Story by Ofelia Legaspi
QUEBEC CITY, QUEBEC — Do you really want to escape to yet another sunny destination with its interminable stretch of pristine sand, its serene cerulean swells and balmy oceanic breeze?
Okay, fine, but it’s a brand spanking new year and it’s time we show that polar vortex who’s boss.
Canada’s La Belle Province, for one, is promising brave mavericks this: winter fun. Before you spit out your one-word knee-jerk commentary, “Oxymoron,” take a good look at these bizarre, bucket-list-worthy offerings at this year’s Quebec Carnival.
It’s only the world’s biggest winter festival that’s been around for 60 years, 121 if you count the unofficial years. This century-old celebration is Quebec’s last hurrah before Lent season and is meant to fill that all-too-familiar post-holiday void — economic or otherwise.
The 2015 Quebec Carnival kicks off January 30 and ends February 15. Here’s a handy guide of the festival for your winter weekend jaunts in beautiful Quebec City:
Friday, January 30
Rotary Snow Golf Snow — The grass may literally be greener on the other side of the hemisphere but golfing in the snow is so unique, it may be metaphorically greener over here. The change of scenery might even transform your airmail into your “A” game. The carnival offers a 27-hole course. (9 am-3 pm; Adults pay $25, children can play for free.)
Loto-Quebec Nights — Nothing spells maverick more than dancing en plein air in minus-20 degree weather. Forget your new year’s resolution of working on your beach bod for now, put on some layers and fist-pump to some of Quebec’s best DJs spinning from an ice castle. (9-11 pm at Bonhomme’s Winterland, free.)
Saturday, January 31
World Masters Games Quebec 2015 — Relive the Winter Olympics with Quebec’s World Masters, featuring downhill and cross-country skiing, long-track speed skating, curling, hockey, rock climbing, snowshoeing and triathlon. This international meet will gather more than 3,000 veteran athletes and former Olympians.
World Snowshoe Championship (Pentathlon) — Summer triathlons are so last year. One-up your athletic friends by participating in a winter pentathlon. Imagine biking the snow-covered streets of Old Quebec (with groove tires, of course), skiing the Plains of Abraham, skating in downtown Quebec City and snowshoeing on a hilly race course. There is no qualification needed. So, really, you can do this for the fun of it, regardless of your skill or fitness level. (Free, the schedule varies.)
Sunday, February 1
The International Snow Sculpture Competition — What’s a winter carnival without a snow-sculpture competition? For the 41st consecutive year, instead of calling in the army like a certain mayor in Toronto did in 1999, Quebec calls in local and international sculptors to turn the white menace into glittering works of art. (Free, schedules vary.)
Epicure and Culture with Bonhomme — Make some art yourself and participate in the Fresque carnavalesque, a street-art collective mural. Also, Quebec’s best chefs will make some local products for sampling. (Free from 10:30 am-1:30 pm at Quai Chouinard and Museum of Civilization.)
Friday, February 6
Irish Nights at Pub St. Patrick — We don’t expect you to brave the cold all weekend. Enjoy the chill in the form of a beer to wash down some hearty Quebecois cuisine while listening to live music. This pub night is housed in a building that has been around since the mid-1700s. (1200 rue Saint-Jean, 9 pm-3 am.)
Saturday, February 7
Calgary Stampede Flapjack Breakfast — Picture a mechanical bull and free flapjacks, sausages and hot coffee, in that order if you want to keep your breakfast down. (Free from 9:30 am to noon at Place D’Youville.)
Night Parade at Charlesbourg — It’s a Nordic night parade. Get out there. (7-10 pm at Charlesbourg, free.)
Sunday, February 8
CMQ Ice Canoe Race (Finals) — Ice canoeing might be the quintessential Canadian activity, combining a famous Canadian pastime with the infamous Canadian winter. Thawing your icy relationship with snow might be possible when you witness your first ice-canoeing competition. A bunch of experienced canoeists walk on water (well, partly frozen) as they push their canoe past ice floes. You can also experience a uniquely Quebec activity, canoeing in the partly frozen St. Lawrence River and navigating around icy island slabs. (Free to watch the race at 1:30 pm at Bassin Louise du Port du Quebec.)
Friday, February 13
SAQ Queen’s Ball — Even Cinderella got to go to a ballroom party, so, this year, if glamour is what you want, get cleaned up and attend an evening at the Fairmont Château Frontenac, the most prominent feature of the Quebec City skyline. (18+ event, 6 pm-1 am, $250, plus tax.)
Saturday, February 14
Qualinet Snow Bath — It’s time to graduate from dancing in sub-zero temperatures in your Canada Goose apparel to soaking in snowy waters in your bathing suit. This event makes the ALS ice-bucket challenge look like a hot spring bath. Eighty participants take three invigorating polar dips with only a short break in between. Extra long Valentine’s Day cuddle highly recommended after.
Sunday, February 15
St. Hubert Sleigh Race — Remember the above-mentioned post-holiday void? How about a horse-drawn sleigh race? (Free for spectators at Place George V, 10:30 am to 2:30 pm.)