Mini-Break in the Mountains: Jasper in January

With the low Canadian dollar and cheap gas prices, I imagine many families are considering staycation options this year. Moreover, although Calgarians often point out Edmonton’s comparable distance to the Rockies as one of our shortcomings, the four hour drove to Jasper really isn’t that much to overcome. It’s definitely close enough for a weekend jaunt, and personally, knowing that a vacation from work is implausible over the next few months, a short getaway is exactly what I’ll need come spring.

Athabasca Falls

Athabasca Falls

My familiarity with Jasper began only a few years ago as an adult, as Banff was my family’s destination of choice growing up. A weekend at the Jasper Park Lodge’s famed Christmas in November in 2014 opened my eyes to the town as a destination in winter. I continued learning about Jasper’s possibilities a few weeks ago, along with Mack and some other media folks, including Linda, Mike, Gail, Phil and Robyn. Tourism Jasper covered our accommodation, transportation and most of the meals that we enjoyed over the weekend.


Linda takes an #elkie

Jasper in January has been taking place for twenty seven years, and what started as a celebration of skiing and snowboarding at Marmot Bason has grown into a wide-ranging festival that features other winter sports, arts and food.

Getting There

Did you know that there is a shuttle that runs daily from Edmonton to Jasper? Well, neither did we, until we booked the Sundog Transportation and Tours bus. It departs from West Edmonton Mall at 3:50pm, to arrive in Jasper by 8pm, with brief stops in Hinton and Edson along the way ($89 one-way ticket for adults). The ride was comfortable, and as Mack noted, it was nice not to have to drive, especially after dark.

That said, the only departure time from Jasper back to Edmonton was at 7am – which means it wouldn’t be possible to make the most of a two-night trip to Jasper. We ended up carpooling home with Phil and Robyn to extend our stay into the afternoon.

Also, as we were shuttled around the Jasper area as a group, had we been without a personal vehicle, it would have been difficult to make our way from one destination to another outside of anything within the town site. While taxis were a reliable source of transportation, they may not be the most economical solution for a holiday.

Scenic Pastures

The highlight of our visit was an afternoon at Marmot Meadows, a Parks Canada Winter Hub. Throughout the season, there will be opportunities to learn more about wildlife, Aboriginal culture, and winter activities at a site that encourages interaction with the outdoors. A skating rink was in the process of being formed (which, as a TV junkie, reminded me of the picturesque mountainside rink in the first season of Everwood), and a cross-country ski track was well-worn in the valley.


Yes, I’m having Everwood flashbacks

Our group participated in a beginner snowshoe activity. Unlike the snowshoes I remembered from my youth – those wooden frames based on more traditional models – Parks Canada staff introduced us to lighter, metal frame versions that were easier to use. We padded into the woods with our guide, relishing the steps into fresh, undisturbed powder.

Mack & Sharon


Left to our own devices, Linda and I engaged in some friendly competition, racing short distances in the snowshoes. It was the most fun I had all weekend, and a winter activity I am now inspired to continue in the future.

Linda & Sharon

In it to win it

On Sunday, Phil and Robyn took us to some of their favourite natural wonders. Athabasca Falls is beautiful in the warmer months, but is perhaps even more breathtaking in the winter, with cascades of ice and snow churning below.

Athabasca Falls

Athabasca Falls

With the hard packed trail, it was obvious that many have come to admire the Falls in the winter. But given the parking lot was uncleared, and the walkways were for the most part snowed over and unsanded, it doesn’t seem to be an officially sanctioned attraction in the winter.

Robyn & Phil

Our tour guides

Pyramid Lake, in the shadow of a peak that shares the same name, is set up as its own outdoor activity hub in the winter, and is only about a ten-minute drive from the town of Jasper. Mountain Park Lodges, which operates Pyramid Lake Resort adjacent to the lake, maintains several rinks and ski trails. They offer rentals for visitors without equipment, but we spotted many families who brought their own equipment for an afternoon of shinny, skating or cross-country skiing. In some ways, given the picture-perfect setting, we were surprised there wasn’t evidence of overt commercial sponsorships from national brewing or coffee brands.

