Silver Skate Festival Celebrates All-Activities Winter for 30th Year
When winter comes to the Netherlands, the Dutch simply exchange their clogs for ice skates, an image indelibly etched in our minds from Hans Christian Andersen’s Hans Brinker and the Silver Skates. For the past 30 years, families in Edmonton have made the same transition during another hallmark event, the Silver Skate Festival. Every February, the festival creates a pageant that celebrates our collective embrace of the outdoors.
Founded as an annual gathering of outdoor skating enthusiasts, Silver Skate has grown into one of the premier winter arts, culture and recreation festivals in North America, drawing families and friends from the U.S. via convenient Air Canada flights from SFO and other international airports. Edmonton in general is a great winter recreation city, with snowshoe and cross-country trails seemingly around every corner, high Northern Lights potential and over one-half dozen awesome sledding hills. Click here to save 15% on all base fares to Edmonton when flying with Air Canada. Book by February 17, 2020. Hurry, valid on first 1000 bookings.
Though skating certainly remains at the center of the Festival’s recreational activities, the event has grown into a five-hectare family-friendly bonanza of arts, culture and outdoor adventure both day and night. From fire sculptures to Canada’s only Ice Castle to the Kortebaan, a traditional Dutch speed skating sprint, William Hawrelak Park is transformed into an ever-expanding Dutch-inspired tapestry of winter riches. The Festival also celebrates local heritage, beginning with the First Nations’ Cree Winter Camp, an interpretive and hands-on living exhibition that showcases a traditional log dwelling and provides insights into how the Cree used the prairie environment to survive and thrive.
The Cree Winter Camp is located in the popular Heritage Village, where visitors can also participate in blacksmithing demonstrations, cook bannock over an open fire, and learn from Parks Canada rangers how to dress for the season, winter camp and even prepare a cookout outside at home. You don’t have to wait until you get home to feast on treats though; you can participate in a traditional French-Canadian toffee-pull inside the Cabane à Sucre.
In addition to dancing at the nightly live concerts, there are plenty of other ways to keep warm over the 10-day festival. Birkie Sunday invites participants to take to the groomed trails for cross-country ski races. Test your legs at a 50-meter dash or try on the Birkebeiner Giant Skis. The Dead Cold Run also promises to warm attendees up via a “Frosty 5k,” “Toasty 10k” and 1k Kids FunRun along the North Saskatchewan River.
Each race or outing is available to all participation levels. The “run-skate-run” Ice Duathlon stretches to 8k for solo, families or teams or can be run and skated solo as a 4k. The Snowshoe Race features a 5k run and a family-friendly 1k walk/run. The Fatbike Fest challenges individuals or relay teams. Even the Winter Triathlon (run, skate, ski) covers three distances. If a race at Hawrelak Park isn't on your agenda, there is no need to miss out; you can rent snowshoes, skis and fat-tire bikes from River Valley Adventure Co.
Silver Skate has added other culinary gems to the schedule, including the inaugural Long Table Dinner series, 11 memorable evenings featuring an all-star cast of western Canadian chefs. Twenty-four exclusive guests, nestled under trappers’ blankets, will attend each four- to five-course Long Table Dinner in the Trapper’s Tent, warmed by two open fires and a wood stove. Each chef has been charged with creating menus from as much local provender as possible. More fire pits await outside the Spirits on Ice Tent, a unique beer, wine and spirits tent and patio serving food as well. A special adults-only fundraiser on February 11, Castles, Kegs & Casks, will feature the Blind Enthusiasm Brewery accompanied by live music from Chronic Rock.
With five Stanley Cup and 14 Grey Cup wins, Edmonton can be a competitive place. This sporty spirit comes to Hawrelak Park during “Battle of the Neighborhoods,” when Oliver, Ritchie, Downtown and Old Strathcona eateries take to the (heated!) tent on February 12 to compete for “Best Stew of the Silver Skate Festival” bragging rights.
Edmonton is not only the capital of the province; it is also the capital of Canada's C&W music scene. Country players and other music stars perform every night during Silver Skate as The Prairie States, Giselle Parker and more than two dozen other musical acts take to the stage.
Naturally, ice skating takes center ice during the Silver Skate Festival. Drawing inspiration from the Netherlands, where speed and endurance skating are as familiar on winter weekends as Hockey Night in Canada locally, the Edmonton Speed Skating Association presents an exciting roster of races, including 1k, 5k, 10k and/or 1-hour distances. Like snowshoeing, speed skating is growing in popularity as a wonderful and affordable outdoor aerobic exercise. Over three decades, Silver Skate has introduced thousands to “long blade” skating, and many return year after year to share their love of the sport.
The Folk Trail takes us down another path―a wonderful holistic celebration of the winter season with a storytelling tent and a lantern walk alongside lanterns made by visitors. You can also take in the snow sculptures day or night. The International Festival of Winter Cinema offers yet another chance to settle down (outside) beside the fire and explore the meaning of winter.
With exceptional hotels like the grand Fairmont Hotel Macdonald soaring above the fabled river valley, dynamic neighborhoods such as Old Strathcona and fabulous outdoor recreation like nighttime snowshoeing under the constellations in nearby Elk Island National Park, Edmonton has long drawn visitors as a favorite winter destination. It’s hardly just about the outdoors, though, as West Edmonton Mall contains summer favorites like a water and amusement park under its roof. The Silver Skate Festival adds yet another exciting reason to visit: 10 days of activity, food and culture that show exactly why Edmonton in winter is full of wonder. Visit the Silver Skate website to learn more.
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