Mild with a Hint of Hectic

Like the headache I’ve had for the last three hours, Alberta’s October chill isn’t going anywhere. This is it – the long descent. The air may be unseasonably warm this week but that’s just everyone’s collective denial manifesting to struggle against the undeniable. Or it’s climate change. Either way we can look forward to an unpleasant drag into reality.

It’ll take me the next few months to adjust to the oncoming Winter. Usually I’m ready for Winter to be damned over by the time it’s about halfway through. As you can probably guess, it’s not my favorite part of the year (especially since I complain about it annually). So to soften the blow of several tonnes and about four straight months of snow to the face, here’s a selection of adventures (aka distractions) you can investigate starting right now. They’re good for keeping nasty Mr Depression away!

Edmonton Corn Maze

Edmonton’s local corn maze is a perennial favorite every Autumn and is stealthy with all the exercise you don’t even realize you’re getting. It takes months to plan and prepare but the experience really seems to pay off. Run around with friends! Gaze at the moonlight over the gently waving corn stalks! Accidentally cheat and then spend an hour trying to figure out why there’s no route out of this corner!

As of this writing Edmonton Corn Maze is over for 2021, its last night was last week, but I wanted to include it here because it reliably helps take the edge off Autumn every year. Have everyone put it in their calendar for next season now so you can drag each other out for mental health! Go! They have pumpkins!

Halloween

Right now we’re two-thirds of the way through Halloween Month but there’s still some Halloweening yet available!

There’s Deadmonton, of course. Edmonton’s undisputed haunted house headquarters every year is a high production value hootenanny. The long, long lineups outside may make you feel like the walking dead but they speak to this venue’s popularity. Runs from September 24th to October 31st …but that’s not all. Deadmonton’s infamous LIGHTS OUT nights are kind of a post-Halloween bonus round: The same haunted house but with no light except what you carry! LIGHTS OUT will go November 5th, 6th and 7th (2021) only.

Slightly less intense but still very well put together is Dark, held at Fort Edmonton Park from October 7th to 31st. Dark is kind of unique because instead of being just one haunted house it’s actually three, each with its own theme. You can go through them in any order (or skip some, if you’re the chickening out type!) and they bleed into an outdoor concourse area with live DJ’ing and food trucks. It’s a mash – with monsters!

https://www.fortedmontonpark.ca/events/featured-events/dark

In addition, there’s always just going for a drive and checking out people’s decor. Edmonton tends to have some pretty rocking front yards; people really know how to put up a good ghost-infested cemetery around here. Coffee optional (though certainly encouraged).

Local map of the haunted decor can be found courtesy of Christine at: https://justanotheredmontonmommy.com/2021/10/halloween-decorations-around-edmonton/

Hiking

Personally I wouldn’t mind if the universe just extended October all the way to Christmas for a brief visit, then resumed October again until the Spring picked back up. Halloween Month always has to end eventually though. The snow will be here, along with its friends the cold and the endless darkness. There should be some murky twilight in there too for variety. Fortunately, getting out for fresh air is viable all year round so you can slap Mr Depression upside the head with some handy endorphins when you need to.

I discovered during pandemic that the Edmonton area is absolutely saturated with good outdoor hiking trails and nature reserves. There honestly isn’t even the space to list – let alone describe – all of them here but you can find them at https://www.alltrails.com/canada/alberta/edmonton along with the maps to explore them. Trails are classified by difficulty level which means that you can find an outdoor adventure to suit you whether you’re looking for easy and short or rugged and dynamic.

Some parks and trails are right here within the city while others are down the highway, waiting to be discovered. There’s plenty to choose from that are conveniently less than an hour’s drive though, and they’re all beautiful even in the dreaded Winter. Plenty of locations have fire pits/stands, by the way …cooked meat in the Solstice dusk, anyone? Such places can be found within Edmonton like Sir wilfred Laurier Park, Emily Murphy Park or Hawrelak Park (just to name some) or outside in rustic wooded sites like Chickakoo Lake, Cooking Lake/Blackfoot Area or Miquelon Lake.