Pyramid Lake

Pyramid Lake in winter

We had some fun throwing around curling logs, and warmed up in the lodge with some brunch. Afterwards, we took part in a genuine horse-drawn sleigh ride (no wheeled wagons here). At $25 per person, it could be a steep price to pay for families, but for us, it was a manageable cost that weekend. The rides are especially popular around the holidays, but continue to be offered on weekends until the end of March, conditions permitting.


Curling logs!

With the jangle of sleigh bells and the breathtaking mountain in front of us, it felt like a postcard experience. The sleigh even had fuzzy warm blankets for the ride, appreciated on that blustery afternoon.

Jasper in January

Horse-drawn sleigh at Pyramid Lake

Good Eats

Jasper in January had three themed weekends: arts, appetites, and adventures, though some activities spnned multiple weeks. Our trip centred around appetites, and I’m happy to say, we discovered some culinary gems.

The Wicked Cup is a great place to start your day. It’s a charming establishment with a restaurant, cafe and gift shop, and based on their brunch offerings, I wouldn’t hesitate to return for other meals. The pancakes ($10.50) I ordered were not for the faint of heart, served with a wild berry compote and whipped cream. They were fluffy and delicious, and yes, felt a bit like having dessert to start off the day.

Wicked Cup

Classic pancakes from The Wicked Cup

Jasper Brewing Company is a brew pub located within the town site. They have locations in Banff, Calgary and Fort McMurray, which all have individual identities and offer different signature brews. John Palko, the brewmaster in Jasper, was noncommittal about a future location in Edmonton, but didn’t rule it out.

Jasper Brewing Co

John Palko of the Jasper Brewing Company

Their model is to sell their beer from the brew pub itself, with the exception of festivals or fundraisers they participate in. Jasper Brewing Company prides itself on serving fresh beer – from mash to pint in 10 days – and produced 115,000L in 2015. Their most popular beer is their Jasper the Bear honey ale.

Mack tried a flight of their beers, which is a great way to sample the six they had on tap. His favourite ended up being the Liftline Cream Ale.


A flight of beers from Jasper Brewing Company

We also learned a bit about backcountry cooking at a session led by Wild Current. For winter camping excursions, because of the cold, it’s even more important that people stay hydrated and consume nutrient-rich foods. We sampled some rehydrated pastas and chilis (made by adding hot water directly to the package), as well as a stew put together by Wild Current staff.

Jasper in January

Serving up stew

It was somewhat curious that instead of assembling the stew as a demonstration, we were told it had been put together off-site and just reheated on the campfire. Hopefully Parks Canada reworks the session in the future to make it more hands-on and interactive.

For dinner, we were ushered to the majestic Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge. We enjoyed a three-course meal consisting of highlights from Orso Trattoria’s regular menu, and for me, dessert took the cake. The Tarte de Nero, paired with a ten year Tawny Port, was a rich and satisfying way to end a wonderful evening. As has been my experience at the JPL, the service was once again top-notch.

Jasper in January

Tarte de Nero from Jasper Park Lodge

Wines in Winter is an annual wine tasting event hosted by Mountain Park Lodges. The $30 ticket was perhaps the best value item all weekend – besides the appetizers that were included within the price, attendees were able to sample over 100 different types of wine.

I would have personally liked to have seen more Canadian wines represented, but we did find our way to the Ontario and BC labels being poured. Mack couldn’t help but be drawn to the Great One.

Wayne & Mack

Enjoying the Wayne Gretzky Series Cabernet Merlot

Our last meal before departing for the weekend was both scenic and delicious (typically, it’s only one for two). The Pines Restaurant inside the Pyramid Lake Resort has a lakefront view, and is beautifully designed to take advantage of the panoramic sights.

Pyramid Lake

The Pines Restaurant

Mack and I both couldn’t resist the decadent croissantwich ($12), layered with a fried egg, avocado, tomatoes, chorizo, and cheddar. The only downside was perhaps not having the foresight to order two sandwiches each.

Pyramid Lake

Croissantwich from The Pines

If you’re planning to attend Jasper in January next year, take a look at Jasper in January for what to expect, or more broadly, at any time of year, on Tourism Jasper for ideas – I’m already looking forward to our next mini-break in the mountains.

Thanks again to Tourism Jasper for the opportunity to further explore Jasper!

Check out Mack’s post about our weekend here.

