St. Paul Winter Carnival
St. Paul, Minnesota
January 26 to February 4
When planners in St. Paul went about creating their carnival, they also fabricated a fantastic myth about the carnival's origin that still permeates the carnival events today: King Boreas, the "King of the Winds," came upon frozen Minnesota in his travels and was so taken by its beauty that he made it his earthly capital, proclaiming the St. Paul Winter Carnival to celebrate its glory.
King Boreas and his companions still make many appearances at carnival events, including the opening Grand Day Parade, the Royal Coronation and Ball, and the closing Torchlight Parade. However, there are dozens of other individual events and attractions. You shouldn't miss the giant snow sculpture (projected to be the biggest in the history of the event this year), the ice maze, a dog sled rally that will feature an appearance by the Jamaican dog sled team, and parades held on each Saturday. The local Pioneer Press newspaper is also sponsoring a citywide treasure hunt during the carnival (clues will be provided each day in the paper and online) with a grand prize of $10,000.
Some of the events are free while others charge a small fee. However, if you purchase an official St. Paul Winter Carnival Button for $5, you'll receive free or discounted admission to many events that charge. Buttons can be purchased in retail locations throughout the city.
Lake Louise, Alberta
January 26 to 28
The spectacular Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise in Alberta's Banff National Park is the setting for Lake Louise's annual Ice Magic International Ice Sculpture competition. On the first day of the event, about 10 teams of carvers are given 15 blocks of ice, each weighing 300 pounds, that they must use to carve an ice sculpture. Over the course of the weekend, you can watch the carvers at work and cast a vote for your favorite to win the People's Choice Award. Sunday afternoon, judges hand out awards to the top three sculptures, plus the Carver's and People's Choice Awards.
Other activities are scheduled around the Fairmont throughout the competition. Events include a children's carving contest, wine tastings, and an ice skating performance. There is no charge for most happenings.
February 2 to 18
Ottawa's Winterlude winter carnival may not be quite as big as Quebec City's, but Canada's capital city does boast the Guinness World Record for the world's largest naturally frozen ice rink, the 4.8-mile-long Rideau Canal Skateway. During Winterlude, the Skateway is the focal point for many of the events, including the Winterlude triathlon and evening music performances at American Express Snowbowl. Skating along the canal, stopping off for hot drinks and "beaver tails"—the Canadian version of fried dough—is also a popular activity.
Confederation Park in downtown Ottawa hosts an international ice-carving competition, and Jacques-Cartier Park across the river in Gatineau is the site of the snow-sculpting competition and the Snowflake Kingdom, a snow playground with more than 30 snow slides. Most activities are free, although some shows and sporting events may charge a fee.