Grounded Snowbirds need help
July 17, 2012 2:51 PM   Subscribe

Snowbird can't fly south this year, help me make it through a Canadian winter, my first. Tell me all you think I need to know about keeping warm and sane.

So, due to circumstances beyond my control, I must spend the coming winter in the Saskatoon, SK area. The past ten years I have spent winter in the U.S. south (MS, TX, FL); prior to that all my winters were on the temperate Oregon Coast. The closest I have come to a "real" winter is in Vancouver, with one week of below freezing weather and 10 inches of snow. I do know how to drive on ice, snow, and in heavy snowing, but am not as experienced as someone who, like, lives in it.

I need to know what I should expect in regard to amount of snow, temperatures, and daylight (and will I be able to see the Northern Lights at all?). Also, clothing! Will not be outside a lot, but have a dog to walk, and the usual errands, shopping, etc. Current outer wear is more suitable to the Pacific Northwest winters. Does my shitzu need some outerwear and/or boots? How do I prepare my old Chevy 454 one ton truck?

As far as where to live, we are apartment hunting ... would it be better to be in the city (Saskatoon) or one of the small rural towns within 40km of it? Anything I specifically need to consider in looking for a rental?

Other information: The Mr. is late 60's with 20% heart capacity, COPD, AF, and recovering from a Pulmonary Embolism in April. I am mid-50's, large, with back problems, arthritis, and multiple other chronic illnesses. i.e. we won't be out cross-country skiing or even snowmobiling.

Truly I am clueless, all advice greatly appreciated. I don't even know what questions to ask, so share anything that seems pertinent. Thanks!
posted by batikrose to Society & Culture (39 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Layers, layers, layers. The key to warmth in the winter. Most people use a 3 layer system if it's going to be very cold and you expect to be outside a bit. Base layer of merino wool, something that will wick away moisture. Try not to use cotton.
Middle layer is usually a fleece.
After that, a shell. Something water/wind proof is what you want here.

Temperatures will be cold, but it's winds and the "windchill" effect that you'll pay attention to. Gloves, hats, and scarves are mandatory: they help protect you from the wind, and keep your head warm.

I am a big fan of longjohns (or similar long underwear).

As for footwear, I would recommend you have some proper insulated boots. I prefer the Sorel style (I can't provide a link, as my work has a very aggressive web filter) combined with warm socks (if it's very cold, I'll wear two pair when going out, the outer pair being heavy wool).
posted by smitt at 3:07 PM on July 17, 2012 [3 favorites]

I like silk long underwear, for it's warmth and lack of bulk/itch. I get mine each year at Sierra trading post, on line. They're cheap and although they're likely to get a run in them, they last the winter.

Buy boots a half size larger, it leaves an air pocket that will use your body heat to warm your toes. Tight boots won't do that. Your feet will be colder. It's nice to have a removable liner, because you can take it out and let it dry. If you lack boots, sneakers with a rubber sole can do in a pinch -- they'll insulate your feet from the cold ground, but try not to get them wet.

I like yaktrax for slipping over my boots for walking outside. It's a pain in the ass to put them on and off, but I'm much steadier on my feet. You won't slip and fall.

Fleece is a nice layer, but won't protect you from a cold wind without that outer shell, so I don't use unlined fleece gloves.

I have a knit loop scarf made of polyester that keeps me warm and blocks the wind. It has a checkerboard knit.
posted by vitabellosi at 3:22 PM on July 17, 2012 [1 favorite]

I've lived in a lot of different climates, and it seems to me that winter anywhere without a car (in places that have a winter, even a Pacific Northwest-ish one) is way harder than winter with a car even if that weather is objectively way harsher.

This is because when you have a car, you don't need to spend more than 5 minutes at a time out in the elements if you don't want to. You're going from a parking lot to a heated building. From a heated building to a parking lot.

Contrast that to living somewhere like NYC, where you are going to be trudging through blistering winds chapping your face, through snowbanks, slush puddles, getting your feet soaked, slipping down ice covered subway stairs, waiting an an unheated station, getting out on the other side of the train, trudging through blistering winds and snowbanks. While carrying things. Bags of groceries. Briefcases. Children.