In the Dark of Night: Luminaria

In a northern city like Edmonton, it’s somewhat surprising that we don’t celebrate the inevitable darkness of winter more. It could be as simple as highlighting Elk Island Park, a dark sky preserve perfect for star gazing, or taking advantage of the opportunity to light up the night, outside of the holiday season.

This weekend’s Flying Canoe Volant is a great example of this, lighting up the trails of the Mill Creek Ravine to encourage families to explore an area typically avoided after dark. And every December, the Devonian Botanical Garden’s Luminaria transforms the Kurimoto Japanese Garden into a beautiful canvas of lights.



Mack and I had been meaning to visit Luminaria for years, but never planned well enough in advance to do so. Tickets are sold fast and furious weeks prior to the annual festival, held the first weekend in December. In 2015, organizers added another layer to the tickets, asking patrons to choose between limited on-site parking and free shuttles from either the University of Alberta or Devon in advance. Mack and I found the shuttle option both convenient and seamless – we hopped on the LRT from home and walked over to the waiting yellow buses parked across from Health Sciences/Jubilee Station, and allowed the able drivers to take care of the rest.


Angels among us

It was clear that for some, Luminaria is an annual family tradition that helps mark the beginning of the holiday season. Patrons varied in age, with some groups spanning multiple generations.


Kurimoto Japanese Garden

The main attraction is, of course, the Kurimoto Japanese Garden, its paths lined with 2,000 candles. Each night, volunteers light the candles, all carefully placed into paper bags weighted down with sand. To recreate this magic at home, the gift shop even had ready-made kits for sale.


Small but mighty

Just to the right of the garden was a section called Memory Lane, meant for those wishing to light a candle in remembrance of a loved one. Volunteers reminded us to be mindful of those in mourning along the path.


Memory Lane

The rest of our stroll was a mix of quiet reflection and appreciation of the lights in a context of darkness, and a reminder that the festive season was around the corner. A highlight for me was enjoying the complimentary hot apple cider while listening to roving Christmas carollers.


Carollers under the lights

Besides the main attraction, there was a small hay bale maze for the young ones to explore, and those of all ages had the option of writing down a wish to hang on their trees (reminding me of the Nuit Blanche Wishing Tree installation in Churchill Square last fall). There was also a small indoor craft sale to peruse for those thinking ahead. Our only complaint was with the food offered on-site, as the choice was limited to beef stew. Perhaps other options could be offered in the future that would be equally easy to eat and venue-appropriate? A broader menu would at least encourage patrons to linger, as we found we were done exploring the garden and the surrounding attractions in about an hour.


Wishing upon a star

Our first time at Luminaria did not disappoint, and we really did appreciate how easy it was to get to and from the Devonian Botanical Garden. If you’re interested in checking it out for yourself, mark your calendars for December 2-4, 2016. Tickets go on sale September 1, 2016.

Recap: Winter Shake-Up Festival

After work on Friday, I met up with Mack and Hannah to take in the first ever Winter Shake-up Festival and Market at Churchill Square.

Winter Shake Up

A public event, it capped off a two-day conference all about winter: design, marketing, business opportunities, and of course, how to encourage more people to embrace the season. Although it ended up being unfortunate timing that the festival coincided with the coldest evening this January, it resulted in a true winter experience – one the organizers had to plan for, and attendees had to dress for.

Winter Shake Up

We loved the overall feel of the Square – they kept the layout tight, and the welcoming light installations and scissor-lifted lights added some magic.

Winter Shake Up

Given nature’s unpredictability, organizers had a number of ways for folks to warm up. Our favourite was through their selection of hot drinks, including apple cider, spiked coffee and mulled wine.

Winter Shake Up

There were also three brave food trucks on hand, and the even braver souls who ordered from them. I’m sure a topic for future conferences could be designing winter al fresco-friendly food – most people ducked into tents to consume their fare, while others huddled under heat lamps to keep their exposed fingers warm.

Winter Shake Up

Over forty market vendors participated, either in large heated tents, or in the individual huts we’d first spied at All is Bright. On this cold night, this set-up seemed to put those in the huts at a slight disadvantage, as they were on the periphery of the action, but the aesthetics of the covered stalls are closer to the European-style markets organizers wanted to emulate. It will be interesting to see how this aspect might be improved for future events.

