Camping in a winter wonderland How to get comfy and cosy in the cold

The temperature is well below freezing. There’s snow on the ground. Daylight makes an appearance for a few short hours. Let’s go camping!

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 17/12/2021 (292 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

The temperature is well below freezing. There’s snow on the ground. Daylight makes an appearance for a few short hours. Let’s go camping!

While Manitobans are no strangers to the joys of camping in summer, there’s a growing trend toward doing it when a pair of short and flip flops just won’t cut it.

“It’s an opportunity to get spend a few days in the wild at a time of year that not many people get to experience,” said Noel Linsey of The New Tradition Outdoors and a big fan of winter camping. “Snow hanging heavy on pine boughs in the early morning light, the intense quiet of the winter woods after a fresh snowfall or a pine marten playing hide and seek at the edge of camp and the smell of the woods at rest.”

Turtle Mountain Adventure Huts offer a wood burning stove, cooking area, dining space and sleeping quarters in each of its 160 square-foot cabins. (Shel Zolkewich / Winnipeg Free Press)

Options abound for winter camping. Start with your backyard, for real. It’s a practical opportunity to see if you love it or hate it and to test out your gear. If all goes well, it’s time to venture further afield. Some provincial parks remain open for winter camping. In Spruce Woods Provincial Park, the Epinette, Seton and Yellow Quill trail systems have open campsites and the Jackfish Lake cabin is available. In Turtle Mountain Provincial Park, ski in on the Adam Lake trail system to the James Lake cabin for an overnight stay. Best of all, it’s free to use the cabins, but registration is required. Check with the provincial park of your choice for other options.

Linsey said winter camping—especially in the backcountry— is a great way to earn a badge of honour when conditions can be challenging. “You get to put your backcountry skills to the test doing everything from chopping frozen logs, to building the perfect fire, or even setting up your tent in the right spot, that’s out of the wind, protected from snowfall and safe.”

Boreal Plains has two canvas tents tucked into 10 acres of young poplars and spruce north of Gimli. (Alyssa Dueck)

For winter campers that prefer to ease into the trend, Manitoba’s newest eco resorts provide a touch of comfort while maintaining the allure. Turtle Mountain Adventure Huts offer a wood burning stove, cooking area, dining space and sleeping quarters in each of its 160 square foot cabins. They are entirely off grid, so solar lights and an outhouse are standard. Campers need to bring their own food, water, bedding and recreational gear. Firepits and picnic tables are standard at each hut too.

North of Gimli, Boreal Plains has two canvas tents tucked into 10 acres of young poplars and spruce at this off grid destination. The tents are unexpectedly luxurious with raised queen beds, tiny woodstoves, layered area rugs and a small sitting area.

“There’s nothing quite like warming up by a woodstove with snacks, drinks and good company after enjoying the chilly outdoors,” said owner Alyssa Dueck who opened the resort in October with husband Sean.

The tents at Boreal Plains are luxurious with raised queen beds, woodstoves, layered area rugs and a small sitting area. (Alyssa Dueck)

Each tent includes an outdoor firepit and a seating area for enjoying meals cooked over an open fire. Solar lights lead the way to a common area that includes a luxurious sauna and two cedar hot tubs—all powered by firewood.

“We have always had a deep love for the outdoors in all of its seasons and wanted to find a way to help others enjoy it as well,” Dueck said. “Hearing that our guests were able to celebrate a special event, had the chance to stay a few nights for a family getaway, or had never gone camping before has been fun for us.”

shel@shelzolkewich.com

Shel Zolkewich / Winnipeg Free Press
The common area at Boreal Plains includes a luxurious sauna and two cedar hot tubs — all powered by firewood. (Alyssa Dueck)

Rosemary Skillet Chicken

The smell of a woodfire combined with fresh lemon juice and rosemary makes for an unforgettable outdoor meal. It also works well indoors. Simply brown chicken over medium high in an oven-safe skillet, then transfer to a 375F oven for 20 minutes.

6 large chicken thighs (skin on or off)

10 fingerling potatoes, slice in half lengthwise and parboiled

2 sprigs fresh rosemary

4 cloves garlic

½ teaspoon red pepper flakes

2 lemons

2 tbsp olive oil

2 tsp salt

freshly ground black pepper

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Remove leaves from one sprig of rosemary. On a cutting board, combine with garlic, red pepper flakes and salt. Mash into a paste. Transfer to a bowl, add the juice of one lemon (reserve the squeezed halves) and olive oil. Add the chicken and turn to coat.

Place a cast iron frying pan over hot coals. Add chicken and brown on both sides, about five minutes per side. Squeeze the juice of remaining lemon over chicken. Add potatoes, remaining rosemary, reserved lemon halves and black pepper.

Cover with aluminum foil, transfer to medium coals and cook for 20 minutes. Serves two.

Adding a touch of comfort

Noel Linsey said the market is flooded with gizmos and gadgets that can bring a little comfort to even the most extreme experiences. Here’s his list:

For me, the number one item that has improved my life dramatically in the backcountry is a good head lamp. I spent years trying to clamp a flashlight in my mouth so I could work with two hands (setting up a tent in the dark for example).

An insulated sleeping pad is a must. A pad will get you off the cold ground and help your sleeping bag perform correctly.

Finally, the easiest way to bring a touch of comfort to the outdoors, is to bring a good book! It doesn’t have to be Moby Dick but reading at night in a tent is one of my favourite things to do. I’ll often throw in a copy of A Sand County Almanac by Aldo Leopold if I’m feeling particularly outdoorsy, but any book will do!

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