Six winter activities not to miss in Fort McMurray

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FORT MCMURRAY, AB - Fort McMurray may not be, by most accounts, the first place that comes to mind when looking for a winter getaway. Yet this city of 77,000 that lies on the fringes of Canada’s boreal forest has quietly been delivering glitz-free skiing, sledding and snowshoeing for quite some time. Blessed with 400 hectares of serene parks and an extensive 130-kilometre multi-use trail system, there’s no limit to the alfresco adventures you can get up to. Warm up your winter with these six exhilarating activities found in Fort Mac.

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Floating atop fresh powder in this snow drenched wintery landscape is a surreal feeling, especially when you’ve got acres upon acres of ultra-deep snow drifts to explore. Winter hikers are spoiled for choice in this neck of the woods. Choose between taking it to the trails or romp across rivers — all five of them for an invigorating work out. My pick? Thread your way along Abasand Trails and down into the valley flanking the Horseshoe River. This is where you’ll find the best views of the Outcrop, a brooding cliff that’s actually exposed oil sands. Don’t forget your camera.

Cross-country skiing

Over 28 km of groomed trails along the Birchwood Trail System await both classic and skate skiers. Few places in Canada have a season as long as Fort Mac’s. Running from November until April, you’ll be privy to consistent conditions thanks to the abundance of snow. Keep your eyes open and you’re apt to see deer gracefully dining between magnificent poplar and birch trees. Come nightfall, don your headlamp and glide under a canopy of stars.

Dog sledding

Looking for an adrenalin rush? Look no further than Mush McMurray. While award-winning musher Christina Traverse focuses primarily on racing, she does offer tours if conditions are right. The frenzied excitement of the sled dogs is infectious, as they become harnessed to the sled, raring to go.

Yet, the minute the brake is let off is a different story. All is calm, the only sound the pitter patter of padded feet as they tread across the snow. Zooming past open meadows and through the dense forest, you’ll come across a variety of wildlife. From moose to deer to coyotes, even the occasional wolf can be spotted during this canine-fueled adventure.

Downhill skiing and tubing

Considered the best non-mountain winter recreation spot in northern Alberta, Vista Ridge is a sweet little spot for getting in vertical feet a variety of different ways. Over 100 acres tempt boarders and skiers along eight trails. You’ll find black diamond runs, blue cruisers and a beginner area for newbies to get their legs. There’s even a terrain park for daredevils to perfect their moves.

Those who don’t downhill or cross-country are still able to get plenty of face shots here. With the wind rushing through your hair, you’ll zoom down 1,300-foot specially designed tube runs at heart-in-your-throat speeds. Best is challenging your buds to race along the five lanes and see who makes it the furthest.

Northern Lights

Have you ever seen the sky dance? Thanks to its position on the southern tip of the aurora oval, Fort McMurray is an ideal outpost to view the aurora borealis.

Caused by solar wind capturing electrically charged atoms of the sun, the midnight sky comes to life in flashes and waves of vibrant hues. Because of its location, Fort Mac has a much longer viewing season (from September to May) than other communities in northern Canada. While many folks come prepared with midnight picnics, it’s not necessary with tours provided by AltaCan Tours. They’ll set you up with warm drinks, snacks and an outdoor constellation presentation before the light show begins. Tip: Your chances of viewing the Northern Lights are greater during the winter and spring equinox.

Jody Robbins is a freelance Calgary travel writer and blogger. Follow her adventures on

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Experience some of the world’s best viewing sites for the Northern Lights? Fort McMurray boasts miles of snowmobiling and Nordic skiing trails, and lots of ice fishing locations.

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