New Grande North Winter Festival brings light, warmth to Grande Prairie
There’s reason to dance (or twirl on your skates) once again as a new festival has arisen out of the depths of winter in the city of Grande Prairie.
Picture DJ-hosted skating parties under a winter light show. Steam rising from the muzzles of draft horses as they trot along pulling passengers through the wintry park. An outdoors ice bar and gardens with craft beverages, hockey games, live music and a lively game or two of crokicurl (never heard of it? Just wait!) to warm the blood with friendly competition. That’s just a hint of what’s to come in the newly inaugurated Grande North Winter Festival.
For Grande Prairie residents and those who know the area, few things make more sense than a city-wide winter festival. Winter and the north go together like wax on skis or hot chocolate after a sleigh ride. And the timing of the second annual event, January 14 - 16, 2023, makes it a perfect way to welcome the new year.
“The event is the first of its kind in the community, and a unique and collaborative approach to warm up the community this winter,” said Grande Prairie's Mayor Jackie Clayton, upon announcing the festival.
The three main venues - Bonnetts Energy Centre, Muskoseepi Park and Montrose Cultural Centre - are centered in the downtown core, specifically designed to make the festival walkable and accessible.
Events range from free, all-ages activities to paid, ticketed events like Grande Prairie Storm hockey games, a licensed Ice Gardens and the ice carving competition.
“Winter can be taxing, being indoors for extended periods of time, and that’s why it’s really important to get out and be together,” explains Jade Nyland, event manager for the festival. “We want to really show the warmth that the city can create when we bring people together.”
A big draw for the festival is the ice carving competition, which welcomes expert carvers from Edmonton’s regular Ice on Whyte festival this year.
"We'll be making an ice slide, ice bar and a number of art pieces," says Mark Berge, outreach coordinator at Ice on Whyte. "One of the most exciting parts for many people is seeing the chainsaws and the die-grinders, shooting snow all over the place... it's thrilling to see how these blocks of frozen water can be shaped and transformed."
In subsequent years, the aim is to etch out a spot for Grande Prairie on the competitive international ice carving circuit.
That’s a target that’s easily within reach. It might surprise even some Albertans to know that Grande Prairie, with a relatively smaller regional population of around 100,000 (compared to the likes of Edmonton and Calgary), draws the attention of international sports and cultural touring experiences. For example, Elton John, the art of Pablo Picasso and (since this is about winter activity, after all) Canada’s biggest national curling events, The Tim Horton’s Brier and Scotties Tournament of Hearts.
Then there’s crockicurl, a sort of curling version of bumper cars recently invented in Canada from a hybrid of crokinole and curling. Throwing rocks can be challenging enough on a straight sheet of ice, but you’ve got to try this novel approach to a classic winter sport. It’s the kind of homegrown experience that gives tried and true winter lovers an entertaining new activity that is accessible to all.
It’s all part of celebrating winter in Alberta’s north. After all, Grande Prairie has a northern winter climate, and embracing that is part of what makes the community vibrant and resilient, suggests Ken Loudon.
“We’re not going to let that impede our quality of life. People here adapt and overcome, and find a way forward,” says Loudon, executive director for Grande Prairie Regional Tourism Association.
“There’s a strong sense of community built around our high quality of life. And being the hub for a broad northern region, we have some big venues and experiences to offer.”
“Ice and snow may make some things more difficult,” says Nyland, “but they also create the potential for incredibly unique experiences, like our dark skies and northern lights, and ice carving.”
The vast landscape surrounding Grande Prairie also makes for great opportunities to get outside, popular for cross-country skiing, snowmobiling and other winter sport.
“We have a vastness of opportunity,” says Loudon. “You can get lost if that’s what you want, and then come back to the heart of our downtown core afterward for those urban comforts.”
With colourful lights, ice, artistry and activities, the Grande North Winter Festival is creating that sense of warm winter welcome in Grande Prairie.
When You Go
Check our Grande North Winter Festival listing for all the details!
For more info on visiting Grande Prairie, check out the Grande Prairie Regional Tourism Association website.