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5 Insider Tips to Quebec’s Winter Carnival

Bonhomme, the Winter Carnival mascot (Photo courtesy of Carnaval de Québec)

The local dish on what to see and do at Québec City’s famed Winter Carnival.

By Amanda Halm

The Québec Winter Carnival, opening this weekend for its 58th year, brings a flurry of wintry activities to Quebec City. It is the city’s version of Mardi Gras, sans debauchery simply because it’s just too darn cold to bare it all. Ice-canoe races, snow baths, zip lining, night parades and more make it one of the most unique festivals in the world. Locals love it, even though swarms of shutter-snapping visitors descend on the city each year.

Get the true local experience with these five tips:

1. Dress smart. Forget about looking fly in your leggings-and-sweater-dress combo. Dress to be outside all day in arctic temperatures. Wear some serious winter boots and bring out the big coat. Not only will you blend in with the locals, you’ll be comfortable enough to enjoy all the frigid festivities.

2. Do the Caribou. It isn’t some dance invented by crazy Quebeckers. It is a mix of sherry, brandy and vodka, served at those glistening ice bars on the Grande Allée. It is served as cold as can be—in a glass fashioned from a small block of ice. Extra local points if you drink it just before sliding down Ice Slide Uniprix, an ice slide more than 120 metres long.

The canoe race in action (Photo courtesy of Carnaval de Québec)

3. Catch the end of things. Dog sledding, ice-canoe races and the Derby St. Hubert (a horse-drawn sleigh race) are exhilarating must-sees. To maximize your time, skip the qualifying rounds (unless you’re participating!) and be there when the action really happens, during the final heats. Le Café de la Terrasse inside Le Château Frontenac has a panoramic view of the river and from here you may be able to catch a glimpse of the canoe race finals while noshing on lunch.

4. Skate with Bonhomme. Instead of waiting in a long line to have your picture taken with the Carnival’s biggest celebrity, ice skate with him on Tuesdays and Thursdays for 45 minutes starting at 7 pm at Place d’Youville. Bonhomme, by the by, is French for “snowman” and this 8-foot-tall mascot of the festivities wears elements of traditional 19th-century Quebecois dress: a fringed arrowhead sash and red cap.

5. Lap up the nightlife. When the sun goes down, the Carnival turns from family focused to rowdy party scene. DJs get the ice palace bumpin’ on Friday and Saturday nights. Or, for something fancier, waltz the night away at Bonhomme’s Ball on Friday, February 10. It is an actual ball so bring your penguin suit or swishy gown. Many restaurants serve up special menus for the Carnival, so be sure to check those out as well.

The Québec Winter Carnival takes place January 27 to February 12, 2012.

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