Enjoying the great outdoors during winter is not a difficult thing to do when you live in Yellowknife, Northwest Territories, particularly given our very long winter season. Over the past four weeks (mid-March to mid-April), I’ve been on some exhilarating Yellowknife backyard winter adventures on the ice and snow (and I experienced four “firsts”). Each adventure reminded me of what a truly spectacular place I live in! Although I’ve always known this! No matter the season, my own backyard is rich and overflowing with countless opportunities of fun, adventure, exploration and photography.
Now come along with me to Yellowknife’s snow castle, the Canadian Championship Dog Derby, the Great Slave Lake ice road and the Back Bay ice caves. All four of these outdoor adventures are located on, or accessible by, Great Slave Lake, right in Yellowknife, only a short drive from my house! And they didn’t even cost a penny!
Snowbuddy’s Winter Garden – Snowking Winter Festival
Each winter the infamous Snowking and his large team of helpers design and build a winter wonderland made of snow and ice, all for the community to enjoy during the month-long Snowking Winter Festival in March. The Snowking Winter Festival provides the community with the opportunity to come out and mingle, to enjoy the fresh air, admire the snow sculptures and let the kids (and adults) run around and play on the snow slide.
Usually there is a schedule of events and activities for all to enjoy, young and old, including performances, art shows, art and craft market, and more. However, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, this year’s festival provided a downscaled version, called the Snowbuddy’s Winter Garden. Downscaled or not, every visitor still had a smile stretched out on their faces as they walked through the castle’s “garden.” The architecture always amazes me! For more information about the festival, visit here.
Ice Road Trip on Great Slave Lake
There are many ice roads around Yellowknife. One such road is built each year on the vast Great Slave Lake, connecting Yellowknife to the community of Dettah (6.5km away); it also branches off onto a private road that goes along the lake’s East Arm, servicing a rare earth minerals project (110km from Yellowknife).
One sunny morning, in late March, a friend and I took off on a road trip along this ice road. I had no idea what I was going to see (driving on the 10th largest lake in the world!), but just in case I came prepared, with all of my camera gear, additional outdoor clothing including a big parka, thick snow pants and bit clunky boots (so glad I brought them!!) and some snacks.
We were gone for a total of 5 hours, which included many (photo) stops and a surprise driving lesson! I had no idea that this trip would have me checking off a bucket list item for my year off! The ice road trip and the driving lesson were the first two of my four firsts that I experienced during these adventures (those words don’t sound right, but that’s exactly what it was). Be sure to watch the entertaining video (4:45 mins) for a summary of this ice road adventure!
A Magical World Beneath the Surface
One of my favourite things about the trip was the magical world we found when looking through the cracked ice of the lake. My camera was firing away; I couldn’t get enough! There are such interesting lines and shapes and you never know what you’re going to find! Can you spot the Ice Fairy of Great Slave Lake in the image below?
Here is just a glimpse of what I saw, and this doesn’t even “crack the surface” (get it?!) I plan on creating a print series which will be available to order through my website’s Abstract Gallery.
***NOTICE: I have something new and very exciting in the works. If you haven’t already, be sure to subscribe to my blog to keep posted!
Great Slave Lake is dotted with little islands, and on one such island we stumbled across some frozen trees that were strangely iced up on one side (likely from the waves during freeze up). The frozen trees were too far from the road to get a good shot, so we traversed about 60m through the thick and heavy snow to get a better look!
I didn’t expect we’d be leaving the car much, but when we came across these trees, I was so pleased that I brought a warmer set of outdoor clothing! I changed into my big Canada Goose parka, thick snow pants and clunky boots! Seeing these trees made it seem as though we were on another planet!
Annual Canadian Championship Dog Derby
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, this year’s participating mushers came from the Northwest Territories only. Races were scheduled throughout the day from Friday-Sunday, March 26-28, 2021. What a thrill it was to watch these incredible dogs and mushers race; they train all year for this!
I was able to get very close to the dogs as they raced on by; this allowed me to get some great action shots! My camera was firing away at high speed continuous shooting, capturing hundreds of shots! I’m glad I was able to return multiple times throughout the week-end, as it’s very tricky to get sharp shots when you have multiple fast moving subjects coming right at you!
I even went home in between the races to download and quickly review my 100s of images; this allowed me to tweak my camera settings and try out different lenses and shooting perspectives at the next race!
Have a look at the video (1:41) below for a little glimpse of what you can see at the races! For more information on the Canadian Championship Dog Derby, visit here.
Back Bay Ice Caves
Born and raised in Yellowknife, and having lived here my entire life, I can’t believe it took me 43 years to FINALLY visit the infamous Back Bay ice caves! Each winter I saw people’s pictures of the caves posted in Instagram and Facebook and I always wanted to see them…but I didn’t know how to get there!
Finally, one morning in early April, I received a text from a friend asking if I’d like to go that very afternoon! Since I’m on a year off from work, I had the flexibility to go whenever I wanted (so grateful for that!) I was stoked once again to experience another “first” in my own backyard!
The ice caves are accessible by snowmobile or a rough foot path through the woods, coming from a couple of different directions (Niven Drive area, walking down towards Great Slave Lake or the Yellowknife ski hill). In order to reach them, you’ll walk through the Heritage Site of Back Bay Cemetery, Yellowknife’s first cemetery (1938-1946). This was another first for me!! I had never known the location!
My visit to the Back Bay ice caves and cemetery were the remaining two of my four firsts during these adventures, all having taken place within the span of only four weeks! And I returned to visit them again the very next day! Now the ice and snow are quickly melting….so I made it JUST in time before the end of the season! I feel so accomplished and reinvigorated, and I didn’t even have to leave my own backyard!
My Very Own Backyard Snow Fort
This winter I was so lucky to have my very own snow fort to enjoy in my own backyard! While not part of my “winter adventures” from the past 4 weeks, it was great fun having a few friends over to enjoy the fire, hot chocolate and FROZEN marshmallows! (We even went out at minus 40 degrees Celsius!) Have a watch of the video!
Announcement: I Do Not Like the Cold
Although I have lived in the sub-arctic for my entire life, it may come as a surprise to you that I do not like the cold; I never have. (Although I could never live anywhere that doesn’t warrant a cozy indoor fireplace!) But when you dress warmly and the intense arctic sun beams down on you, you barely notice the temperature! You get to experience a completely different world. All of these photographs and adventures would have been impossible without the ice and snow.
If you haven’t yet had the pleasure of visiting this special part of the world, you are missing out! Once it’s safe to travel again, I highly encourage you to just do it! And if you’re not the hardy adventurous type, willing to step outside of your warm comfort zone, we do in fact have four seasons here, as I outlined here in my previous post…. so take your pick!
It is April 21 and the temperatures are still fairly cool. Today we’re at a balmy minus 5 degrees Celsius (-13 with the wind!) and have a forecasted low of minus 18 degrees Celsius later this week! But Spring is certainly in the air; the ice and snow are melting quickly and my outdoor winter adventures have ended for the season. I am ready for the summer! (Aren’t we all?!)
My blog features stories of travel, photography and a sprinkle of everyday life and my upcoming story fits under the latter category. This story will be different (and longer) than my previous stories and completely unrelated to travel. While it has been a difficult and emotional story to write, I know that many others will stand to benefit from it. Until then, continue to stay safe and stay tuned…
PS – I’d love to hear from you in comments…Which was your favourite adventure I wrote about? If you’re a Yellowknifer, have you been to all of these places (my backyard snow fort doesn’t count!)?