Living in Yellowknife

How to survive your first winter in Yellowknife

So you are new to Yellowknife. You moved here in June and the sun was shining and you couldn’t have been happier about how truly spectacular the summers are here in Yellowknife; 24 hours of sunlight, one of the warmest places in Canada and so much to do. It was almost hard to believe you were in the sub-arctic, but now reality is sinking in. It is October and it is getting cooler and snow is threatening to fall. While the rest of Canada still enjoys warm days and crisp evenings, you can feel old man winter creeping in. Never fear though, Yellowknife in the winter is one of the best places to be and it doesn’t matter what type of person you are there is something for everyone. And this is exactly what we are going to try to explain in this post.

Clothing – Dress for the weather – Dress in layers

As much as you may not want to, you will, at some point, need to venture outside. Maybe to get to work, school or to restock on chunky soup at the Grocery Stores. You need to cover your skin and the important parts of your body. The winter weather in Yellowknife is drier than most southern places; there is less moisture in the air, which means when you might not feel the cold but you can still get frostbite. The most important thing to do is cover up as much skin as possibleFrost Bite can happen very quickly and sometimes unnoticeable. You should focus on your head, hands, and feet as they will be the first to get cold as your body naturally redirects blood inwards.

There are a couple good places in Yellowknife to buy winter gear and my advice is to invest your money on the good stuff if you want to be comfortable. Buying a Canada Goose parka is a good option, but don’t forget to dress in layers. A general rule of thumb about dressing in layers is to have as many layers on as the first digit of the temperature. For example, if it is -40ºC, you’d want at least 4 layers on.

Your base layer should be skin-tight or close to it so that moisture doesn’t get trapped right against your body. Merino-wool is often hailed as the best material for this, but other synthetic fabrics also work. Avoid cotton.

Your middle layers, note that you can have multiple middle layers, should be something like a long sleeve shirt, flannel shirt and/or a fleece sweater. You want these layers to be very breathable so moisture can escape. We often wear two or three middle layers and add to them as it gets colder.

Your outer layer is referred to as your shell. More often than not in Yellowknife you will notice this being a goose-down Canada Goose jacket. They are by far the best for sitting around and aurora gazing. If, however, you’re actively moving, something lighter might be more ideal. This layer should protect you from the snow and wind but also keep in your body heat.

For snow pants, we go with a simpler two-layer system. A thermal base layer and an outer layer, you can, of course, add middle layers.

Let’s not forget your extremities. You’ll want a windproof hat, or toque, scarf/neck warmer/balaclava, and mitts, not gloves, or at least small gloves with larger mitts over them. Your boots should have good insulation. You will be standing a lot and maybe in the snow. Sorels, Stegers or mukluks are all a good idea.

Now that you have clothing figured out, it is time for you to venture out and make the most of winter.

Go Outside – Embrace Yellowknife Winter Activities

If you don’t do anything over the winter, you will become depressed and fat and end up not liking Yellowknife at all, which makes me really sad. One of the most recommended things to do over the winter is to get outside and enjoy it.

There are many activities and places you can end up, here are 5 you can do on a frozen lake, but let’s look into some more.

  • Cross-country Skiing – With Yellowknife’s abundance of frozen lakes there is endless trails you can explore. Grab a friend and head out on Back Bay and see where you end up. If you are feeling really adventurous, try Skijoring.
  • Kite-skiing – If you really want to try an extreme sport, find someone to take you out kite-skiing. You can glide across Yellowknife Bay being pulled by a giant kite, just watch out for traffic on the ice road.
  • Hiking  – Around Yellowknife and up the Ingraham Trail there are many hiking trails that we all use in the summer, but in the winter they are just as pretty. All are marked and many are actually easier to follow in the winter because of the snow. Don’t forget to take your camera.
  • Snowmobiling – This one is a no-brainer and one everyone needs to try. There is an extensive trail system that weaves in and out of City Limits for your pleasure. Many longtime residents will have snowmobiles but there is also a place to rent them for short periods of time.
  • Ice Fishing – Find a local and get them to take you to their secret fishing spot. Drill a hole, drop a line and sit back and have a good time. Bonus if you have a fresh fish fry at the end of the day too.
  • Dog Sledding – If you are really new to Yellowknife and want to see a traditional way of travel, go on a Dog Sled tour. They are quite affordable and a lot of fun. Some even offer Aurora Viewing while on the ride.

Stay Warm – Visit a local Pub or Coffee Shop

Yellowknife has a very active pub scene. This isn’t because we love to drink all the time, it’s because it is a great place to congregate and meet up with old friends and meet new friends. When it is the dead of winter and you walk into a place that is overflowing with warmth, light, people, and laughter, you’ll feel welcomed and comfortable. That same can be said about some of the coffee shops in town. Everyone starts to know everyone else because in some cases you don’t have a choice.

Often times establishments will host musicians or other local events. As a matter a fact I’ll bet in the winter there is something happening every single weekend, from jam nights at Javaroma, fundraisers at the Top Knight, music at Twist or an eating contest at Coyotes, you’ll definitely find something you’ll love.

Stay Warm – Visit a Yellowknife Sports Facility

If the bar scene isn’t your cup of tea, that is quite all right, there is still much to keep you busy throughout the winter like sports. The City of Yellowknife has many facilities available for you to use.

  • Fieldhouse – Here you could use one of the two AstroTurf pitches for soccer, volleyball, football, ultimate frisbee, etc. Or you could run, walk or stroll on the track that loops around the inside of the building.
  • Multiplex – Two Ice Surfaces are available to use at the Multiplex as well as the DND Gymnasium, a workout space and the gymnastics club.
  • Ruth Inch Memorial Pool – For all your swimming needs, the Ruth Inch Memorial Pool is the place. Open early, open late.
  • Library – Maybe not an actual sport, but still a Yellowknife Facility, the Library is downtown inside the YK Centre Square Mall is a great place to hang out and read on cold winter days.

Stay Healthy – Get some sunlight

When I say stay healthy I don’t necessarily mean stay active and exercise. What I’m referring to here is make sure you are getting enough Vitamin D.

Taking vitamins is something most people do to make up for the lack of sunlight in the winter, but that doesn’t always help everyone. Some people use sunlamps in their homes to emulate sunlight. This helps replenish the amount of sunlight you might get in a day, making you feel more energized and really helps you fight against depression.

Yellowknife Sunset

Keep Your Friends Close

I will leave you with one final point that will make winter in Yellowknife ten times easier. Do everything I mention above with friends. Spending time with friends new and old – and it really isn’t hard in this town to make new ones – is one of the most rewarding and energizing things you can do. Friends in the north quickly become family, they will do things with you, keep you going and be there for you if you need help. Just make sure you are returning the favour.

For tips on how to keep your vehicle operating in the winters without breaking down see these winter vehicle tips and winter vehicle tips part 2.

If you have advice for first time Yellowknifers on how to survive the long winters of the north, please share it below in the comments.


About the author

Kyle Thomas

Kyle grew up in Yellowknife and is a local entrepreneur, writer, baker, and Yellowknife Advocate who is addicted to learning as much as he can about the community and sharing it with anyone who'll listen. In 2009 he developed A website all about living, working and thriving in Yellowknife for residents, newcomers, and visitors.


  • I left three weeks ago to return east but I miss the sunny days and outdoor activities….trails….lakes…Giant Mine Boat Launch…wildlife….bedrock and blue skies. Yellowknife isn’t for everyone but I like it there just fine.

  • Hi there. Absolutely loved reading this article. I have a job waiting for me up there and I am so hoping I can do it. Sounds so beautiful and peaceful. Thank you for this


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