“Pack for the cold.”
Don’t get us confused with our northern arctic neighbors. Alberta does see more than just heaps of snow and sheets of ice. Sometimes it’s downright bipolar. The weather in our neck of the woods can go from 25º Celcius one day, to sub-zero the next, and we can face heatwaves and blizzards in the same month. Pack for all seasons. And don’t even complain about it: who doesn’t love a hot summer day in the sun before curling up and letting the rain send you to sleep?
“It’s better in the Summer.”
Absolutely not! Almost everything worthwhile in Alberta happens in the winter. It’s a winter paradise. The winter brings on a lush skiing/snowboarding season, ice climbing, snowshoeing, ice fishing; whatever your poison may be. Yes, you can get frostbit, or slip and fall on the ice. Sure, it can reach temperatures as low as -35° Celsius… but nothing will beat the feeling of seeing fresh fallen snow and listening to the muffled sounds of sunrise. Only in Alberta can you experience a classic winter night out on the ODR – outdoor rink – with a hot cup of coffee and Baileys waiting for you on the sidelines. Now pack all the wool socks and sweaters you have – don’t forget your toque! – and let’s go watch the Northern Lights dance across the night sky.
“You can’t go it alone.”
You shouldn’t be afraid to roll the dice in Alberta. When I was attempting to hike Larch Valley/Sentinel Pass near Banff, I found myself stopped dead by the trail’s recommendation of walking in groups larger than 4. I hesitated. Obviously, walking alone can be dangerous, and you should always let people know if you’re going on a large hike by yourself. But I eventually decided to keep going, because Alberta’s natural sights are world-class, and you’re bound to find other people enjoying them. After an hour, I crossed paths with a small group of Albertans from Airdrie who invited me to walk with them the rest of the way. Albertans are open-hearted people, the kind that let complete strangers join in on their fun. Don’t be afraid to venture on your own. If you get lonely, think you’re lost, or find yourself in a predicament like myself, don’t sweat it. There’s probably a kind group of strangers around the bush. You’re never alone.
“Bypass Edmonton and go straight to Calgary.”
WHY?! Edmonton and Calgary have one of the biggest rivalries in the country, but each city has traits that make it stand apart from the other. Don’t be fooled by the “dEdmonton” rumor – it’s just a myth. Edmonton has one of the largest malls in the world and countless, year-round festivals. Its upcoming “ICE District” (an updated, rebranded version of the Arena District where the Oilers play) is full of huge potential. But I’m going to stop myself here, for I refuse to choose sides – the Edmonton and Calgary rivalry is an unending battle.
“Avoid Albertans if you don’t care about hockey.”
That rivalry can be bitter at times, and extend to every aspect of the culture, but it has one source: hockey. Most Canadian provinces have only one hockey team representing them, but Alberta has two: the Edmonton Oilers and the Calgary Flames. When the season is in full swing, watching hockey can be an out-of-control-fun-drunken-yelling mess. And yes, we all tend to get emotionally involved with our hockey teams, but that doesn’t mean we can’t hold a conversation about literally anything else. Alberta has a rich history and activity in other sports, climate change, politics and world/current events.So sure, we may sprinkle in a few hockey metaphors here and there. But we’ll give you a chance to rant about football too.
“It’s too dangerous to go hiking. There are bears everywhere.”
Canada is full of the great outdoors. We’ve got just about every North American animal you can name, from wild bison, rattlesnakes, mountain rams and grizzly bears to cute little squirrels and marmots. While driving down the QE2 (Queen Elizabeth Highway/Highway 2), you may literally find a deer caught in headlights. So yeah, you should be careful of the things that bite. When going out into the trails, take precautions. But surprisingly, an animal attack is not a common event. And when they do occur, it’s usually the fault of the tourist–just think of how frustrated you would be if a random stranger tried petting your hair while you’re just trying to go to the bathroom in the local river. Most of the time, these animals are curious, and absolutely harmless. They may even strike a pose or two for you if you stop to snap a photo – from a reasonable distance.
“You’re gonna need to go elsewhere for any culture.”
It may be hard to believe, but Alberta has a thriving art world that’s fighting to be recognized by the larger circle of art enthsiasts. Edmonton hosts a two week long Fringe festival in the summer, just like that of Edinburgh: full of street performers, local artisans and varying arrays of plays put on by local groups. Banff and Calgary both have a film festival every fall that brings in many from across the country. The summer months see numerous Folk Festivals in all major cities, each different from the other. Both the Art Gallery of Alberta and Glenbow Museum bring in well-known artists from around the world, and each have a unique collection of their own. Local artists and markets have a huge impact in all parts of the province, and are all waiting for you if you’re willingly to look. I told you Albertans care for more than just hockey.
“Rent a car.”
Almost every Albertan owns their own vehicle to connect the unending distances between everything (seriously, you can drive ten hours and never leave the province), but that doesn’t mean public transit doesn’t exist. You can travel across the whole province by rail and this is highly recommended by most travelers. Train travel gives you a chance to stop and smell the roses–or at least watch them fly by through the window. And while public transit in the cities may not be as intricate and overwhelming as the New York City MTA, you’re never going to be left stranded.
“Beware of tornadoes.”
Every place on Earth has some kind of imminent threat that makes people nervous: California has earthquakes, Mexico has cartels, and Alberta has tornadoes. But if you let yourself be frightened by every little thing out there that could kill you, you’d never leave the house. Luckily, tornadoes are a rare occurrence. Yes, we all have huge/deep basements or crawlspaces under the stairs to protect us from being blown away if the dreaded day may come, but that has never stopped anyone from playing out in the middle of an open field on a windy day – I just always thought of it as prime kite-flying-weather.
“It’s just a prairie province.”
I’ll be honest, the majority of Alberta is farmland, but it’s no Saskatchewan. We’re bordered on the west with the breathtaking Canadian Rocky Mountains and we have the foothills and Canadian Badlands in the south — closest thing we’ll get to the desert, with some of the best fossil deposits on Earth. Each corner of Alberta is so different from the next. And even if you do spend hours driving through the prairie on a roadtrip, which is the best advice you’re gonna get from an Albertan, you’ll find yourself pulling over to snap a pic of a wheat field at sunset soon enough.
“Skip Banff, it’s just a tourist trap.”
Banff gets a bad rep at times as the seeming dumping zone of every single Australian that comes into the country for a ski season, but places don’t turn into tourist hotspots for nothing. When you fight your way past the selfie sticks and tour buses full of lost faces, you’ll find one of the most beautiful national parks in the country. It’s the must-see location in the Rockies, holding both the Valley of Ten Peaks and Lake Louise, not to mention countless ski resorts and hot springs. And when you do get tired of the tourists, you can stay in nearby Jasper for the same, but quieter, experience.
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