Every part of Canada gets snow. Even the warmest Canadian cities still get between forty and sixty centimetres of snow each year. To get snow each year is just part of being Canadian.
In all of Canada, only three cities have never once managed to build up a snowpack of more than 60 cm, and two of those (Windsor, Oshawa) are very close to the southernmost tip of Canada. The third, Calgary, is in the rain shadow of the Rocky Mountains, where the chinook winds can rush off the mountains and raise the temperatures to t-shirt weather in a matter of hours.
The snowiest location in all of Canada is way up on Mount Fidelity, high on the snowy side of the Rocky Mountains. This towering location on the west side of Canada’s Glacier National Park, 1.8 kilometres above the Trans-Canada Highway, gets 1,471 cm of snow each year. That’s enough snow to bury a four-story building!
Only about 572 cm of snow each year lands on Stewart, British Columbia, a small town which lies close to the border between Alaska’s Panhandle and BC’s Sunshine Coast. On top of all that, Stewart also gets an extra 1,270 millimetres of rain! Before global warming opened up the Northwest Passage, Stewart used to be Canada’s northernmost ice-free port.
It’s odd, but none of the snowiest regions in Canada are in Canada’s far north. We’ve come to realise that it snows the most when the temperature is between 0 and -10. Once the temperature plunges to the -30s and -40s, the days are clear and cold and the skies turn a brilliant, dazzling blue, with very little snow at all.
Vancouver gets the best of both worlds. It’s the warmest city in Canada, with winters that almost never go below freezing. In the last few years, Vancouver proper has been getting a few snowstorms which give it the odd dumping of about ten cm each. These isolated snowstorms, which usually melt the very next day, make Vancouverites feel ill-used.
But right on Vancouver’s northern doorstep, Grouse Mountain gets an average of 827 cm of snow every year. In the winter of 1998-9, Grouse Mountain managed to build up a snowpack of nearly 1000 cm! The slopes of Whistler, which get even more snow, are an easy day trip away.
On Canada’s opposite coast, the small town of Corner Brook, Newfoundland, gets an average of 422 cm of snow each year. When added to Newfoundland’s notorious winds, you’d better keep ahead of the snowdrifts, or they’ll bury the whole town in no time at all.
In the notorious winter of 2008-9, Ottawa, the capital city of Canada and the northernmost capital city in the world, almost caught up with Corner Brook’s normal snowfall. It ended up just three cm short of the snowfall record of 411 cm. Several other cities along that same snowfall corridor, from Georgian Bay to Quebec City, did break snowfall records that year. We remember it as the winter when the storms just kept on coming.
Snow that just keeps on coming is typical of the snowbelt area of Canada. These regions near the Great Lakes don’t have the highest average snowfall in Canada, but that’s only because the Great Lakes snow machine freezes over too soon. However, while the leeward lake is still unfrozen, the cold winds blow over it and pick up moisture which turns to snow as soon as it hits land. It’s a strange part of Canada, where you can go from bright blue skies to howling snow just by travelling ten kilometres. If you get caught underneath a snowbelt snowsquall, you can get 50 cm of snow in a matter of hours.
The snowiest full-fledged city in Canada is Chicoutimi, which gets 342 cm of snow each year. It lies on the north shore of the St. Lawrence River in French-speaking Quebec, a small, rural region of Canada that has given us two of our longest-serving Prime Ministers. Between them, Jean Chretien and Brian Mulroney have been Prime Minister of Canada for twenty out of the last thirty years. When you spend every winter shovelling out that much snow, you learn about patience and endurance.
Among major Canadian skiing resorts, Fernie Alpine Resort, near Mount Fidelity, gets the nod for the most naturally falling snow in Canada, with 1,118 centimetres of snow annually. It edges out Whistler, which comes in at just under a thousand centimetres of snow each year. (The skiing slopes, not the town, which has “only” 411 centimetres of snow annually.) And the best part? Both resorts are within a day’s drive of each other!