Winter Shake Up

I really loved that several dynamic activities were also being offered on the Square. Attendees could try out segways, fat bikes, and a snow slide built on top of the steps of the amphitheater.

Winter Shake Up

Although I recognize the liability the slide presents if unattended, it was unfortunate the structure had to be demolished the day after the event. I know maintaining it would require a cost, but something as simple as a slide can bring so much joy to children and adults alike, and would provide a reason to interact with the outdoors in a space otherwise pretty barren in the winter.

Winter Shake Up

Kudos to the organizers for a great first time event – let’s hope the momentum continues!

Recap: All is Bright on 124 Street

Mack and I took in the second annual All is Bright Festival on 124 Street last Saturday. With a gentle, glistening snowfall heralding winter, the event was christened with a beautifully ethereal quality.

All is Bright on 124 Street

High Street

Sure, it was a little chilly, but organizers were prepared, with warming fires clustered around the High Street shops. There were even a handful of outdoor vendors, sheltered by custom-built WinterCity huts (these could be the start of a more permanent winter market!).

All is Bright on 124 Street


There was also a covered tent that doubled as a stage, though some performers braved the elements on the chance of gathering an even larger crowd.

All is Bright on 124 Street


Food trucks were on hand also, though their numbers were fewer than last year. Street Eats is fully winterized, so it’s possible you may see them again this season! We were a little disappointed that with all of the foot traffic, event organizers elected not to close any adjacent streets. With the 102 Avenue bridge construction, we thought it would have been natural to close the avenue to vehicles for a more family-friendly set-up as was the case last year.

All is Bright on 124 Street

Street Eats

Of course, one of the best things about this festival is its close proximity to great independent shops, so we definitely took advantage of the opportunity to not only warm our toes but also a head start on Christmas shopping.

Carbon on 124 Street


The festival footprint extended north of 107 Avenue, with horse-drawn sleighs and ETS shuttles connecting the two ends of 124 Street. We opted to walk to Drift’s new storefront to have lunch, and were rewarded with a steaming plate of poutine and wonderfully spiced bowl of mulligatawny soup.

Drift on 124 Street

Drift’s new space

Drift on 124 Street


Across the street, Duchess was handing out hot chocolate and freshly-fried beignets. It was also an opportunity to see their annual gingerbread cathedral still under construction (the intricate “stained glass” windows are a marvel).

Duchess Bake Shop

Giselle all bundled up!

Duchess Bake Shop

Beignets (seconds, please)

Duchess Bake Shop

Gingerbread cathedral in progress

We met up with Hannah and Stephanie in the new neighbourhood Credo, which was bustling with patrons needing a break from the cold.

Credo on 124 Street

Geoff behind the bar

By the time we were done catching up, we realized we had missed the official light-up and fireworks. But it didn’t really matter – one of the best things about All is Bright is an excuse to acquaint (or reacquaint) yourself with all of the wonderful shops and galleries in the area.

All is Bright on 124 Street


We did hustle back to the main site just in time to marvel at the lights and closing activities. Although crowds had dwindled down, it was still a wonderful scene of Edmontonians making the most of winter.

Steph, Hannah, Sharon

With Steph and Hannah

Mack and I thought better of slogging away in the kitchen that night, and left the cooking up to The Bothy. We snagged the last free table, and though we had to be patient with the kitchen, it was well worth the wait. Both our dishes were well prepared.

The Bothy on 124 Street

Roasted lamb sausage pasta

Kudos to the All is Bright organizers for putting together a fabulous event – I’m looking forward to what’s in store for next year!

2012 Mill Creek Adventure Walk

On Saturday, Mack and I joined hundreds of other Edmontonians on the Mill Creek Adventure Walk to take advantage of a unseasonably warm January night.

This was the event’s forth incarnation in as many years, but the first that we’ve been able to get to (we’re also embarrassed to admit that this was our first time visiting these trails, period). Though we’d seen photos of some of Mill Creek all decked out, we really didn’t know what to expect.

Mill Creek Adventure Walk


At the head of the trail stood a warming fire sculpture (the kind that has almost become ubiquitous with outdoor winter events in the city), not a bad place for it given the winds in that particular spot. As we ducked into the tree-sheltered paths, however, the breeze immediately dissipated. To guide the way, organizers had marked the trail with coloured lanterns, a simple but elegant touch – children and adults alike were mesmerized by the patterns they cast onto the snow.

