Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Edmonton Winter Festivals

Edmonton is often referred to as a "Festival City" and it's reputation is very much earned with upto 100 events through a year falling under the festival tag. Often times in the summer you have to pick which fantastic event you want to attend and unfortunately forgo attending another. However, in the winter its a dead season...or so I thought until this year when Chrissy and I decided to explore some of the festival events specialized to the winter season.

Highlights included:

Deep Freeze Festival

The Deep Freeze Festival celebrated it's 8th year in 2015 but it was the first time Chrissy and I ever attended the extended street party in the Alberta Avenue area (118 Avenue).

We attended the festival on a crisp Sunday afternoon instead of the preceding warm Friday and Saturday. If we were going to be in, we were going to be fully in for the true deep freeze experience.

Probably the most loved feature of the festival is the actual Deep Freezer Races. As you can see below it looked like a lot of fun. However,  I couldn't convince Chrissy to let me take her for a spin.

Walking around the street we stopped in to see some luxurious pelts in surprisingly well heated tepee's, warmed ourselves near the fire, checked out the street action, watched some hockey and judged some amazing snow and ice sculptures.

Of course while we were on Alberta Avenue we had to visit a few of their unique shops. We were treated to some belly dancing at Bedouin Beats, the best egg tarts ever at Handy Bakery and some fantastic Latin American specialty items at Paraiso Tropical - both of the tantalising and scary type :)

Silver Skate Festival

We almost never made it to Silver Skate Festival. After a big Sunday breakfast at home we were feeling even more sloth like than usual when collectively we gave ourselves a kick in the ass and decided to head outside. Looking for something low impact we decided that we would attend the French Quarter Farmers Market. On a lark I decided that I would throw our skates into the trunk of the car just in case we felt really ambitious. 

After walking around the market for a little bit and grabbing a coffee at Cafe Bicyclette we decided that "maybe we should take a drive to Hawrelak Park and see what is going on". As soon as we arrived at the park we kind of just got swept up into it all the activity and our laziness and ambivalence disappeared.  Grabbing our skates from the trunk we rushed to the ice to do a few laps around the lake.

Seeing so many people skating, snowshoeing, cross country skiing and just enjoying themselves outdoors was infectious. We wandered through the park taking in the sights and activities.

We never stopped moving until Chrissy found us the best seats in the park; on a straw bale of a horse drawn sled.

Red Bull Crashed Ice

For years I have been advocating to anyone that would listen that Edmonton should host a Crashed Ice event. Finally, it happened this year! With huge expectations I monitored the construction of the track and even showed up to watch the initial flooding of the ice surface,

Viewed from above the track looked absolutely fantastic and my enthusiasm for the event was through the roof.

When the Friday of the race weekend arrived Chrissy and I bolted out of work to check out the heats. 

Unfortunately heat was the word of the day, but not on the ice. Instead Edmonton was awash in sunlight and the hottest day on record in a hundred years. All races were being pushed back further into the night to let the ice harden.

Slightly deterred, we headed out for supper and ended up back at the track shortly after 8PM for the team time trials. A good crowd was already forming.

Birds eye view from the trees

We followed the track down into the river valley looking for spots along the wall and cool sight lines before stopping at the final curve.

I am not a patient man so to entertain myself I decided that I would try and get a tweet on the big viewing screens. Chrissy and I laughed pretty good when my in actuality frustrated of waiting statement disguised as an excited twitter post was eventually highlighted.

Eventually the races did start and I was rapt in attention as the first few skaters flew by us at crazy speeds.

The rhythm of watching each race was a little weird. We would effectively turn away from the track to the the screen for 40 seconds and then turn back towards the ice for 3 seconds and then back to the screens for the last 3 seconds to the finish. Not ideal.

Even with a pretty killer spot I was getting a bit restless so I convinced Chrissy to walk up the track and see the race from more angles.

Friday night at Crashed Ice turned out to be the only time we got to see anybody go down the track as I chose to play rec-hockey Saturday night rather than watch the finals race.

I really enjoyed the spectacle of Crashed Ice on the Friday night but the experience left me a little wanting. Maybe it was my completely unattainable expectations, maybe it was my inability to really connect to the viewing experience of the sport, or maybe it was the unfitting warm weather but I wasn't too disappointed to miss the Saturday races. 

