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The Top 10 Things to Do on the Cheap in Calgary this Winter

You can have fun in Calgary without spending mega wads of cash. The current Alberta economic slump has impacted tens of thousands of people across our province, but that doesn't mean you can't still lead a fulfilling life! Treating yourself to some frugal fun will keep you motivated and productive in the long-run. Whatever limits you may be dealing with right now, please remember how important it is to take breaks to recharge.

In my humble opinion, Calgary is one of the best cities in the world for getting out and getting active without blowing your paycheque. If you put in a bit of thought to your plans, you'll be ready to make the most of winter.

Here are my top 10 fun and frugal things you can do inside and outside this winter in the great city of Calgary:

First, the top five indoor activities to escape the cold: 

1. Dive into a day on the water. The weather may seem like anything but a trip to a tropical paradise, but that won’t stop you from loading up your beach bag and making waves. Soak up some H2O at any City of Calgary leisure centre. Both the Southland and Village Square Leisure Centres are Calgary’s wave pools, so you’ll feel like the ocean isn’t so far away in a landlocked town. Just make sure you dry your hair first before heading back out to the car!

2. First Thursdays at the Glenbow Museum. Maybe it’s the ‘art nerd’ in me, but I can’t think of a better way to spend a Thursday evening during the winter. Did you know that on the first Thursday of every month admission at the Glenbow is free from 5 to 9pm? No? Well, now you know! The Glenbow has a room to get your craft on, interactive historical displays, incredible artwork from talented Canadian artists, and tons more. Check their website to see which exhibitions are on display now. 

3. Blast into the past and fast forward to the future. A library is a place where you can explore the world without leaving your own city. You don’t have to be a student at the University of Calgary to learn new things at the Taylor Family Digital Library. According to their website, the library is home to Canada’s largest retro gaming collection. Make sure to head to the special area on the third floor to play games from as early as the 1970s, all the way to modern motion-detecting systems. Plus, bring your own plastic materials to learn how 3D printing works. The librarians will show you how to print and scan with the revolutionary technology for free! 

4. Pop in for a movie. One of my favorite things is to watch a movie snuggled up at home with a big bowl of popcorn. Make it a date night in or family night in with the latest Netflix release and a bowl of fresh, stove-top popcorn. I put about ¼ cup of kernels in a pot with a tablespoon of oil and a pinch of salt, cover, turn the burner on medium, and let it rip, shaking intermittently. You’ll know it’s done once the popping slows down to less than one pop every two seconds. Top it with whatever spice you choose - I like salt for simplicity’s sake. Then press play! (You can also head to Canyon Meadows where movie tickets are only $5!)

5. Skate the fastest ice in the world. Taking to the ice no longer means chilling yourself to the bone. Olympic Oval offers public access to their 450-metre indoor ice surface for $18.50 per family (two adults and a child under 18). Rentals are available if you need a pair of skates and a mandatory helmet.

Next up, the five best outdoor activities to embrace the brisk chill:

1. Toboggan down Calgary’s best hill. Making unforgettable winter memories starts at Saint Andrews Heights Toboggan Hill. You don’t need a lift pass to get a big thrill. Pack your warmest duds and layer up so you can make the best of your day, no matter what the thermometer reads. Crazy carpets are the cheapest and by far the best choice to get the most speed on your way down. But always remember, safety first and use common sense. There is no sense making it down a hill at top speed if it’s not safe to do so. No matter what you do, always bring a buddy with you and pack your best winter boots to hoof it back up to the top. Always remember to wear your helmet, never go out in temperatures below -19°C, and scope out the hill for obstacles before sledding down. For more important safety tips, check out this article: 

2. Light up your night. There’s something about glistening lights shining on fresh snow that screams Christmastime. Whether you choose Zoolights at the Calgary Zoo or the Lions Club Festival of Lights at Confederation Park, you’re sure to get into the festive spirit. Pour a few thermoses of hot chocolate or soup and take a walk through the glistening winter wonderland. Just make sure to have good grip on your winter boots, as the paths can get very icy with Calgary’s Chinook weather. 

3. Do as the Inuit do. Some foreigners think every Canadian lives in an igloo, so we might as well try it out once in a while! My mom used to fill milk cartons and ice cream pails full of food coloring-tinted water and leave them on the deck to freeze into giant ice cubes. My brother and I would stack the bricks in our back yard to create our very own rainbow igloo and castle complete with snow people to guard our fortress. As we grew older, we began digging into snow piles to hollow them out into winter caves. It’s time to embrace fort-building and celebrate the igloo once and for all! 

4. ‘Mallows roasting on an open fire. Who says campfires have to end with camping season? Take your firewood out to any park in the city and find a fire pit or standing barbeque to roast s’mores. Pack a camping kettle to boil some water for hot chocolate; and/or pack some maple syrup, a cast-iron skillet, and a dish to make sugar on snow. (To make sugar on snow, pour bubbling maple syrup over fresh snow and devour.) It’ll feel like a nice break from the indoors while giving a bit of warm comfort with tasty, low-cost treats. 

5. Howl at the snow-covered mountains. Animal shelters are an important part of a humane society and you can stop by any one of Calgary’s to show cats and dogs some love and attention. There is a group of people at Yamnuska Wolfdog Sanctuary doing wonderful things to educate people on wolves and wolfdog crossbreeds. The sanctuary located near Cochrane is home to a pack of 15 permanent wolfdogs. They also have a number of wolfdogs up for adoption. Take a self-guided tour, or get up close with an interactive tour. (Best to leave wee ones at home as you’ll need to be ages six and up for the self-guided, or 15 and older for the interactive tours.)

If you managed to do everything on this winter list, good on you!

Amy is the digital copywriter behind the screens of Writerburg Content Creation. She’s been sharing stories and newsletters since she was a geeky teen on her high school’s senior representative council, but received her formal training in both broadcasting from Mount Royal University and communications from the U of C. She lives with her husband, Chris, and their lovable ball of fur, Abbey Road.

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