25 Reasons to Love Edmonton Winters

Our list on how to get the most out of winter.

Forget about the unplowed roads for a second. Seriously, put those irritations aside with your sandals and your margarita blender, because Edmonton is going to have a long winter, and we’re going to make you love it.

This is one of greatest winter cities in the world, with free date nights, Christmas-light zealots, festivals galore and cool personalities, all surrounded by stunning sights up and down.

So, let it snow, let it snow, let it snow.

1. Winter Light

After running for three years as a municipally funded pilot, the Winter Light festival, which shows off the beauty of our unique climate with free outdoor events, has matured into a non-profit festival. With more room to grow, it’s using the first $175,000 wisely by focusing on two quality events, instead of trying to spread it thin across several occasions.

>> Mill Creek Adventure Walk (Jan. 27-28): Discover our parklands by taking a kilometre-long walk in a winter wonderland that executive director Pamela Anthony calls “utterly delightful and mysterious, with light installations, roving characters and lantern parades.”

>> Illuminations (Feb. 10-11 date postponed until 2013): This Louise McKinney Park event features the aerodynamic, flaming spectacle Circus Orange, an Ontario-based troupe specializing in pyrotechnics. (winterlight.ca) –Omar Mouallem

2. Cold Runs

Avid runners know the pleasure of a solitary and crisp morning run, when the beat of the city has barely started and the sun is hardly awake. With each refreshing exhalation making its way up to your eyelashes, creating fluffy snowflakes of happy tear-induced blindness, you know that everybody driving by you in heated vehicles thinks you are practically Iron Man. -Kim Collins-Lauber

3. Chocolate Exquisite’s Hot Chocolate

Made with about 54-per-cent cocoa butter, the chocolate pellets (not powder) make for a smooth and slightly bitter drink. When it’s so cold that you can feel the weight of your inadvertently frosted tips, nothing is more relaxing than chocolatier Dennis Yurkiwsky’s hot chocolate, $4 a cup or, for an incredible deal, $12 for a kilogram of chocolate base to take home. (chocolateexquisite.com) Omar Mouallem


It doesn’t just offer a steep decline and stunning panoramic view of the river valley. No. It has star power, bestowed upon it when Chevy Chase, gripping his toboggan, flew down the slope in Snow Day. –Caroline Barlott

5. Snow Sculptor Ritchie Velthuis

Ritchie Velthuis, the “chairperson of ice and snow” for the Sculptors’ Association of Alberta and organizer of the Silver Skate Festival (Feb. 17-20), strives to cultivate Edmonton’s snow carving culture by running workshops on the basics.

Velthuis was drawn to working with snow about 10 years ago because it allowed him to go big. “You’re able to create something monumental in a very short period of time,” he says, adding that he also likes the collaborative form that generally sees teams of four working on a piece.

How do you feel about the ephemeral quality of snow sculpting?

“For me, it’s great, though it doesn’t appeal to all artists. The most satisfying part of art-making for me is the process. With ice and snow – particularly snow – you can work quickly [even though] it’s a temporary thing.”

Do you have a favourite snow sculpture that you’ve created?

“Two years ago [a team I was on] won the national competition at the Quebec Winter Carnival with our stegosaurus and baby. When you’re in that process and you get to the point where you’re seeing what you’ve done, you get really excited. I knew we had created something special.” -Kim Collins-Lauber

6. Watching the Oilers’ Kids

Edmonton hockey fans have their choice of two junior teams to watch this season – the Oil Kings and, ahem, the Oilers. Ages combined, first-overall draft picks Taylor Hall and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, and rising star Jordan Eberle, are just a few years older than their coach. But, with their fresh blood, the Oilers have the nucleus of a team that can win a Stanley Cup … in 2015, maybe. Right now, we can sit back and watch the kids play, worrying more about the entertainment than the wins and losses. Really, the last time the Oilers had a group of bushy-tailed kids like this was in the early ’80s, and the roster included names like Gretzky, Messier, Anderson and Kurri. That experiment didn’t turn out too badly, did it? -Steven Sandor 