When I was carless in the Pacific NW, the weather wasn't that harsh, but I spent a lot of time cold, wet, trudging, and carrying things.

With a car, no matter how bad the weather gets, as long as your car is in good working order, I think you will be just fine.
posted by cairdeas at 3:25 PM on July 17, 2012

cairdeas: I would be very hesitant to give that advice (ie: "you're fine as long as you got a car") to someone living in Saskatoon... It's a whole different animal. Proper winter gear is important, regardless of if you're driving around or not. Your car might not start, you might slide off the road, etc.
posted by smitt at 3:33 PM on July 17, 2012 [4 favorites]

Spend money to get a really good coat for winter - most people here (similar weather) go for a down-filled parka from a decent brand (ex: the north face). Warmth > style, and nearly everyone else is following the same rule. Same thing goes for winter boots - go quality if you're outside for more than 10-15 minutes on the colder days, or you'll be very unhappy (ex: sorel). I'd go for a nonslip sole to help prevent falls from ice. And of course hats, mitts, scarves etc - good quality ones, not the cheap knitted ones that do nothing when the wind blows.

Other than that regular clothes should be fine if you're not outside for long, but you'll probably want longjohns or similar for dog walks etc on the colder days. Definitely layers help you keep warm without overheating.

I see most people around here with boots for their dogs on the colder days, don't own dogs myself so not sure if they're necessary, but if you're out for any real length of time it seems like a good idea.
posted by randomnity at 3:40 PM on July 17, 2012

During a visit to Canada, I was mostly warm enough with regular winter clothes, but my fil bought me a bunch of those pocket warmers, the ones you crush and keep in your pockets, which I kept in my boots. My feet were so toasty! I totally recommend them.
posted by woolly pageturner at 3:47 PM on July 17, 2012

As for your car, think about having a block heaterkit installed. (link is an example, no affiliation etc etc) You can plug in your car over night on super cold days and the heater keeps the block itself warm so that when you start the car it doesn't take long at all to warm up or use your heater/defrost. Summer time would be a great time to get a good deal on a block heater and have it installed locally.

Also, keeping a winter emergency kit in your car is a good idea. Blankets, snacks, water, flares, extra socks, mittens, lighter/matches etc. Familiarize yourself with scraping ice or using a water de-icing spray to clear ice off your windshield. You can find some good tips here.
posted by Bohemia Mountain at 3:52 PM on July 17, 2012 [3 favorites]

For clothes, layers, as others have said, are more effective than just a really heavy outer coat.

Your dog will appreciate booties and a coat.

For the car, a block heater and winter tires. When it's starting to get cold, winterize your car - get the fluids changed, make sure you have winter washer fluid and good wipers, and that your battery is in decent shape. Build a good emergency kit - it could save your life. A kit should contain (this list is a conflated version of several found online and so could is probably overkill):

Cell phone charger
Blanket (special "survival" blankets are best)
Spare coat
Boots/wool socks
Safety triangle or flares
Flashlight (wind-up or with spare batteries)
Spare engine fluids such as oil, pre-mixed coolant and windshield fluid
Small containers of gas line antifreeze and lock de-icer
Ice scraper and brush
Battery jumper cables
Light weight shovel
Sand or kitty litter/traction mats
Tow chain
Bungee cord
First aid kit
Tire chains (I say these aren't necessary if you have decent winter tires)
Food that won't spoil, such as energy/granola bars, chocolate
Bottled water (plastic bottles that won't break if the water freezes)
Paper towels
Matches and a "survival" candle in a deep can (to warm hands, heat a drink or use as an emergency light)
Fire extinguisher
Reflective vest
posted by Dasein at 3:53 PM on July 17, 2012 [4 favorites]

I happen to live in Saskatoon, SK, so feel free to ask my any followup questions you may have.

Regarding snow fall:
Saskatoon receives most of its annual precipitation from snowfall, however, since snow is so common, the city is rather good at dealing with its removal. Residents are usually pretty good about shovelling their walkways as well.

Regarding temperatures:
Expect the temperature to start to drop and first snow to fall in October and begin to rise again in April. You can expect temperatures like October -5C, November -10C, December -15C, January -20C, February -20C, March -15C, and April +5C. Expect a decent variation in day to day temperatures. Do keep in mind that these are dry cold temperatures and do not bite like cold temperatures on the coast. Also, our last winter was incredibly weird (and mild) with many days being +14C in January (generally the coldest month).

