How to Survive Your First Winter in Canada

An international student shares some advice for enjoying winter in Edmonton.

By Valentina

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I grew up in Venezuela and Costa Rica, two countries close to the equator, which means no winters–ever! For me, “cold weather” meant anything below 23 degrees Celsius. So naturally, when I told people back home, I was going to school in Edmonton, everyone asked me the same question: “How are you going to survive the winter?”

To be honest, I didn’t think too much about it. I figured that if there are people who live there, then I should be able to survive. My mom was the one who did all the research: what the average temperature was during the winter, how cold it got if there were any recorded catastrophic blizzards recorded, which were the best boots to buy, and so on.

I wasn’t too worried about winter when I first moved; I thought that I had a few months before it got cold. So you can imagine how much I freaked out when I came out of my class during the second week of university in September… and it was snowing.

1. Watch and learn

One of the first things I did was ask around: what were the best jackets for different temperatures? What kinds of mitts were best? And what not to do — for example, my grandma wanted me to get a balaclava for when I had to walk to school. You should find a balance between what people from Edmonton are doing, and what is appropriate for you (remember, you are still adapting). I have always felt like it is better to dress a little warmer than to be cold!

2. Check the weather every morning!!

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This is probably the most important thing for me. I never used to look at the weather app, back home the weather is pretty much the same every day for the whole year. In Edmonton, not checking it and not dressing properly can be an issue. If I know it’s going to be snowing, I know I should probably put on a tuque and wear my winter boots.

3. Layer up

I struggled with this one the most when the weather started getting colder. I felt like if I put on too many layers then I would be too hot when sitting in class, and if I didn’t I would freeze on my way to school. Like everything, it takes trying different things until you figure out what works for you. I usually like wearing a zip-up hoodie or cardigan as one of the layers because I know that they are easy to take on and off, and you have the option of opening it up when it gets hot or closing it when you feel cold.

4. Get moving

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It’s very easy to feel a little sad and overwhelmed when it starts to get too cold, the winter made me want to go straight home after my classes so I could sit in my bed with a blanket and be warm. Nevertheless, making myself work out, even if it was a little bit every day, made me feel a lot better. During my first year, my roommate and I — we both cried the first time it snowed — decided to take Zumba classes, and it helped us out a lot. It was a workout we both enjoyed, and the Spanish music our instructor played, definitely made me feel at home. Nowadays, I try to sign up for at least one fun workout class a semester with some of my friends to make sure I am getting some exercise, even if it is just once a week. Having a workout buddy and setting a time to go work out also makes it easier. Even when I don’t want to work out I try to go on the treadmill and put on a podcast because I know I will feel better after!

[Editor’s Note: Check out the YouAlberta story “Yes, You Can Go to the Gym” for more on-campus fitness tips, and check out the U of A’s new outdoor gym!]Yes, You Can Go to the Gym” for more on-campus fitness tips, and check out the U of A’s new outdoor gym!]

5. Eat well

Make sure you eat enough fruits and vegetables — you should do this regardless of the season! I find during the winter months, I just want to drink hot chocolate and eat every single carb on the planet, but I also try to make sure I am eating at least one piece of fruit and some vegetables every day. When I eat healthier foods, I feel better. They are also a good source of vitamin D, which is essential when you are not getting that much sunlight. So drink your hot chocolate, but have some mandarin oranges too!

6. Moisturize

This seems like it is not a big issue, but it is! My skin gets so dry during the winter. I usually have to moisturize twice a day. Plus I bring lip balm and hand lotion everywhere I go. This is something I never really did back in very humid Costa Rica, but it has become a must here.

7. Do winter things!

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Don’t forget; there are a ton of different things you can only do in the winter months like skiing, ice skating, and visiting the ice castle. I love visiting the ice castle with my friends, going on the ice slide, and taking pictures! We are also planning on going on a ski trip this winter. Looking forward to fun winter activities makes you enjoy the season way more. Make the most out of the snow and the sunny days, and visit a ski hill if you can!

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Getting used to the winter can seem a little difficult at times, especially when you’ve never experienced it before. As long as you take care of yourself and you are willing to adjust to this new experience, you will manage! Just remember: be open to new experiences and learn from those that have been through it already… and also keep an extra tuque in your backpack!