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December 16, 2017 9:59 PM   Subscribe

I will be making a business trip to Ottawa in January, and I have some questions about the logistics of dressing and acting professionally in extreme cold weather.

I'll be there for four days, and all the meetings I have to attend will be in the one venue (it's a hotel/conference centre). I'll be staying in a different hotel that looks to be about 15-20 minutes walk away.

(1) Is it feasible to assume I can walk to and from my hotel every day? Or will it be too cold? Too dark?
(2) What shoes should I have? Usually for a business trip I would wear pumps with a low heel that were ok to walk in, but I am guessing these won't be suitable for wearing in cold snowy weather? Is it usual to wear one pair of shoes for walking outside and then change your shoes when you get to where you're going? What do you do with the second pair of shoes if that's the case, do you carry them with you? Leave them in a cloakroom? Or is it ok to wear more practical shoes with business attire?
(3) What do I get to my coat when I get to the venue - will I be expected to carry it around with me all day or is there usually somewhere to leave it?
(4) How warm can I expect it to be indoors - that is, should I be expecting to wear a couple of layers under my suit, or will that leave me overheating?

And finally, is there anything else someone from a sub-tropical climate should know before setting off?
posted by Gwendoline Mary to Travel & Transportation around Canada (11 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Ottawa native here.

1 - People do commute on foot, but those that do are dressed for it: long coat, mitts, hats and boots. I'd suggest that you plan uber or taxis for getting back and forth.

2 - Expect anything from wet slush near freezing to quite cold and icy (-20 C/-5 F). Snow is entirely possible. Boots are very highly desirable outside. Heels, in particular, are not practical for any distance in ice or snow, and the weather and the salt on the roads can easily damage nice leather. I'd want at least hiking boots or better, insulated winter boots to go outside of any length of time.

3 - Bring a heavy coat. There will be provisions for coats wherever you're going at that time of year. Everyone else will have one too. A hat, scarf and mitts are a good idea too.

4 - Standard room temps in winter is usually 20 C (68 C), but cool drafts in the low 60s are pretty commonly encountered. You may to to bring a shawl or shoulder scarf for indoors, at least until you know what you're up against. Many women, in particular, find business/business casual cool in winter, even with a jacket. Imagine air conditioning turned up too high.

Going outside, as well as hat and mitts and boots, don't forget a scarf or muffler for you neck. Many coats open at the throat and can be very cold in a wind.
posted by bonehead at 10:19 PM on December 16, 2017 [9 favorites]

Dressing upwise, if you're dealing with government or finance, expect old school and formal, comparable to DC, stuffy even. If you're meeting the high-tech crowd it will be much less formal, though even there the biz folks may well be in suits.
posted by bonehead at 10:23 PM on December 16, 2017

It is not uncommon even in moderately formal situations to need a moment on entering a venue to 'get organized into indoor mode'. It is common to have different footware with you (especially ladies) and a heavy coat so venues usually accommodate this. Ottawa can be nasty cold! If you dress in several layers under you will likely be uncomfortable but a warm scarf or a very dressy cardigan (depending on your outfit) may well be welcome. If you're not used to cold/icey weather plan on a taxi for sure. Ottawa also had some great outdoor activities as well so if you will have any free time bring some warm less dressy clothes and try and get out a bit. It really is a great city!
posted by Northbysomewhatcrazy at 10:38 PM on December 16, 2017 [2 favorites]

If at all feasible, I'd be trying to switch my hotel and stay in the one with the conference. Understanding that this is unlikely, I'll add to the above:

1 - If you choose to walk give yourself more time. Maybe Ottawa is better than London, but sometimes sidewalks are not well maintained. You may be dealing with ice, snow, slush or navigating over snowballs at corners.

2 - you might, maybe, be able to get away with a nice insulated ankle boot if you really don't want to change footwear. Plan to wipe and dry these at the venue though so they don't dry and leave you with salt stains.

3 - Yes, yes, yes to a properly warm winter coat, hat and gloves.
posted by MandaSayGrr at 1:25 AM on December 17, 2017

I would be calling up the conference hotel and asking them some of these questions. If they regularly act as a conference center, this won't be the first time they've answered regarding the logistics of all this. I'm not from Ottawa, but wear business casual and regularly commute by subway and walking in Boston. I want to emphasize that you absolutely should not try to walk in heels outside, even for a short distance. It may look a tiny bit silly arriving to a conference in boots and hat and gloves and winter boots but I guarantee that's standard office worker practice and it's a lot less silly than a twisted ankle. So ask the hotel whether there's any place to change at the conference center, where to stash your boots and coat. They must have some arrangement for this. For example when we interview candidates at my company we always advised them that we would have time to change out of winter gear and a cloak room to stash it in. While you're asking them that ask them what temperature they'll be keeping the rooms at. Plan for a few degrees lower than that.
posted by peacheater at 3:32 AM on December 17, 2017 [6 favorites]

