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Quebec Carnaval

It’s not every day, or even every year, that you get to hold 1000 pounds of horsepower in your hands. But as our old-fashioned sleigh started up the snowy Plains of Abraham during the Quebec Winter Carnaval, the two huge horses stumbled into fresh mounds of deep, white snow. And like little kids whose little legs can’t reach up above the snow bank, the two creatures were stuck. “Should we get out?” asked one dad, bundled under a warm blanket with his son.

“Non,” said the burly fur-coated driver, as he handed the reins to silly me, who had asked to ride up front. “Here, hold them steady,” he advised nodding to the huge brown creatures. “There’s 1000 pounds of power there.” And with that, he jumped off to grab their bridles and to urge the worried Kate and Joan to take steps backwards and forwards, like rocking a car stuck on ice. Lucky for us, he managed to coax the horses enough to lift their feet out of the snow and pull us onward. And lucky for me, he nimbly jumped back up to take control again of the mighty equine power. Then we were off as if we’d slid out from a Cornelius Krieghoff painting to ride around the snowy plain above the bits of forest and the icy blue St. Lawrence River.

It used to be that the annual Quebec Winter Carnaval held each February was known more for its celebration of the red stuff (that Quebecois potent mix of port, alcohol and maple syrup called caribou) than any monument to the white stuff. But over the years, the focus has switched from raucous nighttime partying to daytime playing in the snow. In addition to sleigh rides, there is snow rafting, snow sculpting, and even two by two mountain biking on snow. There are dogsled races through the city streets, canoe races through the river ice, and the annual “Roll in the Snow” in bathing suits. After all, you don’t call Quebec City the “World Capital of Snow” for nothing. It takes 850 people to look after all the stuff each year. So you might as well enjoy it with a celebration for all ages. These days, over 41 percent of the half a million Carnaval-goers attend as a family.

At the Adventure Park, kids can climb a 25-ft ice tower with a pick and shoes with cleats, (with a junior mountain for younger climbers), burrow into a real igloo or quinze, get lost in an snow maze, slide down an icy incline, or fish for trout through a hole in the ice. On the vast Plains of Abraham, families can try snow-shoeing for the first time (the littlest snowshoes make bear paw tracks), slide down snow in river rafts, ride in the first large covered Snowmobile, cross-country ski down the hills or vote on the International snow sculpture competition. If little fingers and feet get too cold (as they can do when the wind picks up and the temperatures plunge—bring lots of warm layers), you can head indoors to a special kid-friendly tent for games and contests, a warm tipi set up by the Quebec First Nations along the Aboriginal Trail, or one of the many kid-friendly museums.

Best of all is that much of the activity is free or for a nominal cost such as the sleigh rides or the ice fishing for real trout. There are even special family outings on certain days such as the Québon Family Supper where kids eat free with a parent wearing the Bonhomme or free toboggan rides on the Dufferin Terrace where families have been shooting down the run on wooden toboggans for over 100 years.

Adding to the general jolliness is that ever-present world ambassador snowman, the Bonhomme, who dressed in his jolly red sash makes the rounds to hug both adults and kids. Other characters join in the fun too such as the huggable Penguin from the nearby Mont-Sainte-Anne ski resort or the clowning Knuks, the Harlequin-like northern peoples who speak neither English or French. Instead, they babble an incomprehensible language of their own, a gibberish that tiny kids seem to understand completely.

At night, the scene becomes magical as the snow and ice are reflected in colored and twinkling light, fireworks and torchlight processions. Bring your skates for a whirl around the several outdoor skating rinks. And your cameras to take pictures of the Ice Palace, which comes to life at night with sound and music.

This year, the giant snow fest (the 48th annual celebration), takes place over three upcoming weekends starting with the February 1st opening ceremony of music and fireworks and the launching of the international snow sculpture show and ending with the February 17th brunch with Bonhomme (Good man) Snowman and the closing ceremonies.

For hotel reservations and packages (such as family packages with the Hilton Hotel or the Chateau Frontenac, or discounts for CAA members, call 1-888-737-3789. For Carnaval information, call the Carnaval Bell Hotline 1-888-522-3383 or visit www.carnaval.qc.ca and click on the English version to see what’s happening on each of the three weekends so you can plan your own adventure in the snow.





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