Story Starters: Spirit of Winter

Credit: Banff & Lake Louise Tourism
The holiday season can be hectic! Slow things down on a sleigh ride with Brewster Adventures at the foot of Victoria Glacier in Lake Louise. Or take a magical train ride to the North Pole upon the Polar Express at Aspen Crossing or with Alberta Prairie Railway Excursions, who also operate a Christmas Party Train featuring carolling, a hayride, turkey dinner and a dance. 
Step back to a simpler time at Fort Edmonton Park. During Christmas Reflections, guests celebrate winter the way pioneers did over a century ago by sampling baking from wood stoves and sharing stories around the bonfire. At Calgary’s Heritage Park, visitors can meet reindeer and experience a traditional Prairie Christmas during Once Upon a Christmas.

Could there be anything more romantic than skating against the backdrop of the Rocky Mountains? Alberta is riddled with an abundance of natural ice-skating rinks. Peer through the clear ice to view suspended rocks (and perhaps fish swimming deep below) at Spray Lakes in Kananaskis CountryLake Mildred in Jasper National Park, plus Carrot Creek and Johnson Lake in Banff National Park. The Post Hotel and Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise also create exquisite outdoor environments with purpose-built ice surfaces.  
You don’t have to be a star athlete to enjoy the magic of ice skating in the cities. Edmonton’s Victoria Park hosts an outdoor speed-skating and pleasure-skating rink that comes alive in the evenings with twinkling lights. In Calgary, the inner-city lagoon at Prince’s Island Park fills with skaters of all ages and abilities, many of whom wind up tucking into nearby River Café for a cozy fireside meal.
Hot, boozy beverages served up in atmospheric settings make winter worth toasting. Sidle up to the ice bars at Lake Louise Ski Resort or Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise, or catch the ice luge dispensing vodka at Jasper’s Old Fire Hall during Jasper in January
The gingerbread house creations whipped up in Alberta have to be seen to be believed. The Rimrock Resort Hotel offers a replica of the mountainside property, and Fairmont Hotel Macdonald 
bakers recreate their Chateau on the River. Over 35 kilograms (77 pounds) of rolled fondant go into the gingerbread homes crafted by Fairmont Palliser and Fairmont Banff Springs. Turn childhood fantasies into reality by stepping into the life-size gingerbread house at Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge.

Local vendors spread holiday cheer at Alberta’s charming Christmas markets. An inviting and cheery shopping experience is found at these locations:
  • Market Collective is an indie market in Calgary that celebrates and collaborates with in local artists, makers, artisans and bakers. Gathering at the Chinese Cultural Centre the events feature live entertainment, local beer and coffee roasters and food vendors. Events run Nov 25-27, Dec 2-4, Dec 9-11 and Dec 16-18 with rotating makers at each event.
  • Spruce Meadows’ International Christmas Market lures shoppers with more than 250 vendors, plus choir and instrumental performances. Nov 18-20, Nov 25-27 and Dec 2-4.
  • You’ll do more than snap up seasonal gifts at Banff Christmas Market. Located at Warners Stables, shoppers take in live entertainment and wagon rides through the fairytale landscape of Banff National Park.  Nov 25-27.
  • For a country Christmas experience, tuck into handmade goodies at the Hanna Christmas Farmer’s Market. Afterwards, drive over to Cattlemunns Ranching Gift Shop, a seasonal country store located in a former one-room schoolhouse on a working cattle ranch that is packed with quaint holiday items, decorations and memorable trinkets. Nov 21 and 22.
  • Millarville Christmas Market just south of Calgary runs Nov 11-13 with crafts and gifts, carollers, a visit from Santa and tons of festive activities.
  • Indie Handmade hosts a Christmas Market in St. Albert just outside of Edmonton bringing to gather the best of the Canadian Handmade community in time for the gift giving season. Nov 24-27 at the Enjoy Centre in St Albert. 
Alberta’s skyline gets a whole lot brighter at this time of year. Prepare to be dazzled at these holiday light displays: 
  • During Zoo Lights, over 1.5 million lights dazzle the two-legged creatures visiting the Calgary Zoo. 
  • Take a Sunday drive underneath the 80 km (50 mi) of Christmas lights strung along the grounds of Spruce Meadows, Canada’s premier equestrian facility. 
  • The Griswold’s of National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation have got nothing on Edmonton. Each December, the west-end neighbourhood of Crestwood transforms into Candy Cane Lane, when residents string their homes with hundreds of lights.  
  • Though the snowy darkness of the Alberta Rockies comes a unique holiday sight: A full-sized train covered with dazzling lights and spreading holiday cheer. The annual CP Holiday Train makes a stop at the Banff train station on Dec. 12 with music and a mission of goodwill. Check out other stops along the train’s nation-wide journey. 
  • Celebrate the Season at the Alberta Legislature, where you’ll find thousands of lights illuminating the trails of the Legislature Grounds, including the skating rink and a 60-foot spruce. Best of all: the festivities are made seasonal by a choir singing carols.

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