When winter sets in, sometimes it’s easy to slip into a funk: it’s dark before you leave work, friends seem to go into hiding, and weekends are spent deciding whether or not to exit the domicile. Once you’re in this kind of rut, it’s hard to get yourself out of it. As a preventative measure, here’s the first installment in a two-part itinerary for active things to do throughout Montreal’s most difficult months.
Puck handling, roughhousing and winning a few rounds of shinny will not only make you an exemplary Canadian, but also surely reinvigorate your spirits. The Westmount Park — a twenty-six acre landmark that boasts extensive athletic facilities — boasts an outdoor skating rink that is second to none. During hockey periods (1:30 – 3 p.m.), skaters are required to wear helmets with cages and neck protectors, so be sure to come well-equipped. Corner of Sherbrooke and Melville
Between late February and April, the cultural phenomenon dubbed “sugaring off” (cabane à sucre) sweeps across Quebec. While sugar shacks pop up around Montreal in early March, sweet tooth meets adventure directly outside of the city, as of right now. There are a number of sugar shacks within an hour’s drive; our pick goes to Au Pied de Cochon, which, while apparently booked for the 2012 season, has a waiting list available. The shack is headed by Martin Picard, a chef whose culinary expertise distinguishes the restaurant from other, more touristy destinations. 11382 Rang de la Fresnière, St Benoît. 450-258-1732
Finding a sled hill is simple enough; finding the perfect one can be a surprisingly grim task, often analogous to playing in traffic. The obvious pick is Mount Royal, a staggering slope that hurls racers into carefully placed bales of hay. Less obvious, less convenient, but less overcrowded is the Bois-de-Liesse, a massive nature park with two hills designated for sliding (rentals $4 for 3 hours). Corner of Mont Royal and Parc; 3555 Rue Douglas-B-Floreani.
Unfortunately next to impossible to reach by public transit, Bois de l’Île Bizard is nearly five hundred acres of forest and marshes, including 10 km of snowshoeing trails. Whether you’re going for the scenery, wildlife, or exercise, this park blows any competition out of the water — with cheap rentals (hourly, or $18 for the day), it’s a perfect spot to introduce yourself to the sport. 2115 Chemin Bord-du-Lac, 514-280-8517
Image courtesy of Simon Law.