Outdoor winter vacations in Canada

They’re cheaper, healthier and more eco-friendly than heading south. Check out these 6 options for winter vacations in your own backyard

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winter vacation

Make it a real winter vacation

We Canadians may not have lie-on-the-beach heat here in February and March, but we've got some of the top winter sports and resorts in the world. Vacationing nearer to home means you can save money and fuel emissions on plane travel, feed our economy and get healthy, too. Even the closest sun destination takes six to nine hours to arrive at, once you factor in the two-hour airport wait, three-to-six-hour flight and car travel time. Use that time to drive to these winter wonderlands, and delight in some of the country's best outdoor activities.

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skiing

1. Downhill skiing

Where: Barrie, Ont.; Quebec City; Jasper, Alta.

Whistler, Banff, Mont Tremblant-you know they'll be as jam-packed with tourists as an airport on the first day of March break. Try quieter scenes across the country. In Barrie, children play at Horseshoe Resort's Kids Korral camp while you hit the slopes, the skating rink or the spa. Skip the Laurentians this year and lodge at Chateau Mont St-Anne near Quebec City for ski-in-and-out convenience. And in Alberta, treat yourself to accommodation at Jasper Park Lodge and take advantage of its Ski for Free package at Marmot Basin's slopes.

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snowshoeing

2. Snowshoeing

Where: Algonquin Park, Ont.

If snowboarding and downhill skiing don't appeal but you love walking in the white stuff, snowshoeing is the activity for you. Explore Ontario's 7,360-square-kilometre Algonquin Park, established in 1893 as a wildlife sanctuary. Work your major muscle groups while checking out fauna like moose, deer, colourful finches and chickadees. Wilderness adventure company Voyageur Quest offers a four-day Algonquin Winter Eco Adventure guided package that also includes cross-country skiing, dogsledding and chalet suite accommodations. More DIY-minded? Stay at nearby Blue Spruce Inn.

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surfing

3. Surfing

Where: Tofino, B.C.

Located on the west coast of Vancouver Island, Tofino is a year-round surfer's paradise. Never surfed? No problem. Tofino's surf schools run lessons through the winter, and include women-only classes. The water is cool at around 10 degrees Celsius, but you'll be outfitted with a wetsuit, booties and gloves to stay warm. Kick back at the deluxe villas of Pacific Sands Resort, and save hundreds per night (compared to summer rates) while enjoying the mod-cons of a luxury house and views of waves crashing ashore.

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snowboarding

4. Snowboarding

Where: Eastern B.C.; Corner Brook, Newfoundland

If snowboarding's your thing, Canada's "Powder Highway" in eastern B.C. is an ideal vacation destination, so named for its dry, deep powder snow. Check out Revelstoke Mountain Resort if you're into a Swiss-style village atmosphere, or head to Kicking Horse River Lodge in Golden for an eco-friendly off-the-beaten-piste experience. In Atlantic Canada, polish your board for the terrain park at Marble Mountain Resort in Corner Brook and relax in a ski-in-and-out condo-style villa.

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sask spa

5. Outdoor swimming

Where: Moose Jaw, Sask.

A geothermal indoor/outdoor mineral pool, its water drawn from a porous rock formation 1,350 metres below the earth's surface, is the main attraction at Temple Gardens Mineral Spa Resort in Moose Jaw. This is no Polar Bear Club: the water at Canada's largest natural geothermal pool is bathtub-warm and full of magnesium, potassium and Epsom salt. Overnight at this resort and rejuvenate with a treatment at its Sun Tree Spa, or go for a hike in the beautiful nearby Wakamow Valley.

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sledding

6. Tobogganing

Where: Edmonton, Montreal

These sleigh-friendly cities are great snowy getaways for shopaholics. Thus, they are wonderful for families with a mix of teens and younger kids. Edmonton has eight city-maintained toboggan hills complete with safe run-outs and reduced hazards. It also has the country's biggest shopfest, West Edmonton Mall. Montreal parks are marvellous for tobogganing-try Jean-Drapeau, Lafontaine, Mont-Royal, des Hirondelles and plenty of others. Après sled, go shopping on St. Catherine or St. Laurent streets. Try former banks for high-ceilinged character-filled hotel rooms:  XIX Siècle in old Montreal or Union Bank Inn in Edmonton.