BLUE MOUNTAINS, Ontario — To become a Canadian citizen, immigrants must swear allegiance to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, prove their proficiency in English or French and demonstrate that they understand the symbolic significance of the hallowed maple leaf.
But the road to becoming Canadian, to truly feel this northern land’s cultural identity in one’s breakable bones, is a journey that increasingly propels immigrants down a gentle slope suitable for beginners: the snow-dusted bunny hill.
Eager to embrace the Canadian way of life, or simply to assuage the cabin fever that accompanies the long frigid months, many immigrants are jamming on their ski boots and hazarding a go at their adopted nation’s quintessential winter pastime.
“In winter there’s nothing else to do,” said Mahendran Arumugam, who moved to Canada in 2014 from the sweltering Indian state of Tamil Nadu. “There’s no point complaining about snow, so you better start enjoying it, and what better way than to start skiing.”
Like other immigrants, Mr. Arumugam, 32, an internet technology worker, was learning to ski at the Blue Mountain ski resort, a picturesque skein of alpine trails about 100 miles north of Toronto.
On a recent Saturday, the public resort was packed with hotshots effortlessly careening down steep — if short — black diamond trails. But there were also hordes of neophytes navigating less precipitous terrain. At the base of the Easy Rider bunny hill, novices strained to hear instructions in a Babel of languages, bending their wobbly knees as they learned to stop by wedging their skis into a V-shape. In the distance, new skiers and snowboarders hurtled down the hill, and often into one another.
“Skiing is a part of Canadian life and culture,” said Rosemary Kanickaraj, 39, an Indian immigrant, upon completing her first ski lessons. “If you plan to stay, you should adapt.”
In recent years, nearly 30 percent of new immigrants have settled in greater Toronto, making Canada’s largest city the top destination for arrivals, according to the 2016 census. Almost half of Toronto’s residents are foreign-born, the highest proportion of any major urban center in Canada.
That makes Blue Mountain a good choice for many to learn the most Canadian-of-hobbies, aided perhaps by the fact that the mountain here is really just a 720-foot-high rocky escarpment and is much gentler on learners, than, say, the 7,160-foot-high peaks of British Columbia’s Whistler or even the 2,871-foot-high slopes of Tremblant, near Montreal.
In a reflection of the region’s dizzying diversity, Blue Mountain employs ski and snowboard instructors who speak 19 languages, among them Dutch, Korean, Polish, Romanian and Greek. Inside the resort’s rental center, Chinese characters were emblazoned on a “ski pickup” sign, and a cacophony of Hindi, Mandarin and English resounded among the jostling crowd.
Xi Feng, 32, a native of China’s temperate Jiangsu Province who moved to Canada in 2015, was seated nearby, tugging furiously on a rented ski boot. Clad in a blinding yellow ski jacket, Ms. Xi looked like a pro, but she had skied only twice before, outside Beijing, the host of the 2022 Winter Olympics.
“Once I moved here I wanted to learn, because skiing is a big thing in Canada,” said Ms. Xi, a beer company strategist who blamed a recently completed M.B.A. for delaying her ski education.
Ms. Xi said she planned to start with the resort’s “newbie” instruction program before attempting more difficult terrain. “I need to practice a little,” she said as her husband, Du Cheng, proffered the other boot.
Mr. Du, 35, who goes by the name Duke, said he would not be skiing due to a back injury, though he did not sound particularly miffed. “I’ll be warm in the lodge drinking coffee,” he said.
With skis and poles clutched tightly in her pink gloves, Ms. Xi lumbered toward the bunny hill for lessons. Then it was up the “magic carpet,” a moving walkway that gradually ascends the hill.
There on the precipice, her crimson jacket and blue ski goggles gleaming in the winter sun, stood Ma Rong, 32, who had moved to Canada from China just two weeks earlier. As her husband and young daughter anxiously watched from the bottom of the hill, Ms. Ma began her descent, employing a technique best described as riding an elliptical machine in slow motion, on a pair of skis.
Gaining a bit of speed, she narrowly avoided a man in orange snow pants, and for several seconds it appeared that Ms. Ma was going to conquer Easy Rider unscathed. But then things got a little crazy: A prostrate woman had caused a small pileup, and Ms. Ma was heading straight for it.
Desperate to prevent a collision, Ms. Ma pulled the emergency brake (also known as sitting down), and came to rest just inches away from the human tangle.
“It’s easy,” she said breathlessly as she made her way back up the hill.
Similarly unfazed was her husband, Gu Jun, who was helping their 4-year-old daughter, Shun Yu, slide across the snow in a pair of tiny skis. Mr. Gu, 32, a bank employee, relocated from the Chinese city of Nanjing to Toronto in 2016, and said he planned to obtain Canadian permanent residency this year. Learning to ski, he said, is an ideal way for his family to assimilate. “It’s a very Canadian sport,” he said.
Mike Wong, a Blue Mountain instructor raised in Hong Kong, learned to ski after moving to Toronto 10 years ago. Back then, he said, there were not many Chinese on the slopes. But as immigration from mainland China has soared, an increasing number of Chinese are making their way to the resort.
“They’re more willing to learn new things and adapt to the mainstream,” said Mr. Wong, who speaks Mandarin and Cantonese.
Occasionally, Mr. Wong said, the newcomers’ zeal overwhelms any sense of caution. “Some just jump onto the hill and give it a try, rather than come to the learning area with an instructor,” he said.
Mr. Wong said that many older native-born Canadians had little interest in learning how to ski, but that Chinese immigrants in their 50s and 60s often joined their children on the slopes.
Inside the lodge, a house band warbled its way through a Fleetwood Mac tune as the bruised and battered grazed on hamburgers and poutine, the gooey morass of potatoes and cheese curds that was born in Quebec and is popular across Canada. Others were simply seeking respite from the bitter cold.
As he headed back out to the resort’s advanced-level black diamond runs, Du Shan, 36, a web developer, said he had begun skiing shortly after immigrating from China as a teenager. Urged on by his father, Mr. Du promptly fell in love with the sport’s “need for speed,” he said, and has gone skiing several times every winter since then.
“Most Chinese don’t ski, but my dad wanted to make sure I understood the culture,” he said, pulling on his gloves. “When I first got here, he told me I’ve got to try something Canadian. Now I know what he meant.”