In Alberta snow has fallen, and stuck, as early as August.
Whether we like to admit it or not, Canada is a winter country and Alberta is true to that reality.
Paper drink umbrellas and lounging chairs on sandy beaches don’t define us. Snowshoes and skis over fire places do. And there is one thing that all who inhabit this nearly perpetually frozen land will recognize as truly Canadian – the Hudson’s Bay blanket. Yes, a white, heavy blanket is – if by necessity – one of our most recognizable icons.
Yet, many Albertans survive winter by running from warm car to warm building, spending long winter nights in front of the tube and with the only thing keeping them sane being their dream of a Cuban vacation or hope that maybe, just maybe, it will be warm enough for sandals by June.
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But then, there are those Albertans who don’t just survive winter but thrive in it and find the beauty and poetry in a quiet, clear winter night or in the crunch of the fresh snow under one’s feet.
And for those adventurous enough to wander into the long cold winter nights, or fortunate enough to stumble upon to them, theirs is a trophy for the senses, as the brightness of the moon and stars lands on a mantle of snow and is magnified into a mid-day brightness, or are unexpectedly bathed in the dancing glow of the northern lights.
So, during this most festive of winter seasons, we showcase what makes Alberta winters worth embracing.
Canmore may be the cross-country skiing Mecca of Alberta, if not the country, but there are recommended trails from as far south as Waterton Lakes National Park, all the way north to Fort McMurray, and as far west as Jasper National Park and all the way east to Cypress Hills Interprovincial Park. <a href="http://www.canadatrails.ca/xc_ski/xc_ab.html " target="_hplink">Some of the best destinations in the province are found here</a>.
Take your kids – or borrow your neighbour's – and find a toboggan hill. There's a reason why generation after generation embraces the fun that comes from throwing caution to the wind and launching oneself down a steep slope in the name of lunacy.. over and over and over again. There may not be a better way to enjoy a wintry afternoon.
Downhill Skiing and Snowboarding
The crown jewel of winter fun, adventure and abandon in Alberta. If you don't ski or snowboard, it really is never too late, as new designs and instruction techniques have evolved to the point where anyone can take it up and excel. And for those of you who already do.. we won't waste your time telling you why Alberta has it so good when it comes to the slopes.
Sometimes, ice skating can be as much about the destination as it is about the glide. And next up are some of the best places in Alberta to go for a skate.
Some truly special places to go for a skate without going very far include the grounds of the Alberta Legislature and the heart of the 1988 Winter Olympic Games, Calgary's Olympic Plaza. (CP PHOTO/Jeff McIntosh)
Skating Jasper National Park
Lac Beauvert Besides being one of the most beautiful lakes in the Canadian Rockies, Lac Beauvert accommodates a rectangular skating rink just a short walk from the main Jasper Park Lodge. The rink becomes lit for night skating. Lake Mildred The Jasper Park Lodge clears a giant oval for winter skating. Two rectangular rinks are usually cleared inside the oval. There are also benches, a bonfire and free hot chocolate. It’s a great way to spend an afternoon whether you’re staying at the lodge or not.
Skating Banff National Park
Quiet Pond, near the Banff town site is great, so is the natural rink behind the Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel and, of course, so is the one right in front of the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise.
Take a Winter Walk
Take a stroll through a park or forest after an icy night and behold the winterland of our childhood’s imagination – frosted trees on a carpet of white, below bright blue skies.
It's been referred to as walking on water, or on air. Snowshoeing knows no age limits and thanks to modern designs, it doesn't require endless practice. Explore mountain areas like Kananaskis Country, Willmore Wilderness and the mountain parks, like never before. Or, stay close to home by hitting the trails in Fish Creek Provincial Park or Fort Edmonton Park.
Puppies and fun. Fun and puppies.. Mushing is becoming more ubiquitous in Alberta. It may not give you sore muscles but it will take your breath away. From Canmore to the Athabasca region, chances are a dogsled ride is pretty close by. If you're in northern Alberta, <a href="http://northernmusher_1.tripod.com/trails.html" target="_hplink">this is what's out there for you</a>.
Does it get more Canadian than this? Whether it’s shinny for the adults or Timbits for the kids, chances are that if you can get to your community rink, there will be some kind of puck action going on.
