Nicknamed "Winterpeg", Winnipeg and its surrounding areas are blessed with an abundance of sunny, crisp winter days in February. Dress warmly, and explore a beautiful land of snow and ice these ways. Caveat: all activities are weather-dependant: catch'em while they're cold.
1. Check out the largest winter carnival in western Canada at Festival du Voyageur in February. Celebrating Manitoba's Métis and French-Canadian heritage, festival highlights include the international snow sculpture contest that invites artists from around the world (and locally) to create over 20 large sculptures. During the day, families can get lost in the snow maze, talk to costumed interpreters at Fort Gibraltar, spot contestants in the beard-growing contest, or watch performers dance jigs and fiddle traditional French-Canadian music. Warm up in large tents where the menu includes pea soup, tourtière, and maple syrup poured on snow to become taffy. At night, adults listen to rocking Francophone bands or enjoy "caribou" fortified wine in ice glasses inside the snow bar.
2. Skate along the Assiniboine Credit Union River Trail and check out the competition known as Warming Huts: An Arts + Architecture on Ice. In 2012, one of the $10,000 huts will be designed by the world-famous Frank Gehry, better known as the architect behind mega-projects like the Guggenheim in Bilbao, Spain, and The Experience Music Project in Seattle. The skate trail always begins at the Forks, but the route and length varies each year, depending on how the Red and Assiniboine Rivers freeze. At times, the skate trail has challenged Ottawa's claim to host the longest skating rink in the world. Each year, five warming huts are designed by architects working with artists, and then constructed along the river. The strange, creative designs sometimes serve more as public artwork than practical shed. Ice skate rentals are available inside The Forks Market.
3. Thrill seekers head to Adrenaline Adventures, a playground for adventure sport enthusiasts just west of city limits. Winter sports include snow-tubing, snowboarding and ice-skating. The most extreme sport of all is Xorbing, or extreme orbing, when two people are strapped inside a giant semi-transparent plastic ball and rolled down a hill (picture a human hamster ball). Another offering unique in Canada: cable snowboarding that allows athletes to do jumps, rails and turns, while being pulled by an overhead cable system. Many activities are suitable for ages 5 and up, while a full-service restaurant accommodates less-adventurous family members.
4. Enjoy an old-fashioned sleigh ride through the snowy woods at two horse ranches just a short drive north of the city. Inside Bird's Hill Park, the Bird's Hill Park Ranch invites families and groups to snuggle under wool blankets aboard a sleigh driven by draft horses through the spruce and oak woods, accompanied by the jingling bells of the horses. Another option is a rugged trail ride on horses through the snow drifts of open meadows. Close to Bird's Hill Park, Miracle Ranch also offers sleigh rides, and rides in a romantic sleigh-for-two.
5. Explore nature at its snowy best at Oak Hammock Marsh, an interpretive centre run by Ducks Unlimited Canada north of Winnipeg. The centre includes interactive exhibits and activity rooms, as well as 30 kilometres of trails through the marsh. For visitors, a typical winter day may offer snowshoeing (snowshoes are available for rental), pond hockey and pond curling. Nature interpreters give daily presentations on topics such as grey owls, how animals survive the freeze, and how to track animals in the snow. Monthly workshops include astronomy nights on the centre's rooftop observation deck, as the crisp, clear winter sky makes it easier to spot constellations.