Winter games / Jeux d’hiver

All set to go tubing at Fête des neiges! Photo: Patricia Maunder

All set to go tubing at Fête des neiges! Photo: Patricia Maunder

Since my previous post, when I wrote about starting my first winter in the Great White North, I have had a wonderful, wonderful time embracing the season’s snow and ice. While the temperature has been somewhat uneven, actually peeping above the parapet of zero Celsius on a few days (making snow melt, paths treacherously icy and outdoor skating unreliable), there has been plenty of opportunity to get out there and enjoy it. An invigorating walk up Mont Royal. Skating at the Old Port’s vast outdoor rink. Frolicking with my beau in the massive dumping of snow that fell at the end of December (45cm in 24 hours – a Montreal record!). Vodka shots on the balcony, poured from a bottle chilling in the snow …

With so much fun to be had at this time of year, it’s little wonder that there are winter festivals across Quebec (and Canada) that make the most of the sub-zero conditions. In Montreal we have Fête des neiges (Snow Festival), which happens over three weekends on an island park in the St Lawrence River. Anything that involves having a great time outdoors with snow and ice is gathered here: dog-sled rides; ice carvings that glisten in the sun; skating along a path with views of Montreal across the river (where I was amazed to see ducks contentedly floating among great chunks of ice!).

After missing the first weekend due to a getaway to Canada (that is, Toronto; the province of Quebec feels like a country unto itself), my beau and I eagerly set out on the festival’s second weekend. We stepped from the Metro station and directly into Fête des neiges: folks dressed up in colourful bear costumes were dancing to the infectious rhythms of Gangnam Style on a stage opposite the station. What a welcome! Then the festival’s polar bear mascot strolled over: kids ran up to him for hugs, and I wondered for a good minute whether it was OK for me to hug this big, cuddly cartoon character too. I chickened out, but even so, within minutes of arriving I felt immersed in the festival. What’s more, the weather was perfect, as the sun shone from a brilliant, clear blue sky across the gleaming white landscape.

First item on my list was fulfilling a childhood dream: a horse-drawn sleigh ride! We bundled in with about half a dozen others, and were off, gliding smoothly and quietly across the snow. It wasn’t quite the idyllic experience I had conjured in my mind from exotic northern hemisphere Christmas songs and Anne of Green Gables, with sleigh bells ringing through the silence of a secluded woodland. But it was still a wish fulfilled: 15 minutes of nostalgic winter pleasure (memorable not only for my prime view of poop popping out of our horse’s butt!).

After giving big, black Bob the horse a pat, we strolled around enjoying all manner of free diversions, including figure-skating demonstrations and a maze built from huge, transparent ice blocks. Then we tried another of the festival’s (surprisingly modestly priced) activities: tubing. Over and over, we hauled our fat inner-tubes to the top of a hill turned into a series of snow slides, parked our backsides into them, and whizzed down to the bottom – so much fun! We went down solo, and with our tubes tied together; we tried the steady gradient slides and the ones with a couple of bumps that briefly send you airborne if you’re having a good run. Unfortunately the ‘super glissade’ – the extra-steep slide – closed shortly after we arrived due to an accident. I guess tubing could be dangerous, especially if you are reckless, but for me it was just outrageously good fun!

As I stood at the top of the hill waiting for my turn to zoom down again, listening to kids screaming with delight and watching the sun set in frosty orange glory behind Montreal’s skyline, I didn’t want the day to end. It’s at moments like these that I never want this winter to end …

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4 thoughts on “Winter games / Jeux d’hiver

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