For those feeling extra adventurous or wanting to get away from it all, <a href="http://www.alpineclubofcanada.ca/" target="_hplink">Alpine Club of Canada huts </a>provide the opportunity to get into, and stay, among the peaks and the solitude of the snow-covered backcountry. Some of these locales require a strenuous haul in, while others are only a quick snowshoe or ski from the road. Bunks in the huts can be booked by club members and non-members alike for a fee. (Photo source the Alpine Club of Canada)
Hot Chocolate By a Fire
Okay, seriously, nothing yells out winter bliss like the juxtaposition of nipped cheeks and falling snow, against the sweet warm flavor of hot chocolate. Find a bonfire at your community rink, build a fire on your backyard, grab the Thermos, the kids or your sweetheart and take it all in.
Take A Bobsleigh Run
How's this for extreme sports? Those of sound health and not-so sound mind can try their nerves at the track that made heroes and icons of a bunch of adrenaline junkies in the 1988 Winter Olympic Games. Yep, the bobsleigh track at Winsport's Canada Olympic Park is still testing the mettle of international athletes but is also a tourist ride..
The Hot Springs
Head for the hot springs at Banff or Jasper National Parks and go for a soak. The locals will tell you they can’t understand why tourists will jump in the hot pools in the heat of summer, when it’s in winter nights – when the mist envelops you and the warmth from the water comforts, not stifles -- that these pools can really be appreciated. (Photo source Canadian Rockies Hot Springs)
For snowmobiling there may be no better place in the province than the self-described sledding capital of Alberta, Whitecourt. According to the <a href="http://altasnowmobile.ab.ca/" target="_hplink">Alberta Snowmobile Association, there are nearly 5,000 km of trails in the province </a>and a large chunk of those can be found near or around Whitecourt, approximately two hours from Edmonton. (Photo source Alberta Snowmobile Association)
Drive The Ice Road
Doing the bobsleigh at COP may be extreme but this is a whole other variety of extreme. You know the show Ice Road Truckers? You want to be like them? <a href="http://travelalberta.com/Things%20to%20Do/Scenic%20Routes/Ice%20Road%20to%20the%20North.aspx" target="_hplink">Drive the Ice Road to the North</a>. From Fort McMurray to Fort Chipewyan it's approximately 280 km. <a href="http://travelalberta.com/Things%20to%20Do/Scenic%20Routes/Ice%20Road%20to%20the%20North.aspx" target="_hplink">Driving the winter road to Alberta’s oldest established community (and gateway to Wood Buffalo National Park) is a very cool trip</a>. The road is made entirely of ice and it’s the only land route that connects remote northern communities in the winter months. As soon as it’s cold enough, trucks apply water over the muskeg until the surface ice is about six inches thick. The road is then staked to guide drivers on their way north. From mid-December to mid-March, the ice road winds through stately boreal forest, over frozen rivers and marshes, and across the icy majesty of the Peace-Athabasca Delta. On ice-fishing derby weekends, your road companions will be dogsleds and ATVs.
Take A Sleigh Ride
Just go and do it, It's much less guilty of a pleasure than an ugly Christmas sweater..
Ice Sculpting, tobogganing, snow cones and hot chocolate - you can mark a number of these winter must-dos off your list just by attending winter festivals around the province. Some of the one's worth catching include <a href="http://www.iceonwhyte.ca/" target="_hplink">Ice On Whyte</a>, <a href="http://www.lightenupcalgary.com/calgary-map" target="_hplink">Calgary Zoo Lights</a>, <a href="http://www.banfflakelouise.com/Area-Events/Festivals/Winter/SnowDays/Ice-Magic-Festival" target="_hplink">Ice Magic at Lake Louise</a>, <a href="http://www.silverskatefestival.org/" target="_hplink">Silver Skate Festival Edmonton</a>, <a href="http://www.banfflakelouise.com/Area-Events/Festivals/Winter/SnowDays " target="_hplink">Snow Days in Banff </a>and <a href="http://eventswoodbuffalo.com/home/our-events/winterplay/" target="_hplink">Fort McMurray's WinterPlay Carnival</a>. (Photo source therealbanff.com)
Grab the tiny ones again - yours or the pre-mentioned borrowed ones - and have a snowball fight, build a snowman or snow fort, or make maple syrup snow cones. Just have fun.. and embrace our Alberta winter.
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