How municipalities can promote outdoor recreation – even through snow and cold.

(Updated Nov. 19, 2020) New resources added.

The Canadian pastime is largely regarded as ice hockey – but even that sport is more often played (or watched) inside than in the great outdoors.

It is understandable that snow and ice can be limiting factors in enjoying sports and leisure, but deliberate planning can transform cold spirits to openness to time outside.

Here are some examples of winter recreation strategies and insights from a researcher at the University of Alberta on ideas to promote winter recreation.


Edmonton’s WinterCity Strategy

In 2013, Edmonton implemented a new strategy to promote recreation when there’s snow on the ground and it isn’t warm enough for a t-shirt. After public consultation and recommendations from a think tank, the city created the Edmonton WinterCity Strategy.

The strategy includes 10 goals on topics of winter life, winter design, winter economy and winter story to promote Edmonton as a hotspot for winter fun. Not only does the strategy promote outdoor activity for Edmontonians, but it also creates a plan to showcase the joy of winter recreation to visitors and tourists. The WinterCity strategy embraces winter – for everyone.

The 10 goals included in the strategy are:

  1. Provide more opportunities for outdoor activities
  2. Improve winter transportation for walking, cycling and public transport
  3. Design communities for winter safety and comfort
  4. Incorporate winter fun, beauty and interest into urban design
  5. Increase capacity of winter festivals
  6. Develop a four-seasons patio culture
  7. Create an innovative winter-related industry
  8. Embrace daily living in a cold climate
  9. Promote Edmonton around the world
  10. Implement the WinterCity Strategy

Edmonton implements the strategy by publishing an annual guide to winter activities and sharing opportunities in a newsletter.


Looking beyond Alberta – Saskatoon’s WintercityYXE

A city in a province over is also embracing its cooler climate. Saskatoon has a winter recreation strategy called WintercityYXE, which has the goal of swapping any negative perceptions of winter with positive ones.

The intent of the strategy “is to be broad, responding to opportunities associated with winter life, winter design and winter economy, as well as addressing perceptions, attitude and behaviours of citizens to generate a positive winter culture.”

Similar to the Edmonton strategy, WintercityYXE also focuses on four aspects of winter recreation: life, design, culture and economy. For residents, WintercityYXE has been improving the number of opportunities to enjoy the outdoors when snow is on the ground. Some programs include ice art, warming huts, improving lighting and supporting seasonal businesses.

Strategy reports for WintercityYXE are available since 2016.


Lessons learned

A researcher from the University of Alberta reviewed the common strategies and approaches available for municipalities to promote winter recreation, and here is a summary of their findings.

  • Interest in recreation depends on design. Buildings, communities, transit and parks can encourage outdoor recreation in the winter by improving people’s access and opportunities.
  • Historically, the typical approach was to “overprotect” people from cold, snow and ice. This has created gigantic shopping malls, indoor pedestrian pathways and attached garages.
  • There are many opportunities in outdoor recreation. From tourism to public health, it pays to invest in outdoor activities in the winter.


Winter Activation Ideas

In the start of cool weather in 2020, the challenges and opportunities of cold weather were highlighted amongst COVID-19 outbreak. There was more reason to find changes to enjoy recreation during the winter when travel and indoor events were discouraged.

Municipalities were considering the best policies and programs to encourage safe and sustainable outdoor recreation.

A consulting firm based in the United States developed a guide for winter placemaking alongside a challenge for communities to implement low-cost opportunities for communities to encourage winter activities and recreation. Download the guide here.

Subscribe To Our Newsletter

Subscribe To Our Newsletter

Join our mailing list to receive monthly news and updates from the Land-use Knowledge Network.

Thanks! You have successfully subscribed.

Subscribe To Our Newsletter

Subscribe To Our Newsletter

Join our mailing list to receive monthly news and updates from the Land-use Knowledge Network.

Thanks! You have successfully subscribed.