Winter in Alberta is pretty darn magical. Our sparkling snow-draped landscapes encourage endless exploration and play. Even on the chilliest of days, you’ll find locals and visitors outdoors – tobogganing, snowshoeing and cross-country skiing at local parks, shredding powder at world-class ski resorts and skating on scenic outdoor rinks. To celebrate the snowy season, cities, towns and communities throughout the province host lively festivals and outdoor parties. One of the best events for families in the Canadian Rockies is the Canmore Winter Carnival. Friends of ours have attended the festival since they were kids and we’re thrilled to be joining them this year with our four-year old daughter.
The annual carnival, which has been running for more than 20 years, is held over the first two weekends in February. This year’s theme, Oh Canada, O’ Canmore, aligns with the country’s Canada 150 festivities, which commemorate the 150th anniversary of Confederation. As each weekend features completely different events, it can be difficult to decide on which one to attend, so if you’re in the area, I say make an appearance at both.
Sugar, ice and everything nice
Day One of the carnival is all about the ice, baby. Head to the Canmore Civic Centre Plaza on Saturday, February 4th to watch talented local artists, craftspeople and chefs use their brawn and amazing artistry to create beautiful sculptures out of massive blocks of ice. Competition judging begins at 3:30 pm, so be sure to arrive in time to cast your vote for the People’s Choice award. On Sunday February 5th, children have the opportunity to make their own ice art at the Mountain Freezies Kids Ice Carving event. Or, give the action-packed, timed Log Sawing Competition a try – individuals, couples and families are welcome. Another crowd pleaser my daughter will go crazy for is watching pups of all sizes prance in their winter finery at the Mut Hut Pet Emporium Pooch Parade.
You can register for Sunday’s events in advance at www.zone4.ca, or simply swing by and cheer on the contestants, roast a few marshmallows around the bonfire and indulge in traditional sweet maple taffy at the Sugar Shack.
Mutt races and gallery crawls
The final weekend showcases local artists and features one of the festival’s most popular spectator events. It all begins with a gallery crawl on Saturday February 11th. Canmore is a hub for artists and the winter carnival’s public art demonstrations and interactive experiences create an accessible platform for all to enjoy. On the final day (February 12th) we’ll watch our friends’ kiddos compete in the highly anticipated Snowy Owl Kid N Mutt Races. In speaking with Nancy Ruiz, the Town of Canmore’s Events Coordinator, I learned the race is a carnival favourite that sells out every year. “It’s one of my top events as well,” she told me, adding “the kids are always beyond excited and it’s amazing to see them fly down the tracks, mushing their teams and competing for the best time.” This year, to make the race even more authentic, Snowy Owl Sled Dog Tours has built mini-replicas of their traditional sleds so that the kids will race standing up and have braking capabilities.
Although Canmore is only 45-minutes from Calgary, we’ll make a holiday out the carnival by spending the weekend. There are a host of accommodation options to choose from, including one, two and three-bedroom suites with kitchens, ideal for families. When I don’t feel like cooking, I’ll turn to the town’s fabulous culinary scene that includes everything from causal gastropubs and pizzerias, to elegant dining rooms with chef-prepared tasting menus. After a trip to the mountains, we always feel relaxed and rejuvenated and while Canmore is breathtaking year round, there is something truly magical about visiting in winter.