Winter at it's Best - A Great Canadian Experience

By Allison Gagnon   Trail Canada

Big fluffy flakes fall from the sky like magic and blanket the frozen ground. Each fallen crystal is tailored carefully by Mother Nature so no two are alike. Just like the uniqueness of a snowflake, every city, town and village across our wide, vast nation has a characteristic and different way to celebrate our winter wonderland. Through our longest and darkest seasons, Canada from coast to coast shines bright as glistening, white snow dusts the cities, covers the mountains and frosts everything in between.

Whether it's the grand winter festivals in the east or the dramatic, towering landscape of the west, Canada's seasonal playground is boundless. Turn up the heat and pile on the layers, we're taking a scenic ride from coast to coast, through snow-covered forests, over frozen glaciers and across shimmering fresh snow fields. It will then be up to you to decide - which place does winter best?

We start our winter wonderland journey in Cornerbrook, Newfoundland's second largest city. Nestled within the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains and along the scenic Humber Valley, Marble Mountain operates the only high-speed detachable quad lift in the Atlantic provinces. Facilitated with an Olympic sized half pipe, a well maintained snowboard park and 50 km of cross country networked trails, Marble Mountain offers something for everyone.

Winter creates a truly spectacular sight at Montmorency Falls, located only 11 km North East of Quebec City. Standing 30m (98 ft) taller than Niagara Falls, Montmorency Falls rises to an impressive 83m (272 ft). The misty spray forms a solid mountain of towering ice that stems from the base of the waterfall - known as “pain de sucre” (sugar loaf).

Party the night away at the world's largest Winter Carnival held in Quebec City from January 26 - February 11, 2007. Join the Bonhomme mascot and celebrate winter in all its glory. Spectacular ice sculptures, colourful night parades, a snow bath and a giant fooz ball game are only a few of the countless activities here at one of the world's top festivals.

Chill on ice and spend a night at the Ice Palace Hotel in Duchesnay, Quebec. Unleash your wildest fantasies within the frozen walls of one of their 13 theme rooms (or 21 regular rooms). Built annually, the delicate architecture utilizes 15,000 tons of snow and 500 tons of ice. Slide into the Absolut Bar for a drink, warm your dancing toes at the N'Ice Club or whisper your vows at the magnificent ice chapel. Day tours are available.

Check out the snow at Mont. St. Anne, one of Quebec's finest ski resorts. With three terrain parks, a half pipe and 64 runs directed on each side of the mountain, Mont. St. Anne attracts abilities of all levels. Stay after dark and glide under the stars as the resort offers Canada's highest vertical of night skiing with 17 open trails. Further South, in the heart of the Laurentian Mountains, stands the highest peak - Mont. Tremblant. Stroll through the picturesque village, hit the descending slopes or treat yourself to a massage here at Eastern North America's number one resort.

Don't miss your chance to explore the world's longest skating rink, the Rideau Canal Skateway, which winds through Canada's capital in downtown Ottawa. Follow the 7.8 km of frozen waterway by foot, on skates or by sled. From February 2-18, 2007, Ottawa heats up with the mighty winter celebration of Winterlude. Browse the spectacular, shimmering ice sculptures, watch dazzling performances or slide down the largest snow playground on the continent.

If you're affected by the shortened hours of daylight be sure to check out Canada's largest light festival to bring that much needed brightness to your life. Niagara Falls' Winter Festival of Lights, stretches for 5 km along the Niagara Parkway. The Parkway is illuminated by two million lights and 100 lighting displays that include Disney movies and various wildlife and cultural exhibits. Enjoy concerts, fireworks and nightly events when the sun goes down and the town of Niagara Falls brightens the sky.

Manitoba's snowy prairie land becomes a winter playground and daring adventure with one of the provinces top winter activities - snowmobiling. The Parkland area is built up of many provincial parks, an abundance of lakes and a variety of historic landmarks. Throughout the entire area entwines 1000 km of maintained snowmobile trails. Whisk away over these ancient grounds and explore the exhilarating possibilities of snowmobiling.

Discover Saskatchewan at Lac La Ronge when winter turns the rolling hills and lush forest into a wintery, white paradise. A haven for cross country skiing, the provincial park provides 62 km of groomed and freestyle trails. Wind your way through a thick Boreal forest under the night sky on 5 km of well lit networks.

Our journey takes us further west to the mouth of the Canadian Rockies. Explore the countless glistening glaciers and discover deep, crystallized canyons and crevasses. Glide along frozen emerald lakes, through blanketed forests, past jagged, snow covered peaks and trickling waterfalls. Keep your eyes peeled for the abundance of winter wildlife and their tracks in the deep snow.