Regarding daylight:
Sunrise is 9am and sunset is 5pm in January. Saskatoon does however tend to get an incredible about of days with clear skies. Expect lots of sun. Northern lights can be seen within the city at times, though this is not the norm.

Regarding your dog:
On days when the weather is overly cold -28C (or colder), I would recommend staying indoors. The shitzu is a small dog and can get exercise inside a house or apartment.

Regarding apartment hunting:
Given your situation, I would recommend staying in the city, rather than a small town, and would try to find a rental near 8th street and Acadia. The nearby mall has underground parking which can make things like shopping and getting groceries a lot easier.

Regarding cold weather clothing:
Get a nice set of mitts (not gloves), a toque (not a hat), and either a neck warmer or a warm scarf. Outfit yourself with a warm coat - duck down makes a great insulator. As has been mentioned above, dress in layers so you can adapt to the variable weather (rather than just having a super warm coat that is too insulating on warmer days). Remember its the air between layers that keeps you warm, so don't wrap yourself up too tight in clothes. Also, consider getting a set of winter boots with tread to help avoid falls.

Most of all don't fret; despite the cold, Saskatoon is a beautiful city with great people. I'm sure you will enjoy your time here.
posted by axismundi at 3:56 PM on July 17, 2012 [7 favorites]

Be prepared for everything to take twice as long and be surprisingly exhausting. I've experienced two winters now in Northern England and I'm still caught off guard by the following:

  • How long it takes to remove, carry and reapply layers of clothing. Especially when you get the order of operations all wrong (i.e. put mittens on before you located your house keys, which are in a pocket on a bottom layer of clothing...AAARGH).
  • How oppressive a dark sky is. So many days where I felt like my world was a giant, smothering house fort. I just wanted to peel back the sky and reveal the light. You can't. It can be extremely frustrating. Lots of Vitamin D tablets, even if you think they're BS.
  • How much you sweat, even when it's cold. I think I did more laundry in winter than any other season.
  • How much you feel like a giant marshmallow that could end up ass over teakettle at any moment (due to slippery ice). It's weird, because that kind of messes with your identity in this unexpected way. I don't feel at all awesome and sexy in winter. I feel like a padded dorkasaurus. YMMV.
  • If you're out, get what you need and then some. Soooo many times when I felt stuck at the house, unexpectedly snowed in and thinking to myself, "dammit, why didn't I buy toilet paper/hot cocoa/light bulbs/cheese/[anything that could make me sane or happy] when I was out. The store was RIGHT THERE! Trust me, you won't be motivated to go brave it again once your clothes are cold and wet.

    There are good things about winter. Unfortunately, I don't know what they are yet. Good luck.

  • posted by iamkimiam at 3:59 PM on July 17, 2012 [1 favorite]

    With regards to your shih tzu, you will want to keep their coat long through out the winter for warmth, but they should be fine without outterware unless you want to keep them shaved or trimmed back. Shih tzus in generally are more sensitive to warmer climates than cooler ones.
    posted by Quincy at 4:14 PM on July 17, 2012

    posted by Quincy at 4:15 PM on July 17, 2012

    Layers, layers, layers. The key to warmth in the winter. Most people use a 3 layer system if it's going to be very cold and you expect to be outside a bit. Base layer of merino wool, something that will wick away moisture. Try not to use cotton.

    Middle layer is usually a fleece.

    After that, a shell. Something water/wind proof is what you want here.