Mill Creek Adventure Walk


We eventually found our way to the welcome area, festive with a combination of Caribbean beats, dazzling lights and warming fires. We guessed that the heated tents offered an opportunity to craft a lighted walking stick, but the lines deterred us from joining in.

Mill Creek Adventure Walk

Welcome tent

Mill Creek Adventure Walk

Let there be light!

The “adventure” portion of the walk started here. The narrative woven for this year’s walk involved the Beavers of the creek rallying around the construction of a new lodge, a move opposed by the Skunks, Ravens and Magpies. In the welcome area, participants were introduced to this conflict by an actor playing the part of one of the groups concerned. It was definitely an intimate setting, as the actors were not equipped with microphones, so we had to strain to hear what was being said (curious that they situated the actor right next to the blaring music speakers). We decided at that point not to partake in the story, but to simply enjoy the other sights the walk had to offer.

Mill Creek Adventure Walk

Storyboards also helped to tell the story

Some points along the adventure trail were quite narrow, and given we encountered several parties trying to make their way back the same way, it was obvious that clear signs for trail options were needed (the way back, on the elevated, flat embankment was much easier to navigate).

Mill Creek Adventure Walk

Adventure trail

We encountered two additional story circles along the way, both involving visuals to help set the scene. We found the Eager Beaver particularly entertaining as we passed, as well as the black-caped Raven, purring about “shiny things” and frightening children along the way.

Mill Creek Adventure Walk

The Really Big Lodge

The last gathering point was bustling with families, and a significant number of dogs (I think people were just waiting for an outdoor opportunity to involve their four-legged member of the family!). There was a snowfort and ice slide that kept the young ones occupied, while we grabbed a cup of hot chocolate to savour.

Mill Creek Adventure Walk

Edmontonians out in full force

We really enjoyed our walk in the park. We wondered if sans programming (but including heated tents), whether or not people would still come out to enjoy a midnight stroll if the lanterns were left to light the way – if so, it would be a relatively low-cost way to encourage Edmontonians to embrace the outdoors on a more regular basis.

Mill Creek Adventure Walk

Mack loved the look of the lights on the snow

Kudos to Winter Light and the organizers of the Mill Creek Adventure Walk – it proves that we all just need a reason to be outside!

Up next for Winter Light: Common Ground, “a warm hearted gathering of winter spirit in the inner city” on February 10-11, 2012.

Winter Light 2011: Illuminations

Mack in particular has been harsh on the Winter Light Festival in the past, but necessarily so, because we know how much potential it has to make the cold months in our city more bearable. Tonight, though, we were absolutely buzzing after attending Illuminations, a spectacular show that can and should legitimately become the jewel in the crown of winter festivals in Edmonton.

Winter Light Illuminations 2011


We didn’t make it out to Illuminations last year, but we did in 2009, and found the event to be underwhelming. There were decorations, bonfires, and a few roving performers, but it wasn’t anything that would draw us back again. I’m happy to say that this year’s edition was quite the opposite.

It was chilly out, nearly –30 with wind chill (easily twenty degrees colder than when we visited Ice on Whyte last weekend), but Churchill Square still held a sizable crowd.

Winter Light Illuminations 2011

Gathering around the fire

We arrived just before the finale performance, and had time to take in some of the visual installations, the bonfires, and marvel at the “winter people”, actors dressed in white and trailed throughout the Square by targeted spotlights.

Winter Light Illuminations 2011

The promenade

Circus Orange is a Toronto-based pyrotechnic circus performance troupe – but really, all you need to know is that they were amazing.

Winter Light Illuminations 2011

The show begins

Their show combined dance, stunts, pyrotechnics, and a good old fashioned clown, and was mesmerizing for both children and adults alike.

Winter Light Illuminations 2011

The clown tames the monsters with…marshmallows!

The show began in front of the Art Gallery of Alberta, luring the crowd with a striking, monstrous steel tricycle outfitted with flares. The tricycle eventually moved into Churchill Square towards City Hall, and everyone followed like the obedient ducklings we were, frozen, but eager to see what would come next.

Winter Light Illuminations 2011

Follow that trike!