Take a walk on an interpretive trail, or slide along the icy floor, through Maligne Canyon, a spectacular gorge and the deepest canyon within Jasper National Park. The caves plummet 50m (164 ft) underground, each descending wall lined with sheer limestone. Look out for wild life when you drive the Ice Fields Parkway, one of the most scenic and breathtaking highways in all of North America which coils though the heart of the jaw-dropping rocky mountains. Located along the outskirts of Jasper National Park, lies the largest ice glacier south of Alaska. The Columbia Ice field drains into eight smaller glaciers, all which are visible from the Ice Fields Parkway.

Imagine wide open bowls of pristine powder, lined with gladed, snow-covered, unspoiled scenery, all on your choice of three accessible mountains. Norquay mountain, Sunshine Village and Lake Louise are nestled within Banff National Park and provide more than 7,700 acres and 240 trails for all skiing/snowboarding abilities.

Out of the Rockies and into British Columbia finds us in the valley town of Golden, burrowed between the Purcell and Selkirk mountain ranges. One of the toughest ski-towns around, the terrain on Kicking Horse Mountain is steep and rugged. The champagne powder covers the easily accessible chutes, blankets the evergreen glades and showers the untouched backcountry. Take the 12 minute relaxing gondola ride to the summit and dine at the Eagle's Eye - Canada's highest restaurant at 7,700 ft (2347m).

If you listen closely, you might just hear the distant howls echo from the Northern Lights Wolf Sanctuary, also located in Golden. A chance to meet the wolves up close and personal, the sanctuary offers an interpretive program to observe and learn about these elusive and graceful creatures.

Further west along the Trans-Canada leads us to Glacier National Park, home to over 400 gleaming glaciers which rule this challenging terrain. This park offers some of the most dramatic and encompassing views in all of Canada, dominated by 10 peaks ranging from 8530 (2600m) to 11,120 ft (3390m). For the ultimate outdoor enthusiast, the area including Rogers Pass and Revelstoke offer some of the freshest, most consistent snow and challenging backcountry terrain in high alpine bowls.

Test out your mushing skills and adventure on an Alaskan Husky dogsled expedition, in Clearwater, an hour and a half away from Kamloops. Let the beautiful dogs guide you through a winter paradise as you embark on an exhilarating journey through a snowcapped wilderness. Stop and soak up the sunshine on the slopes at Sun Peaks mountain resort. On average the European style resort receives over 2000 hours of blazing sunshine throughout the year. Blessed by nature with this endless sunshine, copious amounts of pristine powder and an award winning village, Sun Peaks is an interior treasure.

If you haven't had your fix during the day head south to Big White for some moonlight skiing/snowboarding under the stars. About an hour away from Kelowna, Big White provides western Canada's largest night skiing area. Stay for the day and show off your best tricks in the super pipe, half pipe or race your friends down the slick Border/Skier cross.

Straight up the coast, only two hours away from Vancouver, lies North America's number one resort and event holder for the upcoming 2010 Olympics. Whistler Blackcomb, the mecca of mountains, continues to attract thousands of visitors from every corner of the earth to experience the ultimate ski vacation. Choose from an array of adrenaline packed activities offered in the area from bungy jumping, snowmobiling, tubing, Ziptrek, and heli-skiing adventures.

Keep your eyes to the northern sky for a spectacular night show. Best seen during the dark, winter months, Aurora Borealis or the Northern lights, dance miraculously in a festive display of bright, streaming colours across the clear, night sky. The melting clouds of colour flutter across the heavens in pigments of pretty pinks, purples and greens. Although you can see the Northern Lights from many places across the country, escorted tours to watch this unforgettable phenomenon at its brightest are available out of Whitehorse, and Yellowknife.

Last but not least hop aboard a ferry bound for Vancouver Island. Home to lush, temperate rainforests and a coastal climate, winter here is wet and mild. The dramatic scene of heavy rainfall, whistling winds and wicked waves attract many in a season of winter storm watching in Tofino. Hold on to your hat as you watch the wild fury of the Pacific ocean come to life and listen to the battle of mother nature surge. When all is calm, venture out to deserted, glistening beaches and enjoy the pure serenity of island life. At the same time the rest of Canada is snowed in, Vancouver Island's playground is still green. Surfing, kayaking, golfing, horseback riding, hiking and whale watching are all available year round.

Tired yet? Canada's winter playground is all yours to discover. Is it even possible to decide where winter is celebrated best? From east to west, the country as a whole succeeds in bringing the greatest in breathtaking scenery, alpine skiing, winter festivals and majestic mountain culture. Canada simply does winter best.

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