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Family Matters

Winter Fun in Central Alberta

November 1st, 2015

Photos provided byTourism Red Deer

By Debbie Olsen

It’s tempting, but you really must resist. It’s only natural to want to stay indoors when the temperature plunges and the fluffy stuff starts falling, but waiting out winter is a sure-fire route to cabin fever and the winter blues. It’s also unhealthy. The Canadian Physical Activity Guidelines suggest that children aged 5 to 17 should have at least an hour of moderate- to vigorous-intensity physical activities daily. The benefits according to the guide are many. Children who are active feel happier, do better in school, become fit, improve their self-confidence and learn new skills.

 

The best way to get your kids to change their ways and be active in winter is to role model the behavior and go outside with them to embrace the special delights of winter – snow and all. In Central Alberta, that’s easier than it sounds. You and your kids can reclaim the joy of winter with myriad outdoor activities and some truly cool winter festivals.

Make Friends with Old Man Winter

Alberta is the sunniest province in Canada and adults and kids can soak up some all-natural Vitamin D by getting outdoors– even in winter. Here are some fun family-friendly outdoor activities to enjoy with your kids while you soak up some rays.

Take a Hike

You can still enjoy running, walking and even cycling during winter. The City of Red Deer hand clears 23 km of paved trails during the winter months. Other communities in the area like Blackfalds, Lacombe and Sylvan Lake also keep large sections of trail clear in winter. Visit the city’s website (reddeer.ca) to see the “Trails Snow Clearing Map” and then choose a spot to get on the trail.   

Make Tracks

There was a time when trappers and traders used snowshoes as they traversed the snow covered terrain of the Red Deer Valley. Kids love to use their imaginations. Learn something about Canada’s early explorers and then go outside and pretend you are voyageurs. Or pop down to Kerry Wood Nature Centre and go on a guided snowshoe walk through Waskasoo Park. Even though it’s winter, the sanctuary is remarkably alive and naturalist guides will help you discover animal tracks and other interesting signs of activity. Snowshoe rentals are available at Kerry Wood Nature Centre and you can rent them and go out on your own anytime. Check their website to find the dates for guided snowshoe treks: waskasoopark.ca.

Central Alberta Tour de Skate

Outdoor skating is a Canadian tradition and Central Alberta upholds that tradition with an abundant number of free outdoor skating rinks and spaces to enjoy. Red Deer has 62 outdoor skating rinks for public use. There are boarded rinks for hockey and ringette and snowbank rinks for leisure skating. There are 3 pond skating locations and 1 speed skating oval where hockey sticks and pucks are not allowed. Lacombe, Blackfalds, Innisfail, Ponoka and Sylvan Lake also have free outdoor skating areas. Sylvan Lake has one of the longest outdoor skating tracks in North America. Take your kids to different outdoor rinks this winter. Take a picnic and a thermos of hot chocolate and have an adventure while enjoying the great outdoors. If you don’t own skates, Bower Ponds has a pavilion, a concession and skate rentals. Visit the municipal websites of the communities to find maps with skating rink locations.

Learn to Glide

Cross country skiing is great exercise and it’s an inexpensive outdoor sport.  There are more than 30 km of groomed ski trails available each winter throughout the Waskasoo Park system – right in the City of Red Deer. The majority of the city’s ski trails are centered in the Heritage Ranch/Great Chief Park area and the Riverbend Golf and Recreation Area. A biathlon shooting range is also available at Riverbend. Shorter trail loops are also provided at Barrett Park, the Red Deer College and a few school playgrounds. Other track set trails can be found around Central Alberta with the two most notable areas being the JJ Collett Natural Area near Lacombe and Jarvis Bay Provincial Park near Sylvan Lake. Red Deer’s Nordic ski community is very active and has events throughout the year. You can find trail maps on their website: reddeernordic.ca.

It’s All Downhill

Tobogganing can be great outdoor fun for families and there are plenty of excellent toboggan hills to enjoy in Central Alberta. Look for a hill with no obstacles that could be struck on the way down and one that doesn’t run out onto a street. To minimize the risk of injury, make sure kids have safe sledding equipment, are well supervised and are wearing helmets. Kids should be taught to sit up and face forward – going down the hill head first on your stomach is the most dangerous position. Tobogganing is a great Canadian tradition that conjures fond childhood memories for many grownups.   

Downhill Skiing

It’s a little known fact that in the 1960s, the Canadian National Ski Team used Canyon Ski Area for its early season training. Just 9 km east of Red Deer, Canyon is Alberta’s largest non-mountain downhill ski resort. This resort is particularly good for families with a great variety of runs and lifts, low cost lift tickets, equipment rentals and an onsite ski and snowboard school.  There’s also an on-site tubing park where you can ride inflated snow tubes safely down the hill and catch a lift back up to the top. (canyonski.ca)

Medicine Lodge Ski area, 11 km west of Bentley is another excellent non-mountain ski area. There are a variety of runs, ski and snowboard rentals, lessons and a day lodge onsite. It’s only open on weekends and school holidays. (facebook.com/medicinelodgeski)

Winter Tours & Special Activities

If you’d like a serious guided snowshoe trek in Central Alberta, Pursuit Adventures (pursuitadventure.ca) is the company to call. They also do guided ski & snowboard day trips to the mountain resorts and small group tours to David Thompson Country.

If you have always wanted to try ice fishing, but you don’t have the equipment or the know how to do it, let Adventure Ice Fishing (adventureicefishing.com) help you out. Located west of Lacombe on Gull Lake, this outfitter makes ice fishing easy with heated huts, equipment rentals, pre-drilled holes and underwater cameras.  They are also the only outfitter in Alberta that has overnight huts equipped with bunk beds, kitchens, propane furnaces and stoves- making it possible to sleep out on the ice.

Alberta Prairie Railway Excursions (absteamtrain.com) in Stettler has Christmas Party Trains that feature an old fashioned steam train excursion with caroling, a hayride, a turkey dinner and a dance in November and December.

Heritage Ranch (heritageranch.ca) in Red Deer offers winter sleigh rides from November through March that take you through a winter wonderland of 20,000 lights on a cozy horse-drawn sleigh or a hay ride. Hot chocolate and blankets are provided.

Winter Festivals

Central Albertans celebrate winter with unique festivals and events that run all season long. In 2015, the celebrations begin on November 21 with Red Deer Lights the Night (reddeer.ca), a festival that features children’s activities, entertainment, the lighting of City Hall Park and a visit from Santa. The annual Festival of Trees Celebration (reddeerfestivaloftrees.ca) runs from November 26-29, 2015 in Red Deer and features a number of fun family activities including breakfast with Santa, live entertainment and colourful decorations. Lacombe’s Light Up the Night (lacombetourism.com) festival runs from November 26 – 28, 2015. This three day festival includes a tree lighting ceremony, free movies, a Santa Claus parade, craft sales, live entertainment and fireworks. Sylvan Lake’s Yuletide Festival (spiritofsylvanyuletide.com) is on November 27-28 with fun kids’ activities, craft sales, entertainment and more.  On the Family Day Holiday in February, Blackfalds Winterfest (blackfalds.com) has a ton of family activities including ice carving workshops, ice slides, a skating party, a penguin dip and more. Sylvan Lake, Lacombe, Ponoka and Red Deer all typically have outdoor Family Day activities. There are a host of family-friendly winter activities in and around Central Alberta with new events and festivals added regularly. Keep an eye on the Tourism Red Deer events webpage (visitreddeer.com/events/), so you don’t miss out.




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