7.  Maisie’s Christmas House

Everyone knows Candy Cane Lane but, as far as bedazzling goes, this 97th Street attraction of Christmas lights, reindeer and other pizzazz beats all the 148th Street houses combined. In honour of the Dolynchuk family’s great-grandmother, the eight-year-old tradition is becoming more incredible with each passing year. It’s free to visit, but you’re encouraged to make a donation to Edmonton’s Food Bank. (9619 144 Ave., maisieschristmashouse.com) –Omar Mouallem

8. The Snow Queen’s Garden

The Muttart’s winter exhibit, the Snow Queen’s Garden, includes 1,000 blue and white poinsettias, some reaching four feet high, like in their native Mexico, planted in gigantic pots surrounding a castle modelled after the one in the Hans Christian Andersen classic book, The Snow Queen. James McIvor, leader of the Muttart’s gardening team, says that, since June, hundreds of hours of labour went into recreating the fairy tale props and plants in this exhibit, which runs until Jan. 9. (edmonton.ca/muttart) –Caroline Barlott

9. Deep Freeze:: A Byzantine Winter Festival

Want to see deep freezers on skis, racing? There’s probably only one place in the world for that: Deep Freeze on Alberta Avenue (Jan. 7-8). Stay outside for more amusing than bewildering fun with tire sur la neige (maple taffy on a stick), a walk through an enchanting ice and snow garden and a mummers’ play. Then, head inside the community hall to warm up with food. (deepfreezefest.ca) -Kim Collins-Lauber

10. Brillant Days, Though Short

On latitude 53, Edmonton’s spot on Earth, the angle of the sun reflects directly onto the snow, replacing shadows with brilliant light. The effect makes winter the brightest season of the year. Caroline Barlott

11. Yukigassen

Remember the time you nailed Teddy from down the street with a perfect snowball and he went home crying and then his mom called your mom, and she forced you to walk down to his front door and apologize? Well, now long-bombing those round, icy missiles at someone else is an unapologetic sport.

Originating in Japan more than 20 years ago, Yukigassen, which translates to “snow battle,” has made its way to Edmonton (Mar. 9-11). Teams of seven battle each other for nine minutes, walloping members of the opposing team with seven-centimetre snowballs and trying to capture their enemy’s flag. Teams are allowed 90 snowballs per period, each rapidly rounded with a snowball-making apparatus. –Kim Collins-Lauber

12. Gruff Pride

Admit it, you love the vigour that comes with bragging to a foreigner about how our winters make you rise early to start your car, or sometimes it just won’t start, or the key won’t fit, or windows won’t defrost or – on very special mornings – your car is gone from sight. You love it. Omar Mouallem

13. Snow Valley Edmonton

Snow Valley  offers so much more than ski hills. Tucked beside Whitemud Park and Mill Creek Ravine, it’s like an in-city winter resort, with trails for snowshoeing, hills for tobogganing and birds for watching. (snowvalley.ca) -C.B.

14. Quiet Walks Through the River Valley

The whispering crunch of snow beneath your feet is the only sound you hear when you venture a few steps into the snow-covered wonderland. The valley practically empties out in the winter, so when you cross paths with fellow explorers, don’t forget the customary head nod. Kim Collins-Lauber

15. Skating in Hawrelak Park

Grab your skates, or rent some on site, and head down to the 10-hectare lake in Edmonton’s premier park for free, picturesque public skating. The pond is open from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily. -Kim Collins-Lauber

16. Secret Acts of Kindness

Is anything better than coming home late on a snowy weekday to find that your sidewalk has already been cleared? Who is the kind culprit? Doesn’t matter, just pay it forward the next time you’re clearing snow and drag your shovel an extra 10 metres. Like no other season, winter brings out the best in us, perhaps because we understand that enduring the worst of it takes a team effort. Steven Sandor 

17. Over 150 km of Nordic Skiing Trails

It’s one of Edmonton’s best-kept secrets: We have Nordic skiing trails that stretch from Goldbar Park to Goldstick Park. Cross-country skiing is an excellent pick-up for your posterior and a great way to see the city’s wilderness in all of its silvery crystalline beauty. The Edmonton Nordic Ski Club can help you get started with lessons and trail maps. (edmontonnordic.ca) -Kim Collins-Lauber

