An Oilers fan at Edmonton's Silver Skate Festival (photo by Sheila Scarborough)

An Oilers fan – of course – at Edmonton’s Silver Skate Festival (photo by Sheila Scarborough)

It takes a special kind of person to organize and run a days-long festival and still be going strong in the last hours on the last day, which is when I met cheery festival producer Erin DiLoreto at one of Edmonton, Alberta’s longest-running events, Silver Skate.

“Hi, how are you?” said Erin. “Come with me and I’ll take you to see something magical….”

Hard to turn down an invitation like that, right? Off we went to do some exploring.

Cowboy and lacy light snow sculptures at Silver Skate Festival Edmonton (photo by Sheila Scarborough)

Cowboy and lacy light snow sculptures at Silver Skate Festival Edmonton; the lacework one was lighted at night from within and won the People’s Choice award (photo by Sheila Scarborough)

Silver Skate is held in William Hawrelak Park, one of the many green spaces near the North Saskatchewan River that runs through the middle of the city. Although my taxi driver was a bit confused about how to get there, the packed parking lot and bouncy crowds showed that plenty of people have no problem finding Silver Skate as they have for the last 20+ years; it’s the longest-running winter festival in Edmonton and it’s completely free.

Ice slide for kids at Silver Skate Festival in Edmonton Alberta (photo by Sheila Scarborough)

Ice slide for kids at Silver Skate Festival in Edmonton Alberta (photo by Sheila Scarborough)

Its roots in the Dutch community that started the event are still seen today in the Kortebaan speed-skating and members on the festival Society with names like de Groot and Dootjes.

Giant flowers at Silver Skate Festival near the skating pond (photo by Sheila Scarborough)

Giant flowers at Silver Skate Festival near the skating pond, in a nod to the festival’s Dutch origins (photo by Sheila Scarborough)

Walking quickly behind Erin, we left the children’s play area where I’d been enthralled by slides made of ice and “jam can curling,” and we headed over to take a look at the snow sculpture display (artists come from around the world to participate, including that bastion of snow arts, Mexico) and then we walked through something really unique, the Silver Skate Folk Trail.

Featuring secret spots, woodsy decorations with surprises inside, roving performers and story-telling with Baba Yaga, Little Red Riding Hood, the wild Wolf Man of the forest and others, the Folk Trail was not what I’d expected to see at a winter festival, but it fit right in, down to Baba Yaga’s elaborately-sculpted fairy tale house made of snow.

Baba Yaga and her snow house at Edmonton's Silver Skate winter festival (photo by Sheila Scarborough)

Baba Yaga and her snow house at Edmonton’s Silver Skate winter festival (photo by Sheila Scarborough)

Erin was excited that this part of the festival….this story-telling element….appeals to many different kinds of people, of all ages.

This year the tales focused on “making the discovery that staying on a path can be the safe thing to do,” she explained, “but through the story and performers we showed that if you leave the path, magical things can happen, but yes, it can be scary. So, part of the performance was about facing your fears – we had artists make effigies of fearful things, people could write down their fears on bits of paper, and then we incorporated burning those fears in a lighted nighttime procession and fire ceremony.”

Mystery eggs in the trees on the Silver Skate Festival Folk Trail (photo by Sheila Scarborough)

Mystery eggs in the trees on the Silver Skate Festival Folk Trail (photo by Sheila Scarborough)

The Folk Trail’s eggs were irresistible – what was inside?

Imaginative little scenes, like this one….

Miniature scene inside one of the mystery eggs on the Silver Skate Festival Folk Trail (photo by Sheila Scarborough)

Miniature scene inside one of the mystery eggs on the Silver Skate Festival Folk Trail (photo by Sheila Scarborough)

I stood there thinking of several people who had thought I was off my rocker to go to a far northern Canadian city in the middle of February when I don’t do any snow sports (hey, good question, I’d even asked it of myself.)

Although my toes were freezing because I hadn’t brought the right shoes, I was so glad that I’d come to Edmonton to meet people like Erin, see the pink-cheeked faces of skaters and curlers and take a magical walk in the winter woods.

Here’s a two-minute video of parts of the nighttime portion of the festival, courtesy the Silver Skate website. If you can’t see the embed box below, here’s the direct link to Silver Skate Festival Night Works.

(Disclosure: I was a guest of Edmonton Tourism and Travel Alberta on this trip, but impressions and opinions are my own.)

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I'm a writer and speaker specializing in tourism, travel and social media. NHRA drag racing fan. Co-founder of Tourism Currents. U.S. Navy veteran. Caffeinated.