Travel options are limited downtown to foot, surface buses and cabs/uber. We don't have LRT (yet). Pedestrian snow clearing is actually a municipal priority, particularly in the core, but the sidewalks can still be icy and will definitely be slushy/salty.
posted by bonehead at 8:02 AM on December 17, 2017

I'm in Maine. For a muffler, I often wear a wool pashmina that I can use as a shawl if the room is quite chilly. If it's a suit environment, a lighter weight version or a large light wool scarf. Even a large silk scarf adds warmth. If you are worried about being cold, LL Bean sells silk long underwear. I have several pieces; light, not bulky & warm. easy to remove and put in your satchel if you get too warm. Many people here wear boots and carry shoes to change in to, totally expected. Sidewalks may also be heavily salted, and salty water will get on pretty leather dress boots and when it dries, will leave a line of salt. It can usually be cleaned, just be forewarned. Suede gets ruined by salt.
posted by theora55 at 9:41 AM on December 17, 2017

When I walked to work in -20 I wore tights under my suit pants and was still freezing on the walk (and overly warm inside). My face was pink and I looked disheveled (nose running, etc) upon arrival. Plan alternate transportation if the weather is very cold if you are concerned about appearance.
posted by crazycanuck at 10:15 AM on December 17, 2017

It will be very cold and dark at the end of the day, and a 15 minute walk will be very unpleasant unless you are appropriately dressed and acclimatized to the cold (and maybe even then). The good news is that Ottawa is one of the safest cities in the world, but I would still seriously considering cabbing it, at least in the evening.

Nobody is going to be wearing their summer best dress shoes outside this time of year. They will either be wearing office-appropriate stylish winter boots, or they will be wearing their bulky boots and bringing their dress shoes with them to change into at the venue. Some people will be wearing outdoor booties over their dress shoes, but that's not super common.

Any conference venue in Canada will have plenty of space set aside for you to leave your boots and jacket.

You will want a long overcoat, a hat, gloves, a scarf, and (if you're planning to wear a skirt) leg warmers. Even if you're wearing pants, you'll want to give some consideration to the material because the cold wind will blow right through thin fabric if your overcoat is less than ankle length.

As for indoor climate control, it won't be chilly. Expect something around 20 degrees celsius, though some places really crank the heat up uncomfortably in the winter. After you've shed your outerwear, you should be left in something comfortable for a pleasant spring day. Anything more and you'll likely be too warm.
posted by 256 at 11:42 AM on December 17, 2017 [1 favorite]

I'm from the northeast US which is far less snowy and cold on the average and even for a conservative/stuffy business meeting it's extremely common for folks to show up in parkas and boots and change shoes. I do not know any women who wear heels to commute in NYC winters (which are pretty mild); even in spring/summer/fall it's standard to wear sneakers instead and change either right outside or at your desk.

One thing to note is that Ottawa is crazy cold - if I layered I would be good for a 10-20 min commute but I have a lot of winter/snowboarding gear. Most of my winter clothes would not be suitable for below freezing even for that short of a walk.

I would plan to cab to and from unless you have or want a very nice winter coat and boots, and call the venue regarding coat check/boot check. Most venues here will basically take anything you give them (I can't fathom a conference or hotel not taking a big jacket and a bag with boots in them) and have things like late suitcase pick up on the last day for conferences.
posted by love2potato at 11:48 AM on December 17, 2017

Oh this brings back memories of my interviews in Ottawa (I'm from Vancouver where it doesn't really snow) during a severe cold snap and my idea of boots at that point were a pair knee-high stiletto boots that I nearly died walking six blocks in because I was SO COLD and then I lost one of my gloves and had to walk around with my hand in my pocket. Oh boy that was fun... and then I moved to Ottawa, so I'm an old pro at this kind of stuff now. Heh.

Although I walk or bike almost everywhere in winter in Ottawa, for you trip I echo the recommendation of cabbing or ubering to your meetings, largely because even if a distance is marked as a 15-20 minute walk, often these estimates take routes that aren't cleared in winter and will be even longer than that because you'll have to detour somewhat. Even then, you might want to wear a different pair of shoes to protect yours from the aforementioned salt - they use A LOT here. Plus, I suspect you won't have adequate clothing for the weather - January here is usually really cold and blustery and it's hard to keep warm if you don't know how to.
posted by urbanlenny at 12:03 PM on December 18, 2017

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