18. The Spirit of Volunteering

Perhaps the chill just brings out the best in us. We’re a charitable lot, whether we’re pushing strangers’ cars out of snow banks or donating tuques to homeless people. If you’re looking to give more of your heart, Volunteer Edmonton can connect you with hundreds of good-causes. It even has opportunities for your pets to volunteer as therapists of sort for long-term hospital patients. (volunteeredmonton.com) -Kim Collins-Lauber

19. Metropolis Edmonton International Winter Festival

From New Year’s Eve till Feb. 20, Churchill Square is its own city with six (heated) pavilions built with scaffolding and shrink-wrap, designed by Canadian architects including Gene Dub, Giuseppe Albi and and Taymoore Balbaa of Toronto’s Atelier3AM. At the inaugural Metropolis, you can drink up in the Polar Brewhouse, while kids rejoice in the robot-shaped pavilion with arts and crafts and a giant inflatable slide. And the Community Centre pavilion, designed by Dub, is the hub for two new year’s celebrations with Chinese New Year, as well as the premiere of Firefly Theatre aerialist’s new show, Sky Lights, about the mythology ofthe Northern Lights. (eventsedmonton.ca) –Kim Collins-Lauber

20. Ice On Whyte Festival

This international competition in Old Strathcona brings top ice sculptors from around the world to Edmonton to chisel SUV-size ice cubes into glassy, iridescent masterpieces. There’s even an ice slide for anyone of any age to enjoy. (Jan. 12-22, iceonwhyte.ca) Kim Collins-Lauber

21. Star-gazing

In the winter, air flows downwards, clearing away clouds and making way for an impeccable view of the constellations. Elk Island National Park has a dark sky preserve right in it, so when you look up, you’ll see real stars without the distraction of city lights and, fingers crossed, a stunning view of the aurora borealis. Sign up for the University of Alberta’s AuroraWatch, which will alert you by e-mail every time the celestial spectacle is expected. (tinyurl.com/AuroraWatch) Caroline Barlott

22. Making Peace With Hot Cocoa

How does the Responsible Hospitality Edmonton squad diffuse nightlife aggression on Whyte and Jasper Ave.? It sends out a street team armed with tanks of warm, sweet, soothing free hot chocolate. It would seem that testosterone is no match for cocoa. –Omar Mouallem

23. Free Date Nights

This list is packed with free sites and events that make for great dates, but one place will romance you the moment you see it: The twinkling legislature grounds with its airy light displays. What’s best about legislature ground walks? When you get home you’re very ready to get out of your clothes and cozy up. –Omar Mouallem

24. Jim Barr, a.k.a. “Doc Pow”

Three years ago, local journalist Jim Barr launched SnowSeekers, an app that points winter enthusiasts to seasonal destinations and events. Last year, it was a finalist for the Best New App award from Digital Alberta. What makes SnowSeekers so great? Whether you’re an avid skier or just looking for a peaceful winter stroll, the app gives you the lowdown on festivals, events and deals throughout Alberta, B.C. and the northwest U.S. “It’s called SnowSeekers, not ‘skiseekers’ or ‘snowboardseekers,'” says Barr, nicknamed “Doc Pow,” as in “doctor powder.” “It’s a place for great winter opportunities, from Nordic skiing to snowshoeing to dogsledding to ice climbing.” It’s an easy-to-use tool on your iPhone, Android device or BlackBerry that celebrates our natural surroundings during much of the year. Barr has travelled to ski destinations around the world, and is amazed by how much other people envy what we have in Alberta. He says, “We kind of take for granted what we have in our backyard.”  Steven Sandor 

25. Looking Hot in the Cold

Winter wear and fashion aren’t mutually exclusive. Wearing striking scarves and bold boots is one of the finer pleasures of the season, and, in this city, there’s an extra month for this privilege. You can find these H by Looking Hot in the Cold Hudson boots at gravitypope ($350) and this Peruvian wool cowl by EmmyLou Knits at Bamboo Ballroom ($69). Omar Mouallem

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