'Ready to embrace the cold': Saskatchewan is drawing hardy visitors looking for a winter destination
Ice fishing, dog sledding, northern lights and more among winter tourism opportunities
Weeks of frigid weather might be a groaning point for Saskatchewan residents, but for tourists and international visitors, the winter may actually be its own drawing card.
Tourism Saskatchewan's Jonathan Potts says marketing efforts don't shy away from the province's reputation as a four-season destination, with the winter attracting what he says is a hardier kind of visitor.
"I think they've come ready to embrace the cold and ready to experience it, and it's something new and different," he said, He highlights ice fishing, dog sledding, the northern lights, cross-country skiing and snowmobiling as a few of Saskatchewan's many offerings for tourists.
An elemental experience
Brad Muir, owner and operator of Waskesiu-based Sundogs Excursions, which offers dog-sledding outings, says Canadians may sometimes be put off by extreme cold in trying outdoor activities, but a visitor from Mexico or California may wear it like a "badge of honour" to say they've gone mushing in –29 C weather.
"You get into water over your head, you got to learn to swim. If you get into –20, [in order] to enjoy yourself, you gotta learn to bundle up, and just take it with a grain of salt — or a grain of snow, for that matter," said Muir.
International visitors to the Sundogs are often brought along by family members who want to take their visitors on a quintessentially Canadian adventure, he said.
Most of the world has never ever heard what it's like to be in northern Saskatchewan in the winter, because it's so, so quiet.- Brad Muir, Sundogs Excursions
Their response to the province's wilderness can be "inspirational," Muir said, recalling the awed intake of breath from a French visitor as he entered a tunnel of boughs covered in snow.
"Most of the world has never ever heard what it's like to be in northern Saskatchewan in the winter, because it's so, so quiet," he said. The quiet is punctuated with the noise of ice cracking on a lake, or wolves howling and owls hooting.
"You have to experience that and the quiet. It's beautiful."
'Getting on the map' as winter destination
Both Muir and Potts say the past year has seen an uptick of international visitors, and Potts is hopeful that the media spotlight on Saskatoon's Remai Modern will help grown more interest in travel to the province.
"The permanent collection is world class, and that is going to draw a new type of clientele to Saskatchewan that has never existed before," he said.
Music events or major sporting events like the Memorial Cup or Briar Cup may be a draw for some, while an emerging new culinary scene in Saskatchewan's cities and rural areas is also getting people talking, says Potts.
Not only are there more visitors attracted to Saskatchewan's offerings, says Potts, but he feels there is also increasing pride among residents about what their province has to offer.
"We're getting on the map as a winter destination."