Georgian Hills’ creations, including their award-winning chardonnay and icewine. Freespirittours.ca
↑ A day at the spa
For the deepest winter doldrums, we suggest some pampering—and the Iridium Spa at the downtown St. Regis Hotel is the city’s best choice for a super-luxe pick-me-up. Perched on the 31st floor, it’s a 15,000-square-foot monument to rest, relaxation and revitalization. The locker and steam rooms are decked out in marble, and it’s as techy as it is stately: there are Dyson hair dryers on hand, and each shower has individual music, lighting and water-pressure controls. Best of all are the spa butlers, ready to cater to guests’ every whim—be that a cup of tea (they’re currently serving blends from Sloane) or a glass of champagne. The butlers will even set up dinner reservations or laundry service.
Treatments are of the Hollywood variety: think 24-karat-gold lip masks, and facials that involve skincare products from the iconic Parisian beauty brand Sothys. Our pick is the Illuminate and Lift facial, a 90-minute treatment that will set you back $375 but deploys an ultra-rich combination of alpha-hydroxy acids, a tightening bio-cellulose mask and anti-aging porcelain flower oil. Those looking for a little après-ski muscle relaxation can opt for a “sensual elevation” body treatment, which involves warmed massage lotion and handcrafted terracotta stones. Services must be booked in advance, and take note: all prices go up on the weekend. 325 Bay St., 416-637-5595, iridiumspatoronto.com
↑ An icewine tasting—in an ice lounge
Summer doesn’t get the monopoly on wine tours anymore. Niagara’s Peller Estates offers the Great Winery Tour package, a hands-on experience tailor-made for the sub-zero season. The tour kicks off with a glass of sparkling wine and a visit to the vineyard, where guests will learn about the local varietals and growing region. Next up is a tasting of Peller’s wines—including the ice cuvée, a white and a red—down in the underground cellar, which contains a whopping 300 wine barrels.
The final leg of the tour is a trip to the vineyard’s icewine lounge. It’s a cavernous, igloo-like parlour hewn from roughly 13,607 kilos of ice and kept at a chilly 10 degrees below zero—the exact temperature at which icewine grapes are harvested. The seating and bar are all made of ice, with bottles of the lounge’s namesake wine chilling casually atop even more ice slabs. Here, guests will sample the luxurious seasonal delicacy that is icewine, made from the juice of naturally frozen cab franc, vidal and riesling grapes, which are picked during cold Canadian winters. The grapes are quickly pressed before they thaw, yielding a pure, sugary extract, which then undergoes a cool fermentation process. The result is so sweet and soul-warming that you’ll be hard-pressed not to buy a few bottles and stash them in your parka. 290 John St. E., Niagara-on-the-Lake, 1-888-510-5537, mywinecountry.com
↑ A frosty beer festival (with giant beer pong)
Every February, thirsty revellers descend on Roundhouse Park for the Winter Craft Beer Festival. After a pandemic-induced hiatus last year, the fest is back and hoppier than ever. On February 5, beer connoisseurs will be able to taste-test samples from more than 40 craft breweries across Ontario, including stalwarts like Great Lakes Brewery and newcomers like Clifford Brewing and Saulter Street Brewery. German-style pretzels and bratwurst will help soak up the suds. When guests aren’t sipping, they can roast marshmallows around fire pits, play games like cornhole and giant beer pong (with garbage bins instead of red solo cups) and take selfies next to a massive ice sculpture that doubles as a photo station. A live DJ will play party anthems to pump up the crowd. The $40 ticket price comes with a beer mug, and the first 500 guests receive an alpine-chic tuque. February 5, Roundhouse Park, craftbeerfest.ca
This package appears in the January 2022 issue of Toronto Life magazine. To subscribe for just $29.95 a year, click here.