    The OP would rapidly freeze to death in that outfit where they live. Get a good down parka, or a full length down coat even, mittens, a lined hat that covers your ears and warm boots (I like sheepskin for really cold, something Sorel like for wet snow). Get a pair of slip on boots for running errands. And a fleece neck gaitor.
    posted by fshgrl at 4:17 PM on July 17, 2012

    Regarding sanity: make sure you have a hobby you can do at home. You are not going to get out as much in the winter, even to other non-outside-places. You are going to do a lot of staying at home, so find a way to enjoy that time!
    posted by fullerenedream at 4:18 PM on July 17, 2012

    If you can afford it and if there's one near you, get your winter clothes at Mountain Equipment Co-op. You will not regret it!
    posted by fullerenedream at 4:20 PM on July 17, 2012

    Oh and look into a remote start for your car if you don't have a garage. A block heater is mandatory, remote start is a luxury but if you're mobility impaired its probably worth it.
    posted by fshgrl at 4:20 PM on July 17, 2012 [1 favorite]

    I would spend a decent amount of money on good boots with good traction. Before I got boots, I slipped and fell on ice at least once every winter. Given what you mentioned about your physical condition, even though you won't be walking around a whole lot since you have a vehicle, I would make sure to minimize the chances of slipping on ice. (Hell, I'm in my mid-twenties and it's pretty painful for me.)

    I mean, there's no need to get super expensive CRAZY HIKING BOOTS EXTRARDINAIRE or anything-- just something with decent tread.
    posted by andrewesque at 4:22 PM on July 17, 2012

    Also, if you are affected by the short days, and as Saskatoon is so far north you'll get some short winter days -- I find it helpful psychologically to remind yourself that every day past the winter solstice in December, the days are getting longer. They might be pretty damn cold in January and February, but they are slowly but surely getting longer. I know this seems silly, but when it's 5 degrees (Fahrenheit) out I find it very helpful.
    posted by andrewesque at 4:24 PM on July 17, 2012

    I grew up in Regina. Welcome to Saskatchewan!

    As well as winter boots, look into some kind of clip-on spikes for your shoes. It can get slippery, especially with weird and unpredictable weather like we had this past winter--lots of thaw and freeze means lots and lots of ice. It's way to easy to fall and break a wrist, so precautions are worth taking.

    As others have said above, you want a well-insulated parka AND layers. Much of Saskatchewan's cold comes from wind chill, so windproof fabrics are really important. Your PNW clothes will be useful as under-coat layers, or for warmer days. Warm, wind-proof hats, mitts, and scarves are also really important. Make sure you have some mittens with good grip for driving, since you won't want to take them off in the car. (It might be a good idea to buy winter clothes locally, since salespeople will know what you need.)

    For your truck, you'll need winter tires, and do make sure you do have an emergency kit. A block heater is a good idea. When apartment hunting, take parking into consideration; you want a place to plug the car in, or it may be useless when you need it most. I would say you probably want to live in the city. Snow clearing will be more efficient, and your winter driving won't be tested as much.

    I've seen the Northern Lights in Saskatoon even during the summer, so I guess you have a reasonably good chance, but they're not common. In 18 years living in Regina, I only saw the lights here once or twice, so cross your fingers and hope you get lucky!
    posted by snorkmaiden at 5:18 PM on July 17, 2012 [2 favorites]

    Relax. Decent jackets, boots, gloves, hats, scarves, and longjohns are required. Layers, layers, layers. Yaktrax are a great suggestion for icy days.

    Try to get outside and get some sunshine, even if it's just a stroll around the block.

    I have lived many wet winters in Newfoundland and a few in the Canadian Rockies. Apparently Saskatoon only gets an average annual snowfall of 97cm compared to our 322cm. And less snow = less shovelling. And shovelling is evil. You are lucky in this way.
    posted by futureisunwritten at 5:44 PM on July 17, 2012

    A balaclava. Wintersilks has them.
    posted by brujita at 5:45 PM on July 17, 2012

    When you are walking your dog, be conscious of and work to shuck off any tension in your body, especially the large muscle groups. Tension can lead to both cramping and to feeling colder than if you keep your body, arms, and legs fairly loose.

    This may seem like a contradiction of the above, but do not suppress the urge to shiver: this autonomic muscle movement is one of the ways a body knows how to warm up.

    You may want to see if Saskatoon has any indoor walking tracks or public pathways where you can take your dog.

    Given your physical conditions, you should do what you can to minimize the possibility of needing to shovel or otherwise move much snow. Apartment buildings, covered parking space (with an outlet for your block heater if it's outdoors), and hiring out snow removal you can't avoid can all help.

