Winterlude: Ontario’s Premier Snow and Ice Festival
Ontario’s premier winter celebration is, fittingly, in the nation’s capital and will make you glad you live in a place with plenty of snow, ice, and chills. Since 1978, Winterlude has brought together Canadians from across the country and visitors from around the world to enjoy ice sculpting competitions, skating on the Rideau Canal, outdoor music concerts, a children’s snow adventure park, dance parties, a jazz festival, and quintessentially Canadian tasty treats. So if you want a jolt out of the winter blues or want to visit Ottawa without the summer crowds, stop by Winterlude 2014 by February 17.

Here are a few of the top Winterlude activities running throughout the weekdays and weekends:
Skating the Rideau Canal
Dubbed the largest outdoor skating rink in the world, the Rideau Canal boasts the best urban skating rink around. Don’t worry if you didn’t bring your blades, canalside vendors offer skate and sled rentals.

There are usually a couple of “celebrity” hockey games held on one of the Saturdays each year, so check the Winterlude website for more details.

Best time to go: Anytime – the canal is lit up at night for a romantic, magical feel or you can enjoy the warmth of the sun during the day. You’ll find the best ice conditions first thing in the morning.

Best for: Anyone

Snowflake Kingdom
The largest snow playground in North America, this winter wonderland at Jacques-CartierPark features towering snow and tube slides for all ages. The Xtreme Zone features a zipline.

Best time to go: Day

Best for: Kids
Crystal Garden
Lights adorn trees and icesculptures, turning Confederation Park into an enchanting place for a stroll after dark. Warm up with a cup of hot chocolate, a Beaver Tail, or maple candy sold at booths around Confederation Park.

Best time to go: Evening

Best for: Anyone

Crystal Garden Ice Sculpting
Teams of professional ice carvers from around the world work on their sculptures right in front of passers by. Cheer on Canada’s teams during the International Ice Carving Competition which takes place on Winterlude’s opening weekend. Stroll through the Crystal Garden to get your picture taken with other, pre-created sculpture displays (such as Germany’s Buddy Bears or the Winter Memories Wooden Cabin Village) around Confederation Park.

Best time to go: Day for live ice carving, night for incredible ambiance

Best for: Anyone

Cracking Up the Capital
Ottawa’s Comedy Festival is held during Winterlude. Come out to one of several shows featuring well-known names (often from CBC TV programs) to dispel the myth that Ottawa is all business.

Best time to go: Shows take place evenings

Best for: Some for youth, others for adults only
Each year, new events are added to the three week festival, with last year's biggest new event being the Winterbrewed craft beer festival.

On the final weekend of Winterlude, join the award-winning team from National Capital Craft Beer Week for three days of fun and activities at Fifth Avenue Court. Warm up to a hot beer, or enjoy one of your craft-brewed favourites from around the region and beyond. You can even try beer and chocolate pairings on Valentine’s Day!

Best time to go: Afternoon or Evening

Best for: Adults

Winterman Marathon
A couple thousand eager beavers are up early to run between 3 km and 42 km as individuals or as a relay team. This is the only Canadian winter qualifier for the Boston and New York marathons. Starting and ending at the Canadian War Museum, the race course has a stunning backdrop in the heart of the city and along the shores of the Ottawa River.

Best time to go: Morning

Best for: Adults and Teens
These are just a few of the recurring events – each year brings new themes and surprises. In 2013, one of the themes was celebrating 60 years of diplomatic relations with South Korea after the end of the Korean War. I particularly enjoyed the tunnel of Korean lanterns in Confederation Park. In combination with the hundreds of lights throughout the park, the glow of the lanterns encasing you as you walked through the metal arbour brought warmth to the cool nights.

All of Canada’s Capital Region gets into the spirit, with many hotels offering Winterlude specials, some restaurants cooking up special menus, and the museums debuting special exhibitions to lure the more than 600,000 Winterlude attendees (many of them from out of town) to their venue. So don’t let winter keep you cooped up inside – get out and enjoy all that Ontario and Ottawa in particular have to offer during this time of year.
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