Backyard Bucket List: Alberta's Winter Wonderland

Sometimes I forget that I live in the middle of beauty. Either I take it for granted, or I find myself cursing the fact that I live in rural Alberta during the wintertime. Truly, I am not a fan of winter. I don't like driving on treacherous icy roads, I don't like having to use my blow dryer to defrost the sliding door to the deck, and I don't like having to scrape the ice off my car windows after a long day of teaching in class. And that's just a preliminary list of things that I don't like about winter!

But there are moments that make me stop and simply marvel at how beautiful the world can be in the winter, especially up in chilly Alberta.

The other day, when exiting my school to go scrape my car windows and start it up for 15 minutes before I can even contemplate leaving the parking lot, I noticed this tree:

A beautiful tree covered in winter hoarfrost.

I had to stop for a moment and just stare at it. Then I quickly grabbed my camera and snapped some shots to remind myself that winter isn't all that bad.

We'd been suffering the last few days with light mists of freezing rain, which had been icing the roads with a slick sheen of black ice, causing accidents, late arrivals, and other problems. All we'd been doing in the staff room that week was cursing the freezing rain, and I hadn't noticed until that moment what else the rain had been doing. It had been making magic!

Branches coated with delicate crystals
A baby spruce coated with snow.
Frozen berries adorn a frost-covered branch

As I contemplated the landscape surrounding me, I remembered a comment made by an exchange student from India who had lived with my boss for a month last year. This young lady had heard through the grapevine that in Canada you can actually see your breath as you exhale. She was rather skeptical of this. My boss couldn't wait to demonstrate, so they took a day trip to the Alberta Rockies. As the girl stood there, watching her breath curl crisply into the cold air of Alberta, she was amazed.

The frosty view from my parents' front yard!

To me, seeing my breath in the air was a sign of the cold winter months to come, and something that I abhorred rather than marveled at. After listening to another perspective, I now smile when I see my frozen breath crystallize before me in the air. It is somewhat magical.

Another great part about Albertan winters are the fun activities that come with the snow! Typically, I have to be drug outside and into the cold (I would rather be curled up by the fireplace with a snug blanket around me), but once outside, it can be super fun! My activities of choice include cross-country skiing, snowboarding, and building things out of snow.

Enjoying some cross-country action at my parents' farm

One of the more entertaining activities we embarked on this winter was building a quinzee in our front yard. A quinzee is a reverse igloo. It is built not by packing frozen bricks of compacted snow into a dome-shaped fort, but by scooping mass amounts of snow into a pile, allowing it to freeze, and then digging out the inside. We cheated, as we were in a time-crunch, and didn't let the pile of snow freeze overnight, which is the standard practice: we misted it with our garden hose and let the water freeze for about an hour!

Oh no! The quinzee collapsed! (Not really)
I barely fit into the quincy - next time we'll make it bigger!

The quinzee we built was only big enough for a small child to crawl inside, but in the past I have built much bigger ones. Inside the quinzee, it can be quite warm and toasty, and can protect you well from the elements. It only took us about an hour, not including freeze time, for three people to build our small quincy, but we had tons of fun!

For more information on how to build a quinzee, check out this post.  (COMING SOON)

My cat, Mortigan, does not like the quinzee - maybe because we grabbed him off the warm bed to test it out!

I'm not going to lie. This is not a post about how I'm going to start appreciating nature and the beauty of winter, blah blah blah. I will probably still hate being cold, scraping ice from windows, and driving agonizingly slow to avoid dying in a ditch - but every now and then, I promise to take time to stop and marvel over the magical things.

What do you find magical about winter? What makes you stop in the middle of your day to say, "Wow, now that's beautiful!"


  1. The drive always with the sunrise hitting the trees and fences lined with frost and snow. the way Christmas lights look far more delicate and magical when covered with just a hint of snowfall. icicles are always neat to watch form and likewise melt later. and the silence of a big-flake-snowfall makes me stop and just appreciate.
    I also find comfort and pleasure in watching my boys (the dogs) have a blast running, rolling, digging, and playing in the fresh snow.
    that feeling of the crisp air stealing my breath, and how 'fresh' it seems to make the world feel somehow.

    1. Beautiful points - I love them! Christmas lights do look peaceful and enchanting all covered in ice, I agree, especially when combined with the silent, big-flake snowfall!

  2. Oh guys are a fair bit ahead of us! Not quite ready for snow but your shots are helping....they are gorgeous! Enjoy....I am sure we are only a few weeks behind in Ontario.

    1. It will come soon, I'm sure Anita! We got another big dump of snow last night - maybe it is time to go out and make some snow angels and enjoy some hot chocolate in a thermos. Hope the snow treats you well, too!

  3. I'm cold just looking at these photos! :) I traveled this summer in Africa, and made friends with a girl from Alberta. There's so much to do there in the winter - even if it is freezing cold!

    1. If you bundle up enough, you don't really feel the cold! But it DOES take some will-power and determination to actually leave your cozy home and go outside initially. Once you are out there, the possibilities are endless! Come visit sometime. :)

  4. Lovely photos and like you I'm not keen on the cold, especially driving in it but when I get inside my car to turn the heating on and the sunlight hits my frozen windscreen (just before I scrap it off) it can be so very beautiful.

    1. Agreed - the little, tiny rainbows make it look so vibrant!

  5. I'm like you, I grew up in a place famous for its winter, but I hate the season (Colorado). I much more of a summer girl, inclined to beachy climates. However, when it is cold outside, my two cats become much more inclined to cuddle on my lap, which makes me happy. :)

    1. Oh dear. We are so alike, it is uncanny! ;)