    If/when it gets really cold, your nose and the rest of your face may need to be covered to prevent frostbite if you'll be unavoidably outside for the length of a dog walk. Here is a decent list of cold weather hazards.
    posted by thatdawnperson at 5:59 PM on July 17, 2012 [2 favorites]

    I have not survived winters (or been to) Canada, but I have survived lots of winters in West Virginia.

    I *love* gloves with the flip-top mitten cover. They are practical and still warm. I like to wear them when I'm driving, and you can still access your fingers when you need to do so.

    I am a really frugal person and I am energy conscious, but if you have to park your car outside, some days it is SO WORTH IT to warm it up before you head out. I have to go down a flight of stairs, walk outside a bit, and then turn my car on and walk back up the stairs, wait, and then walk back down, and it is still so worth it to walk into a warm car.

    If your car doesn't have heated seats, you can purchase a heated seat that attaches to your car seat and plugs into your cigarette lighter. I bought one last year for a friend that was about $25. It might be worth considering, especially with your arthritis and bad back. (I tend to get achy bones in my back if I am in a cold room too long, like my bones are chilled.)

    Finally, if you have to walk outside at all, with your dog for example, I make heated hand warmers out of cracked corn (the kind that squirrels and birds eat) sewed into 100% cotton material with 100% cotton thread. You make the beanbags whatever size you want and then warm them up in the microwave for about 1 minute on high. (Watch to make sure they don't burn, or they will smell bad!) They are reusable as many times as you need and hold their heat pretty well. It is so nice to be able to put your hands in your pockets and feel the warmth. (It is a bit of effort to warm them in the microwave, but so worth it!)

    Memail me if you would like a pair of homemade handwarmers sent to you! I made some for my mailman once and he liked them.
    posted by shortyJBot at 6:00 PM on July 17, 2012

    Welcome! I'm from Saskatoon (born/raised/current resident) and can attest to the fact that it is a beautiful city! The winters can be tough sometimes though. The windchill is what you have to be mindful of - the outside temp may be -20 celcius but with the windchill it may feel like -40 celcius. It definitly can be dangerous to be outside for any amount of time at that temp. I work outside all winter and can attest to this.

    As mentioned above, forget layers and just get a down parka, toque, and mitts. Your pup should definitely have booties and a 'doggy' jacket of some sort.

    As for snow, it just depends on the winter. Some winters are worse than others. If you're specifically looking for an apartment then snow removal may be taken care of for you. Often private property is cleared at the first sign of snow. I think its a necessity to have a truck here in the winter, just make sure if you have to be somewhere, give yourself an extra 15mins or so for travel time!

    FYI - the rental market is brutal right now in Saskatoon, very competitive since the students will be coming back soon. I think a good place to look for apartments is downtown or city park. You may pay a bit more but those are usually priority streets to be cleared, and a directy route to Royal University Hospital (considering the Mr's health problems). I would stay clear of moving to the surrounding area, and just rent in the city.

    As for daylight - I agree with the above poster that the sun comes up around 9am and sets at 5pm in the winter. Sometimes Jan/Feb can be long months in that regard.

    If you have any other questions about the city memail me, I've lived here for many years and would be happy to give you more info.
    posted by kelrae3 at 6:14 PM on July 17, 2012 [1 favorite]

    Thanks for all the great answers! I am truly enlightened and have a place to start now. The Saskatoon area has been our summer home for the past few years, by choice. We stay in an RV Park 30km outside the city, and Mr. wants to find a place nearby; I, however, have the same thoughts expressed here, that for health and other reasons, living in the city would be best. I am intimately familiar with RUH.

    I have seen the northern lights from outside Saskatoon, twice, both in April a year ago. Am hoping to see them again, more clearly.
    posted by batikrose at 7:10 PM on July 17, 2012

    You'll know if you need a block heater in your area, check with other car owners if they have one and what their experience is.

    Nowadays, except in special circumstances, block heaters are not used unless the engine is getting so cold it won't start easily. For today's cars, that's generally temperatures below -20 C. People prefer remote starters. Of course, if you have a city that won't let you use them (idling bylaws) you can either install the block heater (in which case you will have heat quickly) or you can install a fan heater made for cars (hard to find, but they exist at Canadian Tire) which means a warm car, but a long time waiting for heat.

