For 10 days every January, the Ice on Whyte Festival lights up End of Steel Park in Edmonton’s historic Old Strathcona district overlooking the river valley. This year, I met my best friends at the ice sculpture festival to wander through a glowing garden of shimmering ice art, have dinner on fashionable Whyte Ave and come back after dark to see it in a whole new light. We borrowed skates to spin around the rink, listened to live music in the heated tent and, I’ll admit it, we tried out the crazy-fun ice slides too.
International Ice Carvers
We arrived at the festival during the day to see the ice sculptures shine in the sunlight. They look totally different at night, so it was nice to get a first look before dinner. After seeing all the entries, we voted for our favourite – a happy girl archer that won both people’s choice and the first place cash prize and medal.
Teams come from around the world to carve at this famous annual festival – this year’s competitors were from Russia, New Zealand, Lithuania, The Netherlands and all over North America. Nine crews used 500 blocks of ice to carve their incredibly detailed frozen art – that’s over 70,200 kg (~155,000 lb) of ice. Each carving weighs in at 2,000 kgs (4,500 lbs) and is surrounded by a low ice wall that protects the sculpture and the viewer. To achieve its flawless clarity and sparkle, the special carving ice is frozen from the bottom up.
There is always plenty to eat at the festival with local food trucks parked all around and a sweet maple snow-taffy stand. You can also find hot beverages in the music tents and melted marshmallow treats around the fire. We opted to walk up a few blocks to Whyte Avenue, one of Edmonton’s coolest entertainment districts for dinner in one of our favourite restaurants. Inside the century-old brick buildings that line the wide street are lively nightclubs, pubs and eateries, independent shops and the oldest theatre in the city.
Heating Up after Dark
After dinner, we strolled back to the festival to see the ice sculptures and slides glistening under a rainbow of pink, red, blue and green lights. It’s a completely different experience walking through the sculpture garden after dark. You’ll see all new details, shapes and character in the sculptures on your second time around.
We borrowed some complimentary skates for a spin on the smooth ice rink and warmed up around the blazing fire pit under the stars. Then we hit the music tent for hot chocolate and live local bands – next year, we’re coming for frozen karaoke night.
Bring the Whole Family
This is a great event for children of all ages – the park is full of families. Kids play in the fresh air, skate, make crafts, learn to ice-carve in the igloo-shaped tent and slide over and over (to infinity) on five different ice slides. The festival offers free sleigh rides during the day through the Old Strathcona neighbourhood behind big shiny horses puffing clouds of steam. Your little ones will love the horses – that is, if you can get them off the slides.