- Amandalina Letterio
Bal de Neige — It's brrrilliant
It was a beautiful winter day in February last year; crisp white snow on the ground illuminated by bright, warm sunshine. The perfect day to be outdoors, at least in February. “Ready to jump?”, “Ready!” I replied. I jumped off the ledge and a zipline had me soaring above Jacques Cartier park in Gatineau, Quebec. I got a birds-eye view of smiling faces scattered across the glittering, snowy landscape. After a laughter-filled rush of adrenaline that seemed to pass in an instant, I reached the other side where my friend Daniela was waiting for me. Before I even unbuckled my harness, she asked with excitement, “What should we do next?”
Bal de Neige, also known as Winterlude, brings thousands of joyful faces to the Gatineau (Quebec) and Ottawa (Ontario) areas in February every year. It’s fun for families but also attracts young couples and groups of friends. These cities join forces to become a big winter wonderland filled with snowy activities, delicious Canadian food, and lively entertainment. Last February, Daniela and I were looking for an adventure. We both live in Toronto and wanted to do something fun with outdoor winter activities but close to us in proximity - Bal de Neige was perfect. To me, one of the best parts about this experience was getting the chance to explore two different cities, each magical in their own right. We stayed in Gatineau, which allowed us to explore the French Canadian culture of Quebec, and just a short [2 minute] drive over the bridge is Ottawa, Canada’s capital and a city with a rich history of its own.
Activities are spread across both regions, and a free shuttle bus will take you to any official Winterlude sites. All you have to do is decide which activity you want to experience first on your map! Our top priority was skating on the Rideau Canal; the world's largest naturally frozen skating rink. It runs throughout Ottawa and offers some of the best views of the city. We worked up an appetite and ate a delicious poutine and a Beaver Tail right on the ice, does it get anymore Canadian than that? [See my Instagram stories for videos of our late night skate]. Afterwards, we popped into the outdoor ice bar in ByWard Market for some seasonal cocktails and roasted marshmallows. When we were feeling adventurous, we had a variety of activities to choose from and, of course, we tried as many as we could. On the second day of our trip, we devoted a day to snowshoeing and cross-country skiing across Gatineau Park which looked like it was doused in powdered sugar. It was the perfect combination of exercise and serenity, as the warmth from the sun peeked through the evergreen trees that were ever-white with snow. At the end of the day, we cozied up at Andaz in ByWard Market, Ottawa’s tallest rooftop bar, which kept the patio open and warm during Winterlude. This year’s programming includes serving maple syrup taffy, cocktails, and rooftop beats.
Images of Gatineau Park, Quebec
For Art Lovers
From the Jazz Festival to Winter Pride, Bal de Neige doesn’t miss an inclusivity beat. For those who enjoy artistic entertainment, you can catch various live performances during the days of Bal de Neige, as well as interactive light structures. Huge, incredible ice and snow sculptures are carved and on display all over both cities, showcasing local talent as they compete for the best in ̶s̶n̶o̶w̶ show. Even the museums get involved and offer free admission or reduced pricing and welcome you in to check out some of their exhibits. I highly recommend checking out historic Rideau Hall, which is also the workplace of Canada's Governor General - the Tent Room was lovely! We also loved attending the Ottawa Art Gallery's Winterlude Happy Hour to warm up with hot drinks and snacks while we created some art of our own!
Although neither of us have children, Daniela and I could appreciate how well planned Bal de Neige is for kids. Both kids and parents could partake in tube sliding down professionally crafted snow hills and skating on the Rideau Canal. There was a Kiddie Zone for toddlers and activities to entertain children of all ages like giant games, super slides, and more. Little ones could even get skiing and snowboarding lessons on-site from certified instructors. To offer safety and peace of mind to parents, the Winterlude organizers include a Lost Children Service on location every year. These volunteers are gathered and screened by the government to ensure that children and parents feel safe. For a full list of the 2020 Winterlude kid’s activities, click here.
For Food Lovers
Winterlude has delectable food at almost every site on their map. In addition to classic Canadian bites like poutine and Beaver Tails, this festival is full of a variety of hearty and delicious food that is sure to keep you warm and satisfied in the cold weather. Over 20 restaurants participate in an annual stew cook-off, and for only $10, you can get all the stew you can eat. We took full advantage of this! You can even taste dishes by gold medal chefs at various venues on the Bal de Neige map. Twelve of these chefs from across Canada gather to compete in the Canadian Culinary Championship and you and your friends can play judge as you put their creations to the test.
Bal de Neige/Winterlude is a magical way to enjoy winter, the festival truly turns Gatineau and Ottawa into a wonderland for everyone. January and February are known to be two of the hardest months to get through in the year, but Winterlude makes these cities come alive. This festival will pull you out of hibernation and reconnect you with your love for winter. For our last activity on the trip, we decided to head back to the zip line. It was the perfect way to leave with the best representation of Bal de Neige: an invigorating event illuminated by crisp snow, warm sunshine, and happy faces.
For more information on Bal de Neige 2020, click below: Free or Nearly Free during winter in Ottawa
Outdoor Winter Activities in Ottawa
Get inspired by this winter fun video by #MyOttawa!