    Or better, if you can't do the remote start, install both the fan heater and the block heater. Use a block heater timer so you don't run up your electric bill. If you don't fancy knocking out freeze plugs, you can get a magnetic block heater that "sticks" to your oil pan. Or, you can visit a mechanic--depending on your vehicle it will range from 30 minutes of labour + $40 in parts all the way up to the "oh God, you have to remove the engine?" level.
    posted by shepd at 7:27 PM on July 17, 2012

    Vitamin D. It is impossible to overemphasize this. Like, 1000 IU/day, minimum.
    posted by sixswitch at 8:25 PM on July 17, 2012 [1 favorite]

    Given the wind, you definitely want your parka to go at least to mid-thigh. You will be hella warmer if your butt and big thigh muscles are covered by your parka. For some reason your shins and calves being exposed to the cold and wind is not NEARLY as cold as your thighs being exposed. Most winterwear stores carry plenty of parkas this length, but people not used to winter don't realize that coats cropped at the waist like they're used to is not the correct answer!

    I also like a fleece jacket or fleece vest for warmer winter weather; a vest helps keep the heat in your chest when it's just a liiiiiiiiiittle too cold for no coat, but wearing a real coat makes you too hot. Nice if you'll be doing much walking in the fall or early spring because you'll get warm, but not quite warm enough to be entirely coatless. Otherwise a fleece jacket is a good between-seasons piece. Also you can wear them indoors as a sweater in the dead of winter.

    I am a fan of the very-long-scarf or two-scarf method of head warming. One scarf you wrap around your neck and tuck the ends down behind your parka's zipper. This keeps the cold from creeping down your collar or sneaking in your zipper (your parka should also have a flap for this!). Scarf two you wrap around over your head and tie under your chin like an old lady for head warmth. (My hair does not play well with winter hats; I go earmuffs or earband and scarf most of the time.) Or you can get one long scarf that you can wrap around your head and neck two or three times and tuck the ends in. I love my long scarf. It looks stylish when I just wrap it once and the ends hang loose, but it's some bad-ass cold protection when I deploy it in multiple wraps.

    I always, always buy brightly-colored scarves because long, dark, cloudy, dreary winters need a pop of color. Brightly-colored coats help for the same reason. (I'm all about bright blue or cardinal red in slightly dressier wool coats, but lord knows there are plenty of fluorescent orange parkas to be had as well!) Men look dashing with a pop of color in a scarf, too. If you wear a brightly-colored coat or scarf, people will compliment you on it all the time, because everybody is sick of dreary and likes to see a little color.
    posted by Eyebrows McGee at 8:30 PM on July 17, 2012

    And get a humidifier if you don't have one. It will get very dry. Keep your place at a decent humidity, or try. Use good skin lotion and lip balm, too.
    posted by wdenton at 8:48 PM on July 17, 2012 [1 favorite]

    About the truck ... it is 20 years old, so a block heater is likely the way to go ... I don't think I can do a remote starter on it. It's also not a very warm truck ... heater works, but ... not well. Could be a problem, hm? Suggestions?
    posted by batikrose at 9:34 PM on July 17, 2012

    As far as being warm in your truck, people [I know, I know] let their cars 'warm up' for sometimes 20 minutes or so if it is very cold. This gives your interior a running start if your heater isn't amazing. More effective would be to find a heated seat cover that plugs into your cigarette lighter. Warming up from the bottom is so much more pleasant and effective. The coldest thing will be your hands, and it is hard to balance between steering wheel grip and warmth.

    For clothing, MEC is amazing but expensive. Mark's work wearhouse has warm things, and good boots at prices that are a bit less crazy.

    You will spend a lot of time indoors, and that isn't a sign of wimpiness or anything. Nobody likes being too cold!

    Don't shovel snow if you can avoid it. There are many heart attacks after every big snowfall. Either rent an apartment where it is not your problem, or pay a neighbourhood kid to do it.
    posted by Acari at 9:49 PM on July 17, 2012

    A dodgy 20-year-old truck that will require some fairly expensive work (winter tires, block heater, cab heater, fluid change, fresh battery etc.) to get it ready for winter will still be a dodgy old truck. Maybe reducing your dependence on it or trading it in would be best. Your inclination towards finding a place close to the services, amenities and public transit of the city center seems well-founded.
    A pair of felt pack winter boots like Kamiks or Sorels will help keep your tootsies warm, dry and non-slippery.
    posted by islander at 10:22 PM on July 17, 2012

    I'm originally from Saskatoon (born and raised), up until 4 months ago.