Sure it’s snowy out there almost half the year but this is Alberta; just keep moving and you don’t freeze. Win-win!

Video games

I may be a bit biased when it comes to video games because they practically run through my veins like a digital elixir of pure fulfillment. It’s hard to describe; there’s just a sense of locked-in “rightness” when my brain engages with gaming.

That being said, it’s now widely accepted that video games in general are healthy for everyone through that brain engagement. They hone a range of cognitive skills and keep you neurologically agile through the act of playing. Such benefits are available to basically anybody, regardless of taste. It used to be that your choices were basically shooting things, punching things, racing or sports simulation but gaming evolves exponentially. From crafting to baking to farming to puzzling to running around simulating various animals; motion games, casual games, strategy games, mobile games, social games, building games and wrecking games, games where you run from the monster and games where you are the monster, there’s something for everyone. If you can imagine it, someone somewhere has made a video game for it.

So when you don’t feel like going outside because it’s negative fuck-that-craziness degrees out there, you can always binge some TV, sure, but I’ll always recommend something more interactive. I remember being shocked to learn that Steam is free to download because I used to assume it was just another gotcha service set up to drain you with nickel and dime fees. I’m a full convert though and glad of it. Steam is probably the easiest way to access a variety of video games on the fly, many of which you don’t even need high end hardware to run. Once you set up an account, you browse video games by genre and download digital copies depending on whatever appeals to you. Games go on sale fairly often so it’s not uncommon to spend as little as a dollar or two.

One aspect of gaming that think will thrive forever is team-based or multiplayer gaming. I still have fond memories of sitting next to people on the same couch, a controller in everyone’s hand, all playing from the same split screen and howling our heads off well into the night. While you can still technically do that in real life, online gaming offers new horizons to the shared gaming experience. It doesn’t have to be a competitive murder fest either; cooperative gaming is rising in popularity right now as well. What better way to enrich your bonds with friends or loved ones than to survive zombie hordes together!? No? How about sail the high seas as a pirate crew, help establish extraterrestrial settlements in far flung space or solve the mysteries of an abandoned mansion by combining your wits?

By yourself or with friends, pick up a game or three. You’ll forget the snow outside is even there.

https://store.steampowered.com

Tobogganing

On the other hand, you can also embrace the snow like a sugar-buzzed eight year old if you want!

I can vouch for the sledding at: Government House Park, Rundle Park, Seven Hills (4 St Vital Ave in St. Albert) and Edmonton Ski Club (https://www.edmontonskiclub.com) at Gallagher Park. Additionally, Sunridge Ski Area (https://www.sunridgeskiarea.com/home.aspx) has snow tubing, so cram some friends on and break a leg! No really, that’s part of the fun.

If you haven’t been tobogganing in a while, you have a few options to choose from:

Option 1: Did you know they make adult Snowracers now? Because of course they make adult Snowracers now; anything even vaguely nostalgic is a license to print money. The “Stiga GT King for 2 Snowracer” is ostensibly meant for tandem sledding with your small child but nobody’s being fooled here. Rated for 220 pounds (100Kg) and available at Canadian Tire. The classic Snowracer configuration has been popular since the 80’s for its steering and brake control combined with speed on its iconic three skis. Comes with a higher end price tag but offers unparalleled down slope handling.

Option 2: The sledge-style toboggan is a step down from the Snowracer for its lack of proper steering, though seasoned sledders can still rely on the “lean” method for rudimentary guidance. Usually a single piece of sturdy plastic, the sledge toboggan is the option most likely to still be usable even when you lie broken after a crash. Rugged, reliable and capable of an irrevocably straight line.

Option 3: The inner tube. Once the poor man’s toboggan, improvised from the air bladders of truck or tractor tires, the tube now occupies a niche all its own on any snow hill. The main advantage to this option is the sheer number of hooting twits you can cram onto one. The only real downside is the utter absence of guidance, braking, stability, handholds or even anything to keep it straight. The intent isn’t so much for everyone to make it to the bottom but rather to see how many hooting twits actually remain onboard and unbroken.

