It may seem incongruous for someone living in the Caribbean to wax poetic about the joys of snow, but I am a born and bred Canadian who has endured and enjoyed many a winter in my time. Yes, I’m thrilled that I no longer have to dwell in that season for half the year, but now I can choose to experience its frosty charms in a limited fashion. While my compatriots long for a winter escape to a sunny isle, I find myself longing for a week or two’s jaunt to a colder climate.
It’s not just me – my kids are winter crazy, too. We visited Toronto over the holidays and they got to revel in snow for the first time. The novelty of wearing mittens and boots was like playing dress-up to them, and their joy of sledding, skating and snowman/angel making was palpable. They had the nerve to whine about how they have to live on the boring beaches of Barbados rather than this Canadian winter wonderland. I guess the grass is always greener (or the snow is always whiter) on the other side.
So this got me thinking about some great winter festivals I could take my poor deprived island girls to. Here are a few I’ve dug up, some of which I’ve been to in my pre-kid days but memory and research proves they’d be amazing family destinations too.
Quebec Winter Carnival
Carnival de Quebec in Quebec City, Canada runs from Jan 30 to Feb 15, and is one of the most elaborate winter carnivals out there. I experienced Carnival in my younger days when my priorities were more about its renowned party scene, but it is also famed as a fabulous family festival. Right now, my winter-crazed kids would probably prefer this over Disneyland – Mickey’s got some competition in Bonhomme! There’s a giant outdoor amusement park along with snow slides, ice towers and zipline thrills. You can take a horse-drawn sleigh ride or mush along on a dog sled. There are figure skating shows, theatrical performances, sporting competitions and games for endless entertainment. If we could work in a night at the nearby Ice Hotel, my girls would be in winter nirvana.
Lake Louise Ice Magic Festival
The Lake Louise Ice Magic Festival in Alberta, Canada runs Jan 23 to 25, 2009. I grew up around here and always took those mountains for granted, but now that I’ve been away from the Rockies for more than a decade I realize how exquisite a winterscape they are. The International Ice Carving Competition takes place at the idyllic Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise. It’s fascinating for kids and grownups alike to witness the chainsaw artistry as world-class ice sculptors transform 300lb ice blocks into 7-foot-tall masterpieces. Down the road at Samson Mall is the Little Chippers Festival where kids can try their hand at ice carving, navigate an ice maze and learn to drive a dog sled. The entire Banff/Lake Louise region is overflowing with winter pleasures, so this one is definitely on our wish list.
Ottawa Winterlude Festival
Ottawa’s Winterlude Festival in Ontario, Canada runs weekends from Feb 6 to 22, 2009. This is yet another world-class snow festival that helps winter fly by (Canada’s full of them – how else would we survive the frigid season?). It’s got an extensive snow playground, ice carvings, entertainment, frozen movie screens and more. For me, the big draw to this one is the chance to skate on the Rideau Canal, a 7.8km long skateway through the heart of the nation’s capital – it’s a Canadian rite of passage. You gotta grab a Beaver Tail along the way (it’s like a flattened donut, but that doesn’t do it justice). I’ve been to Winterlude several times, but never with the kids. Must rectify that.
Sapporo Snow Festival (Yuki Matsuri)
The 60th annual Sapporo Snow Festival in Hokkaido, Japan runs from Feb 5 to 11, 2009. Japan might not be the first place that springs to mind when you think winter festival, but trust me, Sapporo does it right. I remember being gobsmacked by the colossal replicas of world-famous buildings all made out of snow and ice. The amount of skill and detail that goes into this fleeting art form is astounding – it’s especially awe-inspiring to see them illuminated at night. Tsudome is the place to go for more family oriented fun, like snow mazes, snow slides, games and entertainment. You can even have lunch in an igloo!
Stowe Winter Carnival
The Stowe Winter Carnival in snow-globe inspiring Vermont runs from January 19 to the 25th, 2009 (as in right now!). It’s got all the charms of a small town festival, complete with ice carving competitions, snowy games and costumed characters. The Kids Carnival Kaos puts the focus on younger kids, while older kids will like the zany sports competitions like snow volleyball and snow golf.
North Lake Tahoe SnowFest
The North Lake Tahoe SnowFest in California runs from Feb 27 to March 8, 2009. They’ve got a cool Science Expo where kids can try hands-on experiments involving snow, water, ice and earth. You might want to watch the popular Polar Bear swim, but I don’t recommend participating in it! An ice cream eating contest, snowball softball tournament, kids parade, magic/comedy show and various dog events round out the all-ages fun.
All this snow festival talk is making me want to move back to the great white north. Naaah, a week or two is enough winter for me.
Here is an entire write-up with picture of the Ice Hotel which the writer thought looked like fun too until she actually stayed there with her kids and thought they were going to freeze during the night. Sounded like a visit was fun but maybe not overnight http://www.ciaobambino.com/ciaobambinoblog/?p=193.
Thanks for the link and the valid perspective. I think dressing appropriately is key to enduring a night at the Ice Hotel – lots of insulating layers and a good hat (thousands of Inuit kids can’t be wrong!). It’s definitely not for everyone, especially those not used to the frigid northern climes.