    First off, Saskatoon's winters aren't *that bad* overall. Usually, between Oct and January you might get a few bouts of -20C weather but they don't last more than a few days, -15 C is normal and that's brisk but not awful, your dog will be fine. January/February will be colder, you'll hit -20 to -25 C more often and maybe -30 to -35 C for a few days. Few people bother going out unnecessarily when it's that cold, don't think you need to brave it. Put on more layers. Lots of layers. On your dog too. There are dog coats and booties available at the pet stores, and let her coat grow long. She'll be fine.

    I would preferentially suggest you go find a used car or (if possible) lease a car short-term in Saskatoon, something front-wheel drive. It should definitely have a block or pan heater - ask, just in case, but it's pretty standard. The front wheel drive is way easier to control in icy conditions - if your truck's rear-wheel drive, without a hefty weight in the back you'll get no traction and your back end will slide out a lot, making you lose control.

    If you want to brave the truck though, well there are such things as interior car warmers you can have plugged inside your car to warm it up. They don't work great though. Also a poor functioning car heat system might make it pretty hard to defrost your windows. Winter tires are nice to have, and you can get studded tires if you intend on keeping your truck. Seriously, keep several sandbags in the back for weight.

    A newer car won't have as much issue with starting in the cold - left unplugged, my 2009 Golf starts just fine in -25C weather with 5w30 synthetic and an immaculate battery. It's not kind to the car though. But you generally plug your in when the temp dips past -10C if it's fussy. If you can find an apartment with underground/enclosed parking, that would be most comfortable.

    The City Park area has some seniors condos/apts right across from the City Hospital which has an emergency department open from 9 am to 8:30 pm., and a small but nice grocery store about 3 blocks away at Princess and 7th Ave. But it's expensive.

    There are also plenty of condos and apartments around Market Mall (Preston and Louise) with lots of seniors in that neighbourhood, lots of them walk around the mall and go to Mulberry's for breakfast/coffee and there's a Safeway for groceries, and Shopper's Drug Mart, and free underground parking. It's usually not busy. At least Saskatoon's fairly small so getting across town to the RUH doesn't take very long, probably 10 minutes from MM, and along a direct route (Preston, then College Drive). This area should be less expensive. You may even find a house (or a floor of a house) to rent instead of an apartment - in which case, make sure you have someone to look after the snow removal, and pick up some road salt for the sidewalks.

    The best mittens are the knitted wool ones you get from the Farmer's Market or artisan craft fairs, with extra tufts of wool on the inside - super insulated.
    posted by lizbunny at 11:08 PM on July 17, 2012 [2 favorites]

    Oh, I thought a block heater WAS an interior car warmer. (I don't drive, guess I shouldn't pretend to know things about cars.)

    I've heard they can be quite effective. One of my parents has arthritis, and has noticed a big difference in winter pain since getting the interior car warmer.
    posted by snorkmaiden at 11:21 PM on July 17, 2012

    I'm a big woman and I get my long underwear from Cabela's. I have about three sets of their mid-weight silk undies and I love them. Try to keep cotton to a minimum when you go outdoors and do not wear cotton socks or have any base layer of cotton. I also find neck gaiters to be warmer than scarves. I often dress in layers with a wind barrier, like my raingear, on the outside but my approach to cold weather can be a little hillbilly.

    Booties for the dog are a great idea. My friends had a cocker spaniel up on the Alaskan North Slope and they would swipe the dog's nose with a waxy lip balm before walks to ward off frostbite.
    posted by Foam Pants at 11:42 PM on July 17, 2012 [1 favorite]

    Keep blankets in your car.
    posted by commitment at 7:09 AM on July 18, 2012

    If you're going to be walking on snow and/or ice, I can strongly recommend these slip-on things for traction, IceTrekkers Diamond Grip brand. In my years in the US upper midwest, I also tried YakTrax and a couple other brands, but in the end, the kinds with the coiled wire or the straight-out spikes never worked well for me (and the coiled wires in particular always seemed to fall apart really fast).

