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Ice sculpture museum carved out of snow at the annual Winterlude
Sculptures in Confederation Park are illuminated nightly
Winterlude (Bal de neige in French) is an annual festival in Ottawamarker, Ontariomarker and Gatineaumarker, Quebecmarker that celebrates winter.

Winterlude is run by Canada's National Capital Commission and was started in 1979. The event is one of Ottawa's most important tourist draws, attracting hundreds of thousands of visitors each year. In 2007, it set a new attendance record of an estimated 1.6 million visits to one of the four Winterlude sites .


Winterludeis a very large festival of outdoor activities including public skating and skating displays, snow and ice sculpture competitions, musical concerts at the Winterlude Snowbowl, children's play areas, an 'ice lounge', bed and waiter races and numerous off-site events.

Winterlude is most famous for the Rideau Canalmarker, which is cleared for ice skating displays and musical concerts. The Canal is claimed to be the world's largest skating rink — since the longest is now located in Winnipegmarker.

Other primary sites include Jacques Cartier Parkmarker in Gatineau which is turned into a massive snow park with slides and structures, events and activities for children and the snow sculpture competition. In recent years, the snow sculpture competition has been between teams from the different provinces and territories. In the past, there were competitions between local teams.

Confederation Park is the site for the ice sculpture competition, the ice lounge and musical concerts. Dow's Lakemarker has a large skating area and hosts the various bed and waiter races.

Related activities include special exhibits at the Ottawa museums, special events at the Byward Marketmarker and a 'loppet' type race is held in Gatineau Park.

Winterlude Snowbowl


The traditional food for Winterlude is called the Beaver Tail, a fried dough type pastry. It is sold from several stands at Winterlude event sites and along the Canal. Other food-related activities include a Chili Cook-Off held at the Byward Market and several restaurants act as 'official restaurants,' usually serving special Winterlude foods and drinks.


The event lasts for three weekends, usually the first three weekends in February. Very few events take place from Monday to Thursday in between weekends 1 and 2, and weekends 2 and 3. This means that the skating rink is much less crowded and that the ice stays in a near pristine condition for much of the day, with only a thousand or so skaters sharing it instead of the greater numbers during the weekend. The skate changing shacks and food catering kiosks scattered along the length of the skateway, at the same level as the ice, are open day long during the week.


Skating at Dows Lake

The weather in Ottawa is notoriously unpredictable, and Winterlude often is hampered by mild weather. Mild weather is the bane of the Canal, as proper ice conditions require -10 degrees Celsius for proper freezing. The length of the skating season, (which extends longer than the Winterlude weekends) is therefore unpredictable. However, most events are usually not affected other than premature melting of ice and snow sculptures. The length to which the canal is open for skating varies greatly, in the 2001-2002 season there was a record low 34 days open. The very next season, 2002-2003, the canal was open for a near high-record of 72 days.


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