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The Ice On Whyte Festival in Edmonton is a family-friendly event, featuring a giant ice slide.
The Ice On Whyte Festival in Edmonton is a family-friendly event, featuring a giant ice slide.

Ever been to Frostival? Check out Canada’s best winter parties Add to ...

My approach to winter used to involve staying indoors, hugging steaming mugs of tea and waiting for spring to unfurl its warming arms. Then, I attended Griz Days in snow-draped Fernie, B.C.

The friendly little Rocky Mountains ski town lures tuque-topped visitors in late February with its long weekend of parades, drinking, outdoor music, more drinking and – the highlight – the annual Griz contest, a kind of beauty pageant for beardies.

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During the event, intrepid participants don furs and straggly facial hair in hopes of being crowned that year’s Griz – a mythical mountain character who, legend says, brings abundant snow to the town. What does the contest involve? Axe throwing, leg-wrestling and quite a lot of bleary-eyed drinking.

Just watching the contest – beer in hand – was the most fun I’ve had while wearing three pairs of socks at the same time. On my next visit, I might even participate.

But Fernie’s cold-season blowout isn’t the only party around. Canada is North America’s winter festival capital – and it’s frosted with hot-chocolate-quaffing merrymaking of all shapes and sizes.

If this is your first time, you might want to start with a biggie. From the end of January, the 17-day Quebec Winter Carnival (carnaval.qc.ca) in Quebec City is the grand-père of snow gatherings, offering everything from ice hotels to night parades.

It’s rivalled by Montreal, which hosts a series of well-chilled events. Consider mid-February’s gigantic Montréal en Lumière (montrealenlumiere.com) – culminating in the Nuit Blanche culture crawl around the city – or arrive earlier for January’s Fête des Neiges, a family-friendly frost fest in Parc Jean-Drapeau.

Family-friendly is the approach at many winter fests in Canada. Edmonton’s Ice on Whyte (iceonwhyte.ca) and Saskatoon’s WinterShines (potashcorpwintershines.ca) each add cool kid activities to their ice-carving showcases, while mountain-ringed Banff’s Ice Magic sculpting competition is now part of a month-long series of scenically chilled events called Snow Days.

Winnipeg’s hugely popular Festival du Voyageur (festivalvoyageur.mb.ca) in the Saint-Boniface district adds a toe-tapping Acadian edge, but it’s not the only event with a blood-warming live music roster.

Montreal’s Igloofest (igloofest.ca) is a three-day electronica party, while Prince George, B.C. delivers Coldsnap (coldsnapfestival.com), a showcase for local and visiting bands. They join Vancouver’s Winterruption (granvilleisland.com/winterruption) in hugging the cold season’s cultural side.

But for some, a medicinal beverage is only way to handle the chill hand of winter.

When I attended Ottawa’s ever-popular Winterlude (winterlude.gc.ca) last year, I discovered an outdoor Winterbrewed beer fest had been added to proceedings – think hot oatmeal stout. It joins B.C.’s Sun Peaks Winter Okanagan Wine Festival (thewinefestivals.com) and the Niagara Icewine Festival (niagarawinefestival.com) in Ontario in adding a warming glow to winter.

Those Maritime partiers also know how to keep the cold at bay. Fredericton’s huge Frostival (frostival.ca) lures many with its month-long roster of weekend events – from skating parties to culinary diversions – while New Brunswick’s more intimate Miramichi White Gold Festival runs from ice-dancing to cross-country skiing; it’s also your big chance to try ice-fishing.

If you were a fan of Charlottetown’s Jack Frost Children’s Winterfest – cancelled in 2013 – it’s rumoured to be back in 2014. Keep your browser trained on jackfrostfest.com for details.

My favourite winter parties are those community-focused events where rubbing fleece-clad shoulders with the locals is de rigueur. This February, I’m thinking of checking out the quirky Yukon Sourdough Rendezvous (yukonrendezvous.com) in Whitehorse as it celebrates its 50th birthday. Hair-freezing and beard-growing contests are anticipated.

OUR READERS WRITE

  • January’s Inuvik Sunrise Festival in NWT – for the joy of the sun rising and celebrating with great music, feast and community. @tatebro
  • Burning Away The Winter Blues in Whitehorse, Yukon. Great concept! And I imagine it’s rather cathartic after being snowed in for five months... @_rtc
  • Rossland, B.C. has one that’s been going over a hundred years! See www.rosslandwintercarnival.com. @Blackcloudwine
  • Ottawa’s Winterlude for sure. Who doesn’t want to skate on the Rideau? Also – no snow involved – but snagging a good table for lunch at Canoe in Toronto during Winterlicious is sweet! @travel_smith
  • I really enjoyed last year’s Saskatoon Winter Meltdown Blues Festival. Amazing performers (Juno winners!) and great venues. @jennsmithnelson
  • Frostbite Music Festival [in Whitehorse]. Three nights and two days of music under the Northern Lights @ehCanadaTravel
  • Ice Magic in Lake Louise was always a favourite of mine. @LynnGervais
  • Snow Days in Banff National Park. There’s a huge ice-climbing wall right in downtown Banff. @yaheweha
  • Nova Scotia’s Icewine Festival. There’s a special magic in Nova Scotia in the winter. @AuthenticCoast
  • Winterlude! Skate along Ottawa’s Rideau Canal, then have a freshly-baked, cinnamon-and-sugar-sprinkled beaver tail. @juliehijinks
  • Festival du Voyageur in Winnipeg would have to qualify – for the sled run on ice, the recreation of historic buildings and the cultural/historic connection to the city’s past. @Nat_Carnegie
  • Gotta be Frostival in Fredericton. Largest winter celebration east of Quebec! @FredTourism
  • Niagara Icewine Festival. @StanleyParkFan
  • Winterlude in Ottawa. I love that it’s free. Especially like the ice sculptures, huge ice slides at Jacques Cartier Park, and the Beaver Tails! @OttawaMarriott

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