Or, perhaps what really got to me was the static nature of the event itself. It didn't have any participatory aspect to it. Basically, it was a lot of standing and watching a screen. I could have used more general activities around the event and maybe something during to make me feel like I had a role other than just being there. I don't know...

I am hopeful though that Edmonton gets the chance to host the event again (and more Redbull events in general) as I feel like it could only get better. 

Bonus Winter Patio Action

As Edmonton strives to be more of a four season city it has adopted a Winter City Strategy. Included in the strategy is a promotional element to encourage more winter patios through the City. With a warm spell this March we have taken the opportunity to hydrate ourselves outside on a number of occasions.

Joking around with too many coasters at Sherlock Holmes led me to my new favourite picture of the wife. This is her official "Making It Rain" face while drinking a Shirley Temple. Badass!

I think it's pretty obvious from this post that Chrissy and I have reconsidered our opinions on festivals in Edmonton. We plan on celebrating some new favorites in many winter to come. 

Monday, March 09, 2015

Attending Oilers and Oil Kings Games

As you probably know I am a  huge Redwings fan and overall a pretty big hockey fan. I watch at least a part of an NHL game every game of the season. When I get home the first thing I do after changing out of my hated work clothes is turn on Sportsnet to see what game is on. It doesn't matter much who is playing, I usually end up listening/watching a game while making supper. The Redwings playing in the Eastern Division has been a boon not only in the standings but for myself as their games are now more often televised for my supper prep. This makes me happy.

What doesn't make me happy is the Oilers. In Edmonton it really is the Oilers and...nothing. I am not sure if there are NHL fans in this city as much as just Oilers fans. No one really talks about other teams in Edmonton. The local sports radio talks about nothing but Oilers and maybe who they are playing that night, the social media channels are all Oilers, the print journalist who aside from being horrible write about nothing but the Oilers. All of this may be tolerable it it wasn't the worst franchise in sports over the last decade. They are an embarrassment! Their complete ineptitude in drafting players, managing talent, coaching and arrogance with fans in every regard whether it be verbal abuse, price gauging, or bilking millions of public dollars for a billionaire owner is sickening. I legitimately hate them. And I don't want to, I love hockey, but I just can't support this team. Have I mentioned I hate them?

With this general disgust I now only find myself wanting to attend Oilers games to see the opposition. And so this January I was excited to finally have a reason to cheer in Rexall Place when the Redwings came to town.

Chrissy had gifted me tickets for Christmas and the whole day had a special feeling to it. I even broke out my special cufflinks for work.

All day I was giddy and before I even knew it the sun had gone down and we were ready to head to the rink.

Chrissy obliged me in heading to the rink early to watch the warm ups where I rambled on about the players to her and she feigned interest (Abdelkader is from Michigan, Miller's hair is hilariously grey, how fun is it to say Gustav?). I think she bought me my first beer of the night just so I would shut up.

The crowd welcomed the players from the gold medal World Junior Hockey championship and started the game in good spirits. It was downhill from there. Even with the Oilers scoring the first goal of the night they were totally sitting on their hands. It was the worst atmosphere I have experienced at an NHL game. Just no energy.

Of course this ended up helping my Redwings so I wasn't too disappointed.

The game was closer than it had any right to be as the Redwings played down to the Oilers level. The Wings ended up winning 4-2 with a couple of late Powerplay goals. I went home happy with a win and the cutest woman in the building on my arm. Even with the horrible atmosphere in the building I considered it a good night.

A couple weeks later I had the unique experience of being invited to serve as Honor Guard for the opening anthems of an Oil Kings game and I jumped at the chance.  It has been some time since I had attended a WHL game and I was eager to see the recently demoted Leon Draisaitl play for Kelowna against his adopted 'home' team. Little did I know that I would get so close to the young kid before the game even began and again on the ice with him.

I even ended up on the jumbotron.

Funny enough the crowd for the Oilkings were way more alive then the crowd for the Oilers. Even at about 1/3rd of the size the WHL crowd easily matched the NHL noise level. I was almost embarrassed for the Oilers.

It was a fun game to watch.  As an aside, I don't enjoy WHL hockey as much as I used to in my youth. I think the game overall is now over coached and a lot more about systems and defence than it used to be. Gone are the crazy free wheeling and somewhat overly violent games I so fondly remember. This isn't meant so much as a criticism as much as an observation - the game is still wildly entertaining and quality hockey.

Maybe I will just have to fully embrace the Oil Kings instead of the Oilers if I want to support the local team.