Edmonton's Top 5 Winter Festivals for 2016

November 18, 2015

by Edmonton Tourism

Starting early in the new year, Deep Freeze: A Byzantine Winter Festival (January 9-10) hits the streets with Old Tyme curling, winter mini golf, street hockey, deep freezer races… Wait, what?  Deep freezer race? You bet. And it’s as awesome as you’re imagining it right now. This two-day festival brings together Ukrainian, Franco-Albertan, Franco-African, First Nations and South American communities to celebrate their diverse cultures, and revel in the magic and beauty of winter. (And once Edmontonians have emptied their Christmas pyrohy, spätzle, and tourtière from their basement freezers… let the races begin!)

Every year, the Ice on Whyte Festival (January 21-31) grabs Canadian winter by the snowballs and carves it into a wicked combo of ice and art. Just imagine: 155,000 pounds of ice is dumped just to prep for this week long party – on purpose! What’s on the menu? International Ice Carving Competition, dancing and skating the night away, riding a gigantic ice slide, and learning to carve ice like a pro. One of the hottest shows is on the last night, where you’ll see fire melt an ice sculpture right back into H2O. You’ll be right in your element.

Loosely-based on the legend of La chasse-galerie (The Flying Canoe), the Flying Canoë Volant (February 5-6) is a creative, interactive, cultural event, designed to celebrate local history and everything that is great about a long winter’s night. The story of the Flying Canoe can be traced back to a French legend about a rich nobleman named Galerie. Galerie loved to hunt. He loved it so much that he refused to attend Sunday mass. (Oh, oh.) As punishment, he was condemned to fly forever through the night skies, chased by galloping horses and howling wolves, in a fashion reminiscent of the Wild Hunt. When French settlers arrived in Canada, they swapped stories with the First Nations peoples. Et voilà. A tale of the flying canoe.

The Canadian Birkebeiner (February 12-13) is the premier classic ski festival in Canada, honouring the spirit of the Norwegian Birkebeiner legend. In 1985, some 127 hardy skiers participated in the first Canadian Birkebeiner in very cold conditions, reminiscent of the brutal winter in the original Norwegian Birchlegs saga. Since 1985, thousands of skiers have relived the legend here, skiing the historic 55 km distance with a 5.5 kg pack, as a symbol of the child who was brought to safety by the Birchlegs in 1206. The Canadian event has grown to become the largest and friendliest classic-style cross-country ski festival in Canada, with five distance events. Grab a thermos of hot cocoa and come cheer on more than 2,000 cross-country skiers as they whip around the loppet at speeds over 20 km/h. Or trade in your thermos and front row seats for a set of skis and take on the Birkie yourself. With events for all levels of skiers—beginners to elite—there isn’t much holding you back.

Celebrating its 26th year, the Silver Skate Festival (February 12-21) is an extravaganza of art, culture, recreation and sport. Wander through the Snow Sculpture Garden, try your hand at Jam-Can Curling, cheer on the racers at the Kortebaan–a traditional Dutch long-blade skate race, explore the magical Silver Skate Folk Trails, and enjoy live entertainment after the sun goes down during Night Works. Year after year, a favourite amongst visitors is the Fire Sculpture. With the pitch black winter sky as a backdrop, sculptures and effigies burn orange, amber and gold, dancing across the snow telling tales from all over the world. The hot glow from this beautiful display warm your ice cold, rosy red cheeks –- a true goosebumps moment.

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