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How should you dress to survive a Saskatchewan winter?

Aisha Adelah had to learn how to dress for Saskathewan winters after taking a job at an outdoor skating rink. She asked Good Question, Saskatchewan for help. (Chanss Lagaden/CBC - image credit)
Aisha Adelah had to learn how to dress for Saskathewan winters after taking a job at an outdoor skating rink. She asked Good Question, Saskatchewan for help. (Chanss Lagaden/CBC - image credit)

The key to surviving a Saskatchewan winter is knowing what to wear.

"I tell you, I almost died," said Jean-Marie Nsabiyumva, who moved to Regina from Burundi, as he reflected on his first Saskatchewan winter. "It was so totally different."

Adapting to the Prairies' cold climate comes with a steep learning curve. Newcomers often ask Saskatchewan people how they get through the long cold winter months.

The right gear can make all the difference.

Aisha Adelah was faced with three questions when she arrived in Saskatoon from Ghana to study as an international student: "What do I wear? Where will I get what I will wear? Can I afford it?"

Adelah put those questions to the new CBC podcast Good Question, Saskatchewan, because she took a job at an outdoor skating rink.

The job description said to prepare for inclement weather.

"I had to actually go look up what inclement weather was because where I'm from, we don't really have so much extreme weather," she said. "So I looked at it and I was like, 'God, do I know what I signed up for?'"

LISTEN| What do I wear to survive a Saskatchewan winter?

It's not uncommon for Saskatchewan temperatures to plunge to –40 C in the winter. The wind chill can make it feel even colder.

Adelah googled the definition of wind chill — how cold it feels on a person's skin — and realized extra layers would be needed.

"Accessories are really important. Like the scarf, the tuque, the gloves, are very, very important," said Adelah.

Supporting newcomers in winter has become a passion for Nancy Broten, owner of Life Outside Gear Exchange in Saskatoon, and Lara Guererro, who works outdoors with the Meewasin Valley Authority.

The two created a presentation for international grad students with instructions on how to properly layer up for a cold winter day.

"We were able to show some of those important things about moisture-wicking base layers and mid layers, and then your shells," said Broten. "It is a learning curve."

Guerror and Broten suggest a down-filled jacket, ski pants and a tuque.

"A down jacket in –35 C is just going to make your life happy," said Broten.

Both have spent plenty of hours outside being active with their own children.

"If you are a newcomer and really find the winters hard, don't underestimate the power of getting out even for 10 or 15, 20 minutes," said Broten.

Guerrero and Broten have learned some tricks over the years.

Make sure your kids' boot liners are removable so they can be taken out to dry more quickly before heading outside again, said Broten.

A down jacket in –35 C is just going to make your life happy. - Nancy Broten

Other tips include mitts being better than gloves when you have to walk 10 or 15 minutes, and buying insulated boots.

"Those little things can make you feel more comfortable and at home, which is what we want people to experience," said Broten.

She also recommends ski goggles on the coldest days and always keeping a neck warmer in your pocket so you – or your children – aren't left without protection.

"There's an expression in German: There's no bad weather, just bad clothing," said Guererro, adding that merino wool socks changed her life.

The challenge that Adelah and other newcomers face is how expensive it can be to gear up for a Saskatchewan winter.

She's grateful that the university was able to provide students with a selection of used winter items.

"I didn't have to use a lot of my own funds to buy clothing. So that was what really, really helped me," said Adelah.

Adelah has now been able to work outside and gain a new skill: skating.

"I'm not so fast, but it's definitely progress. It's my first year in Saskatoon and I learned a lot."

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