Revel in Winter: Canada is a Snowy Wonderland for Families
Face it. We live with winter. And my philosophy has always been if you can't beat 'em, join 'em.
If families are inundated with snow and ice, snowsuits and millions of mittens from December to March, then we might as well get our kids -and ourselves-outside to enjoy it. I made sure that each of my children learned to skate when they were little and ski when they were big so that they would jump for joy when the first snow fell. Well at least jump for ice bumps or moguls. Here are some excellent ways and places to kickstart the winter habit:
SKATING in Ottawa: You've got to applaud Ottawa's city fathers who instigated the hugely popular Winterlude festival some 35 years ago. Their aim? To celebrate Canada's unique northern climate and culture. The centerpiece of the three family-friendly weekends (Feb 4-20, www.capcan.ca) has always been the Rideau Canal Skateway. Illuminated at night, it's 7.8 kilometres of gliding space. Rent skates or a red sleigh for bundled toddlers. Along the way, stop for a BeaverTail pastry, a sleigh ride (Dows Lake from mid-Jan, weekends) or a photo opp with Winterlude's Ice Hogs. The frozen canal is maintained, weather depending, until mid-March. Call 613-239-5234 for updated ice conditions; for Winterlude, call 1-800-465-1867 or visit http://www.capcan.ca. Fairmont Ch‰teau Laurier offers special family skating packages; 800-441-1414; www.fairmont.com or visit www.OttawaGetaways.ca.
CROSS-COUNTRY SKIING in Newfoundland: Winter sports on the Rock? Yes, most definitely. On the West Coast of Canada's Far East, families will not only happen upon family-friendly ski resorts like Marble Mountain, upscale three-bedroom chalets, snowshoeing in moose territory (we saw one lumbering along last year) but also some of the best cross country trails in the world.
At the Blow-Me-Down Ski Park in Corner Brook, glide along 47 kilometres of trails (some lit nightly). You'll find World Cup terrain (champion skiers practice here) and snow galore. As one local put it, when your city receives the greatest average snowfall in Canada, some 4.5 metres, "Winter is not a spectator sport." Stop for a bit of tea at the Trapper's Tent or a caribou burger and cinnamon buns by the fire in the chalet where there's also a play area for youngsters. Lessons, ski and snowshoe rentals and guides available for kids and parents.
Bunk into luxurious family chalets at Humber Vallery Resort (866-686-8100; www.humbervalley.com). Direct flights with Maxxim Vacations (800-567-6666 or www.maxximvacations.com) to Deer Lake. For more info: 800-563-NFLD or www.gov.nf.ca/tourism/
SLEIGH RIDES in Québec: Some of our dinner companions at this old-fashioned Quebe¨ois Sugar Shack supper near Quebec City were from warmer South American climes. But that didn't stop them from joining the impromptu before-dinner snowball fights. Why not? At Le Chemin du Roy, it's family style all the way-from homemade cuisine served up at long tables to the happy noise of fiddles and spoons. After Canadian pea soup, ham and meat pie, baked beans and crepes with maple syrup, hop on a sleigh for a pre-bedtime ride through the maple trees. Don't be surprised if rounds of Allouette erupt under the stars. Call 877-876-5085 or visit www.cheminduroy,com to reserve.
LUGE in Calgary: Kids 12 and over can whizzz down the luge track at Canada Olympic Park in Calgary during occasional "walk ons.". One hardly "walks," however, travelling at speeds up to 60 mph down a 1.4 km track. The next luge dates are Jan 22 and 23, 2 to 5 pm, maximum 100 runs. For $10, equipment, helmet and padding, it's a thrill of a deal.
After hurtling along ice, take a tour. This impressive facility is Alberta's second largest tourist attraction outside the Rockies. Call 403-247-7669 or www.canadaolympicpark.ca. Note: parents must sign permission for those under 18.
SKIING AND BOARDING in western Canada: Downhill sport sometimes gets bad raps for expense. But this year, Skican, Canada's best-known ski travel company, comes to the rescue. This winter, kids and teens get to stay and ski free at four primo resorts: Whistler, Silver Star and Big White in BC (starting Feb. 26) and at Jasper, Alberta (starting now).
Prices vary but a family with two kids under 18 could ski for a week at a lodge in Jasper for about $3400 (plus GST) or at the ski/boarding mecca of Whistler/Blackcomb for about $4250. This includes flights from Toronto, 6-day lift tickets, week-long accommodation and transfers for four. Even during March break, a condo package at Silver Star is only $4060. Other packages include a minivan. Call 888-475-4226 or visit skican.com. Definitely, winter need not be a spectator sport!
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