The finale was unexpected and extravagant. We thought the climax had arrived when a female performer was lifted into the air by a massive crane, waving sparklers, but in actuality, that was just a teaser.

Winter Light Illuminations 2011

When sparks fly

The actual conclusion involved the same performer, again lifted in the air, but harnessed into the large tricycle wheel, spinning fifty feet above the crowd, sparks flying, and City Hall aglow behind the spectacle. Fireworks were icing on the cake.

Winter Light Illuminations 2011

Up in the air

Winter Light Illuminations 2011

More sparks

Winter Light Illuminations 2011


Congratulations to the organizers of Winter Light for a fabulous event. As Mack said in his post, we hope this calibre of a performance is something we can look forward to every year – once word gets out, we can only imagine it will become a must-see affair for those in Edmonton and beyond, regardless of the weather!

Winter Light 2009: Illuminations

After dinner at Hardware Grill, Mack, his parents and I walked over to Churchill Square to take in the last event in Edmonton’s first Winter Light festival. Called “Illuminations”, it was billed to be “a spectacle of light and fire”.

The only other event I attended over the course of the festival was the opening ceremonies (although I have been to Ice on Whyte in past years). Based on the vibrant performances, free food, and bustling crowd out on that cold January night, I really was expecting more from Illuminations.

Beautiful flower installation optimistically ushering in spring (photo by Eclectic Blogs)

Lantern installations, a large bonfire, and drumming in tipis made up the bulk of the “activities”, though to be fair, we didn’t stay long enough to witness the fireworks. Musicians cycled through the makeshift stage on the north side of the Square, but the performances were fairly low-key. We brought our own reusable mugs for lukewarm, I mean, hot chocolate (disappointed that they didn’t continue their bring-your-own-cup mantra), but the event definitely could have benefited from more vendors.

Musicians (photo by Eclectic Blogs)


Floating decorations


Me and Mack (photo by Eclectic Blogs)

I largely agree with Mack’s criticisms of Winter Light as a whole – there was just something missing. I’d be interested to see if City Council green lights another year, but at least there’s something to improve on.

You can take a peek at Mack photo set here and Martin’s photo set here.

Winter Light 2009

When I first heard about the new Winter Light Festival, an initiative to make the most of our longest season, I was skeptical about the interest that a cold weather festival would generate. But as more details were released about some of the events that would take place over the ten weeks, I started to get excited – the Fringe started off small, didn’t it?

Churchill Square

Mack and I headed down to Churchill Square this evening for the opening ceremonies. We missed the blessing fire, but wandered through the Square to see what other outdoor fun was to be had. We wandered past a warming tepee, a spiral maze built with mounds of snow, a number of warming stations, and a tent distributing hot chocolate. The latter required that a reusable mug be presented, or else one could be borrowed for $4 – I liked this environmental acknowledgement.

Outside City Hall

As it was –30 with windchill that night, it wasn’t surprising that the most lively place was in fact inside City Hall. Of course, free samples of comfort foods, cooked up by students from the NAIT Culinary Arts program, didn’t hurt matters either.

The samples they distributed were quite generous, and really, it was probably a shame that we had eaten dinner just before. Four items were up for grabs: medley of three perogies with traditional garnishes, chipotle bison chili, Alberta pulled pork slider with slaw, and bannock with local honey. The chili was definitely my favourite (so much so that I went back for seconds) – I loved the sweetness of the corn added to balance out the spiciness. Mack loved the moist and tender pork sliders.

Pork Slider and Bannock

My only disappointment was that disposable plates were used. Though NAIT was likely responsible for the food, the organizers still could have alerted them to the pro-environment ideal, and at least have encouraged people to reuse their plates and cutlery.

We stayed and watched some of the entertainment for a while, including Andrea House and Le Fuzz. Though it was a cold night, I think I expected the attendance to be higher. Understanding that the festival kicked off on a Thursday to make the most of the Friday news cycle, the hours probably made it difficult for families with school-aged children to attend.

City Room festivities

Based on the opening ceremonies, I’m cautiously optimistic about the rest of the schedule. Up next: the Deep Freeze on 118 Avenue, and Ice on Whyte. Go check it out!

Mack’s post on the opening ceremonies is here, while his photo set is here.