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Wood Buffalo Winterland

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NORTHERN ALBERTA IS WELL-KNOWN FOR ITS sub-zero winter weather and in the Wood Buffalo Region, it’s all Canadian. From traditional winter activities like skiing and skating, our region has all of the outlets. Quite often it’s the more unusual ones that are favoured by most and add the real adventurous experience.

Here are five ways to enjoy Wood Buffalo this winter. You’ll discover there are many well-kept secrets that make our region naturally spectacular.

Travel the Winter Road
Ranking at the top of the list for the most obvious reason, it’s unique. The Winter Road is the gateway to Wood Buffalo National Park and can only be traveled in the winter when the temperature has made it cold enough to freeze the rivers and marshes that make it impossible to get through during the warmer seasons.

Where does it take you?
After driving 280 kilometres north of Fort McMurray, you’ll begin to journey into a number of quaint communities with rich history that can offer some of the best ice fishing and dogsledding around. These include Fort Chipewyan, Fort Fitzgerald and if you continue driving upwards of 500 kilometers north of Fort McMurray, the road will take you all the way to Fort Smith in the Northwest Territories.

Picnic under the Northern Lights
This can be done with a great group of friends or those looking for a little more romance can make it a dinner for two. All you need is a wide-open space, portable grill, and hot apple cider. When you’re all bundled up in snow gear with warm food in your bellies, lay back and look up to enjoy one of the world’s most natural attractions – the Aurora Borealis.

Want a more educational experience?
Take a tour. Guided Northern Lights tours attract people from across the globe. Not only will the tours take you on a wondrous wilderness experience, professionals can be on hand to teach you how to capture beautiful photography.

Explore the Boreal Forest
Another great aspect of the Wood Buffalo Region is its backcountry. Surrounded by the boreal forest, locals are steps away from the hustle and bustle of urban life. The options to enjoy it are endless as you can take a walk, cross-country ski, or snowmobile on a variety of extensive trail systems.

Planning on taking a sled?
The McMurray Sno-Drifters Association takes pride in keeping the local and surrounding trails safe and well-groomed for all residents. With good reason, the newest trail added to the map is one of the longest groomed trail systems in Alberta. With over 275 kilometres of trails, it connects their existing Anzac Trail System to the Stoney Mountain Trail System.

Hit the Ridge
Not every Canadian community is lucky enough to have its own ski hill, but Fort McMurray is. Because our region sees a lot of snow, residents flock to the best non-mountain recreation area in Alberta every winter to downhill ski, snowboard and go tubing. Fort McMurray’s Vista Ridge ski area has over 35 acres to enjoy the more traditional activities.

Need to get there?
Take the bus. Diversified operates bus transportation from Fort McMurray to Vista Ridge on holidays and weekends. Not only is it a cheap way to get to the hill, but you can grab a hot chocolate from Vista’s cafeteria and cozy up for the ride back home after a long, fun-filled day in the great outdoors.

Make Skating Memories
It’s the most common idea, but what would a winter activities list be without mentioning skating? Wood Buffalo has an abundance of open-air rinks and indoor arenas to play hockey and ice skate. Whether you want to go big and skate on a NHL-sized rink or relax at your own leisure on a pond, there are over a dozen places throughout the municipality to choose from.

Want to ditch the blades?
Try curling. Our region has a long history with the sport and the best place to take part is at MacDonald Island Park’s curling rink. The Fort McMurray Oil sands Curling Club is always welcoming new members and no experience is necessary. If you’d rather watch, mark your calendar as MacIsland and the curling club are teaming up to host the 2013 M&M Meat Shops Canadian Junior Championships on January 31 to February 10.

For more information on how to “Explore”, “Discover” and “Experience” the Wood Buffalo Region, ask the experts at Fort McMurray Tourism by calling 780-791-4336, toll-free1-800-565-3947, drop by the office at 400 Sakitawaw Trail, or visit:

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Dawn Booth is a local journalist and business owner of the communication service, Media Booth. Residing in Fort McMurray since 2007, Booth has been actively working in the Wood Buffalo region as a media and marketing expert. From her arrival to the city, until November 2010, she worked as the Special Features Editor at the Fort McMurray Today. In April 2011, she co-launched snapd Wood Buffalo and managed the publication for three years, until June 2014. In March 2014, she created Media Booth and is currently working with a wide-variety of clients in the business and nonprofit sectors throughout Alberta. Her passion for volunteering in the community has given her two civic awards from the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo. She has also received the title for the Fort McMurray Connect's Top 40 Under 40 and is one of Girls Inc. of Northern Alberta's 2014-2015 Women of Inspiration. A happy wife and loving mother to two young boys and a baby girl, Booth can be found easily at