Bucket List Worthy
It’s the time of year when Canadians’ favourite pastime reaches its peak. Hockey may be a close second, but there’s another activity with nearly universal participation rates that always hits its stride right about now. Oh how we love to bellyache about winter weather! What if, instead of hating on Old Man Winter, we tried to be more like Batman and embraced that which threatens us?
We’ve come up with a list of destinations that will win over even the most die-hard among us and convert them from bitter snowphobics (chionophobes to you literal folks) to joyous winterfanatics. And no self-respecting Canadian would risk their pride by admitting that they can’t hack the cold or any amount of snow and ice! Ice is the new beach – you heard it here first!
Everyone has to be good at something and in Harbin, China, their specialty is ice sculpting. Sculptors from Harbin are in tremendous demand all over the world, but each year scores of them do their hometown proud and construct astonishing creations entirely out of ice and snow for the Harbin International Ice and Snow Festival. The glistening ice world they create on a gargantuan scale is beyond imagining and must be seen to be believed.
It’s no small feat to have the World’s Largest Winter Carnival when there’s all kinds of competition for the honour, but Quebec City’s Carnaval de Quebec outdoes all the others by hosting every imaginable kind of activity that you could want to do with ice and snow. Dog-sledding. Canoe races. Dance parties. Hockey! Parades! Oh my. The event (and its iconic mascot, Bonhomme Carnaval) draws visitors from all corners of the globe, but we’re fortunate that it’s in our own backyard.
What’s better than an epic train journey? An epic train journey that has polar bears at the end of it! Fly to Winnipeg then board the train to Churchill to see the Aurora Borealis and visit these magnificent creatures in their natural habitat while you still can.
Since you’re already going to Winnipeg, why not time your visit to include the raucous 10-day Festival du Voyageur in February? Immerse yourself in Canada’s heritage while celebrating the fur trade’s role in building the country. And if non-stop concerts, beard-growing contests, snow sculptures, and tasty treats aren’t enough to tickle your fancy, bear in mind that funny hats are practically mandatory.
An item on many bucket lists, staying a night at an ice hotel is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Brave souls wait months, and even years to book their stay at either the Hotel de Glace in Quebec or the Ice Hotel in Sweden. Both hotels are constructed fresh each winter from ice in a new design and are only open for a few weeks out of the year, so guests lucky enough to stay are treated to a very rare experience.
Danger may not be your middle name, but some of us aren’t content to just look at the pretty snowflakes. If you want to get right into the thick of it, try one of the more dangerous ways to get up close and personal with the ice. Ice climbing is an exhilarating, strenuous challenge and one of the best places for it is Johnson Canyon, near Banff, Alberta.
Antarctica is often the last continent on travellers’ “to see” lists, but it’s tops in my books and those of nearly everyone who has been there. It is the last unspoilt wilderness, where you can see snow and ice that has remained untouched for tens of millions of years. What Antarctica lacks in shopping, it makes up for a thousandfold in natural beauty and wildlife, such as the universally loved penguins, majestic icebergs, curious whales, and the magnificent Aurora Australis.
Iceland. Need I say more? When a country has ice right in its name, you know they are hardcore. Seriously, in addition to a spectacular array of natural icy landscapes to explore, you needn’t worry about being cold because there are lots of fun ways to warm up during a holiday in Iceland, from thermal pools to ultra-hip nightclubs in Reykjavik.
When cabin fever has taken its toll on you, and another boring workout at the gym has about as much appeal as preparing your tax return, it’s time to lift your spirits with a trip to Ottawa. Skating the Rideau Canal is incredibly popular with young and old alike. If you haven’t already ditched your New Year’s resolutions, you can rack up some serious exercise points skating the nearly 8 km of canal, provided you’re able to resist the powerful allure of BeaverTails along the way. New heated shelters along the Skateway make it even easier than ever to enjoy. Ottawa is a prime destination anytime during the winter, but its appeal is heightened during Winterlude, when Canada’s capital region comes alive with winter fun.
Want the best of both worlds? Why go through the rigamarole of getting all bundled up and trudging through snow when you can witness the beauty and unspoilt serenity of it from the comfort of the deck of a luxurious cruise ship as you glide through Alaska’s Inside Passage? Of course you can partake of all sorts of adventurous excursions, but if your speed is more chill than thrill, simply sit back and enjoy.