Teambuilding with bison in the Winnipeg winter

December 12, 2017
At The Winnipeg Chamber, we believe in the importance of bringing a work team onto the same page. Every year, we take a retreat from our daily work to evaluate our priorities, break down silo walls and bond. And we see the effectiveness of this “reset” when we return to work, without question.
You may think the colder season means your team retreat has to be indoors. But this is Winnipeg and we own winter. We sat down with with Kalyn Murdock, Tourism and Events Coordinator at FortWhyte Alive, to ask how the award-winning nature centre makes the chilly weather work for work teams.

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The Winnipeg Chamber: What’s the best feedback you’ve ever had from a group who came for teambuilding?
Kalyn Murdock: Overall we hear a lot about how much more fun their days are here than at a regular day of meetings. Some of our biggest reactions have come from things that just happen here naturally so we can’t always plan for it. Everything from bison calves born while we’re in the field on a safari to spotting eagles and coyotes out on the hunt. We try to bring that message of adaptability and flexibility into our reflections on the day and see huge benefits to stepping just a little bit outside of your comfort zone.WC: What’s a moment that happens at FortWhyte Alive that can’t happen anywhere else? What can people do?
KM: Everything about spending time outside at FortWhyte Alive is different than what you’d get at a meeting elsewhere. It’s incredible for mental health to just be able to step out of the boardroom onto a shady nature trail or a deck overlooking a lake. We get a lot of comments about how refreshing it was and how invigorated their group felt for their brainstorming session after spending some time immersed in nature. Our programs have a huge range. From formal teambuilding to photography scavenger hunts, from hands-on navigation workshops to canoeing and spear throwing, we’ve got you covered.


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WC: How involved are your team members in creating the experience?
KM: Extremely! As a matter of fact our specialty is customizing activities into the perfect fit for a group’s day. It helps keep things fresh and inspiring for us so we’re always willing to tweak existing programs or create something entirely new based on what’s needed that day. We have lots of suggestions to make and we work closely with the meeting’s organizers to come up with a good fit.WC: How do your room rates work?
KM: Our posted room rates are typically for daytime rentals. Most of the year we’re open 9-5pm but we get a fair amount of requests for smaller dinners in the evenings which aren’t quite as good of a fit. We operate as a large event space in the evenings so we host lots of weddings, big holiday parties, awards ceremonies, etc. For smaller dinners we have our Goose Flight Feasts in September and October where the cafe stays open late and you can watch thousands of geese descend on the lake for the night just after sunset. It’s a pretty unique dining opportunity.


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WC: What do you personally love about winter?
It’s just such a different way to experience the outdoors. I adore winter because 1.) I make sure to take part in winter specific activities and 2.) I DRESS WARMLY. Those are my absolute top tips for enjoying the winter months and it’s amazing how your attitude will shift by doing those two simple things. No one likes being cold but it’s really easy to like being in the cold if you’re dressed and doing something uniquely fun.WC: How does FortWhyte Alive live up to Winnipeg’s spirit of embracing winter?
KM: By offering a range of outdoor activities and making winter fun accessible. We have toboggans for the slide that are free to borrow with admission, we have snowshoes to rent, groomed ski trails, walking trails, etc. We’re open every day of the year except for Christmas and we try really hard to plan fun public programs that anyone could sign up for and get a kick out of.

For teambuilding in the winter one of my favorite things to do is the Inuit Blanket Toss. We stand as a group around a circular blanket and through teamwork we launch eager volunteers up into the air and – this is the important part – catch them for a safe return to the ground. It’s an exhilarating example of what you can accomplish when you’re all “pulling together”.

Humans aren’t meant to hibernate – much better to celebrate!

WC: What’s the most popular dishes people can get on site?
KM: Bison burgers are always a go to. They’re tasty, there’s a novelty factor, plus they’re extremely local and ethical as a meat source. For evenings our cafe offers amazing customized evening meals but I’d say we get the biggest feedback on our nacho bar.

Also, bonfire roasted bannock is always a big hit. Most of our groups end their programs with a bonfire and a snack and it’s a natural way to debrief the day while roasting your own bread over the fire.

To investigate the opportunity of taking your group to FortWhyte Alive, explore their corporate booking page.