Option 4: On a tight budget? You don’t need to invest in some fancy-schmancy toboggan with a bunch of features when a simple sheet of smooth polyethylene takes you downhill just as fast. And possibly sideways. The crazy carpet is cheap as dirt but you’ll get more windspeed thrills, jumps, snow-faced adventures and whoah-shit’s for your buck than anyone else. Notoriously given to slipping out from under its rider, your crazy carpet is at least 30% likely to arrive at the foot of a slope several seconds before or after you.

Ice skating

Victoria IceWay Skating Trail opens yearly, equipped with its own lace-up chalet and has become known for its colorfully lantern lit ice. The IceWay Occupies Victoria Parkway at 12030 River Valley Road.

There’s also Silver Skate festival in February. Planned for the 11th to the 21st  (2022), Silver Skate hosts skating (no kidding!) on the pond in Hawrelak Park at 9330 Groat Road. COVID kind of messes with festivals so the usual indoor live music and enclosed food trailers might be a little altered but this yearly event’s focus is always outdoors anyway. With snow sculptures, bonfires and crafts – meant for children but definitely done by adults – there’s definitely an evening here.

The Twinklylights!

December gets expensive and very busy, very fast. Sometimes you’d rather just take it easy for a while with some of Edmonton’s twinkly Xmas spirit. …And Edmonton has gobs of twinkly Xmas spirit.

Christmas at Bob’s is a house at 7421 108st. Starting on the First Saturday of December and running until early January, Christmas at Bob’s probably threatens to burn out the entire neighborhood of Queen Alexandra’s grid every single year. This display doesn’t stop at lights, oh no – it fills a two storey corner lot with coordinated digital LED’s, animatronics and even interactive elements. Some might call it excessive. Others prefer fun and creative.

www.christmasatbobs.ca

Running fifty years and counting, you can’t talk Xmas displays without Candy Cane Lane.

I remember going through this place as a mouthy, snot-nosed kid, back before I could appreciate the effort people make in getting all Christmassy and shit. I also remember going through again as an adult the year a ridiculously cold snap coincided perfectly with my neglecting to grab anything close to a warm jacket, and still being unable to appreciate the twinklylights and other chotchkies. Sometimes Candy Cane Lane is so busy you can’t even get into the neighborhood in less than an hour, such is its draw. I guess this kitschy holiday attraction requires you to earn its grandeur.

Still, people speak highly of Candy Cane Lane and depending on the year (and plague status), sometimes you can score actual sleigh rides at this affair. Classy. Also, this event encourages Food Bank donations, which is additionally classy.

Lessons I’ve learned: Don’t bring teenagers, dress warmly and arrive early. This year’s challenge: actually tour the place!

https://www.yegcandycanelane.com

Last year there was a drive-through twinklylight display in Rainbow Valley Campground (right next to Ski Valley) during its obviously-not-camping months. They called it The Winter Wonder Forest and despite sounding vaguely like somewhere dark frost elves might lure you for their nefarious rituals, it was pretty impressive. This year the same event has moved to Longriders RV Park in Gibbons, AB. Same idea, same woodsy space, no dark frost elves.

Location is 23136 Secondary Highway 643, half an hour to forty-five minutes from Edmonton, depending on where you live. The website’s already updated and ready to go, which means I can tell you The Winter Wonder Forest (without abduction elves) runs from November 19 to January 9 (2021).

Of course if you want to, you can still simulate the dark frost elves abducting you, I’m not one to judge anyone’s kinks. Just bear in mind most family events aren’t so liberal-minded and you should probably expect to get kicked out.

https://exploreedmonton.com/event-calendar/the-winter-wonder-forest

Don’t let strangely warm Autumn weather fool you – the skin crisping cold is coming. But we’re Canadians and we can find excitement in the deepest deep freezes and the darkest hellhole nights. That’s home after all!

Take the hand of someone you care about and commit to having fun even if you have to pry it from the crackling hands of Jack fucking Frost himself. Take some hot chocolate, to hurl in his face as a scalding distraction if you need to …and I suppose for the flavour.

Bring on the festivities.

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