    These guys might look intimidating or like overkill, but really, they were a lifesaver, and I bought a pair for my slip-and-fall-prone boss who had previously shattered a wrist and an ankle from falling on the ice. I found them easy to slip on and off, and sturdy to walk around in. They dig in to snow and ice, but can also handle bare patches of ground, sidewalk, etc. in between snow/ice patches without being slippery. And besides physically, I found them helpful mentally--got rid of my dread of having to go outside, walk the dog, etc. in the wintertime, and I could stand straight and walk instead of crouching around all tensed up waiting for the inevitable slip (I didn't grow up in icy conditions, so I guess I never quite developed the knack).
    posted by theatro at 7:36 AM on July 18, 2012 [1 favorite]

    As a Torontonian who grew up in snowy Buffalo, I'm just going to give you a bit of weird advice that involves behaviour more than products.

    Everything takes a little longer in the snow. Brush up on winter driving tips, like "steer in the direction of the skid". Remember that other people forget how to drive. Parking spaces disappear with piles of snow and clearing the streets for plowing. If you're driving, little kids get excited and goof off, and even grown people don't always think about what they're doing. Always leave extra distance for stopping and check your blind spots.

    So, plan on it taking longer to get to appointments, and maybe case the places you go for parking options nearby. If you have to clear your vehicle and shovel out, defrost/defog the windows and drive more carefully, making appointments during mid-day rather than rush hours will help. Getting a place with covered parking in Toronto is worth thousands of dollars - I don't know what it's like there, but it's worth it. With street parking, there is nothing more frustrating than clearing your car and shoveling out a few spots, then having others come from blocks away to camp out in it for days. If you're able to get a disabled parking permit, you probably should.

    When you walk, on days when there's a bit of a thaw, keep back from the curbs so you don't get soaked by cars driving through puddles of street grimy slush. Not everybody clears their windows enough to really see you, so wearing a brighter scarf or coat does help. Getting everywhere takes longer on foot too, as not everyone clears sidewalks promptly, and even crossing the street if you're less mobile becomes a safety issue when vehicles can't stop as fast, so use crosswalks and be careful if snowbanks make you less visible.

    For your dog, booties can be a good idea for reasons of salt and de-icers, more than the cold. I believe my dog could win an Oscar for her performance of "I got salt in my paw and can't possibly take another step."
    posted by peagood at 8:05 AM on July 18, 2012

    Your heater core is plugged. You need to either get it fixed by a shop (in which case they are likely to rip apart your dash and charge you lots to replace the $50 heater core itself, at least $500 for the labour) or you'll need to ghetto fix it yourself (by flushing it). Here's how you can ghetto fix it. Be warned, you may end up putting holes in it as you flush it with stronger stuff, in which case you will have the choice of a shop fixing it or bypassing it with hose and having no heat at all.

    I'm sure someone you know can help you with that. It's an hours work, tops.

    If the fix works, then your problem is solved, have a happy day. You will want to do this in the summer, because in the winter you're going to risk adding freezing water to your cooling system and that is a terrible idea (ruined engine). Also, in the winter, working on cars outside sucks horribly so you won't get even friends offering to help. Be sure to fill the cooling system with a proper 50/50 antifreeze mix (read the bottle to ensure it's compatible with all coolants/universal).

    Adding a remote starter to an old vehicle is easier than adding one to a new vehicle. It will be as simple as pie. An alarm shop would do it for ~$200. I'm assuming your doors are manual, in which case it will be even cheaper, since you really only need the starter hookup, not the door locks.

    A block heater is generally cheap to put in, especially on an old truck where the work is always easier, any mechanic charging you more than $100 is ripping you off. This is the work they'll do, so you can see it's easy as pie.

    Snow tires are a great idea. If you buy a new car, you'll have to buy them anyways, so don't let that control your decision.

    If you really want to buy a new battery, again, anyone can help you with that, the only obstacle is the battery is very heavy. It'll cost $100, but it might give you peace of mind.

    Last tip: Get CAA. :)
    posted by shepd at 12:31 AM on July 23, 2012

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