Embracing winter from the front row
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Patios in winter? Yes, Edmonton brings the apres-ski feeling to the city
Edmonton, AB - Patio hopping on a winter day in Edmonton magically transports you inside a gigantic snowglobe.
As the snow swirls, so do the scenes before you: climbing a frozen wall of ice, skiing downhill looking out at the Muttart Pyramids below, snowshoeing through forest parkland, gathering with friends around good food after an adventure, hot drink steaming as you raise it to your lips, adding just one more log to the fire to keep that warm glow burning into the night. It couldn’t feel any more like the magic of winter if Bing Crosby were crooning and snowmen were coming to life.
But hold on: patios, in winter? Yes, you read that right. It’s been several years since Edmonton’s Winter City initiative first opened up the possibility of winter patios, but it’s an idea whose time seems to have arrived.
Enter the #YEGWinterPatioClub, launching this November 2021. For just $10, a membership in the club is your ticket to winter’s front row with 18 patio venues in Edmonton’s hottest winter locales. It’s a warm and inviting way to support local businesses while staying connected and enjoying winter outdoors. In addition, your membership fee helps others stay warm in winter, with all proceeds going to the Boyle Street Winter Warming Bus.
“I think a city like Edmonton, you’re not going to change the weather but you’ve got to change how you deal with it,” says Julie Cournoyer, as she warms herself next to the fire on the patio at Cafe Bicyclette. “For me, the Winter City strategy pushed me to embrace it more. I absolutely spend more time outside and I find I’ve changed how I talk about winter.”
Anyone can enjoy a patio when it’s warm out. It takes a different mindset to embrace being on a patio when it’s below zero — and a different approach to patio comforts, too. The dress code is different and cozy blankets, fires and hot drinks factor in more frequently. But few things are better for beating cabin fever.
With a preponderance of sunny winter days in this northern city, soaking it up on a patio (even if you’re not in shirtsleeves) has a certain appeal. Cafe Bicyclette was the first to establish a winter patio in Edmonton around five years ago, but since then the movement has grown. In 2021, 15 locations around the city hosted winter patios, and the list of venues is growing and becoming more diverse, with domed, heated seating for exclusive dining experiences, outdoor art displays, a variety of firepits and outdoor heaters, and activity in every direction.
Kim Gates is kicking back on the Edmonton Ski Club patio after skiing a few runs with his friend Samantha Friesenhan, a pork belly sandwich topped with carrot and daikon radish from Drift Food Truck in his hand, paired with a Broken Spoke cider. “The opportunity to meet people here in the river valley, get together with your friends in this natural setting we’re blessed with in the centre of the city, and having things to do makes it an amazing gathering place,” he says.
Shared experiences outdoors, gathering together despite the temperature to laugh, play and enjoy the season is the essence of winter patio culture. At Culina On the Lake, the family trio of Isla Tanaka, her daughter Kimi and her mother Jean Jackson and their new pup walk up to a table and order a late lunch, having just snowshoed around Hawrelak Park lake. With the forest, the lake and a crackling fire behind them, the afternoon drifts by.
Strings of lights twinkle in the frosty evening, as Ryan Wiesner and Orshie Kertesz sit in a gondola car taking in the scene on Jasper Ave. The gondola is not a new city attraction; the owners of the Rocky Mountain Icehouse custom-built a gondola car and installed it on their patio. The effect is like being instantly dropped into the Rockies (and yes, it’s bigger on the inside).
“It’s that apres-ski feeling when you’ve had a great day and you’re a little tired, and you grab a blanket and just cozy up,” says Daniel Cournoyer, as the last of the light dims on the patio back at Cafe Bicyclette. “Fire creates community, it’s that heart and that warmth, and coming together.”
The outdoor patio is that gathering place where strangers become friends, and where friends share laughs and reminisce over past adventures as they plan new ones.
Why not enjoy it year-round, by joining the #YEGWinterPatioClub now?