7 Ways to Explore Alberta: From Surfing to Rock Climbing

From surfing at West Edmonton Mall to a guided rock climb of Mt. Norquay, Alberta’s got family-friendly activities for everyone. Here are a few fun ideas to make your summer even warmer this year.

Chase the Waves at West Edmonton Mall

So what if the nearest ocean is 750 kilometres from Alberta – you can still surf sea-like swells close to home: at the West Edmonton Mall World Waterpark. To become a board-carrying member of the mall’s Surf Club, you just have to take a 90-minute lesson. Instructors Jono Kusyanto and Kris Yap-Chung teach basic surf skills, etiquette and safety, with the goal of helping students of all ages and swimming abilities catch their first waves by the end of the lesson. Rule No. 1: never let a wave catch you by surprise. “These waves come every 40 seconds, so you can surf more in an hour here than you would out in the ocean,” says Kusyanto. Lessons and Surf Club are held four times a week, after the water park closes to the public. – Tracy Hyatt

Climb Out on a Wire

Mt. Norquay Via Ferrata If you can climb a ladder, you can do the Via Ferrata. Mt. Norquay’s guided climb allows any visitor – via a series of anchored cables, ladders and suspension bridges – to lock eyes on views normally seen only by the world’s best rock climbers. And this summer, the mountain is taking adventurers to new heights, with the addition of a third route; the Mountaineer. The new course features a three-wire suspension bridge (a little more daring than the four-wire bridge that hikers cross on the original Ridgewalker and Explorer courses). Mountaineer takes around six hours to complete and comes with an alpinist lunch on the summit and a commemorative menu and wine list in the Cliffhouse Bistro. But the amount of experience you need to climb remains minimal. Although, as you make your way toward the East Summit (2,450 metres high), a little bravery goes a long way. – Mike Morrison

Taste the Ukraine

For authentic Ukrainian food and culture, best to go straight to the source – the third annual Babas & Borshch Ukrainian Festival, August 22–23 in Andrew, Lamont County – the borscht capital of Canada. Enjoy live entertainment, a bazaar and tours of the museum, church and grain elevator, along with baba-approved eats: perogies, cabbage rolls, kielbasa and, of course, borscht. In fact, there’s a free bowl for all. Learn to make borscht with Edmonton chef Gail Hall, and don’t miss the borscht cook-off. Festival entry is free, and tickets to the Saturday night Zabava (party) are $50 in advance. – Shauna Rudd

Make a Pit Stop

Cherry trees don’t typically thrive on the Prairies, but Sweet Acres Orchard in Innisfail, 30 kilometres south of Red Deer, grows hybrid plants created for this climate by the University of Saskatchewan. The hybrids combine the heartiness of the Mongolian cherry tree with fruit of the sour cherry to produce five varieties – Saskatchewan Carmen Jewel, Valentine, Cupid, Romeo, and Juliet. “Sour cherries are native to Eastern European countries, so we get a lot of Ukrainian and Russian customers,” says Samantha Tabaczynski, who owns and runs Sweet Acres with her husband, Christopher. “They often get upwards of 50 pounds and freeze them to make dessert perogies, pies and jams.” Sour cherries start at a tart 10 on the Brix scale, a gauge that measures sugars in produce. The hybrids range from 14 to 22; sweet enough to enjoy fresh. Cherries are ready for picking from August through September, and visitors are encouraged to call in advance. – Shauna Rudd

Camp with All the Creature Comforts

AB-JAS-2014-Fire outside oTENTiks-Parks Canada-Ryan Bray.dng Want the close-to-nature feel of a tent without getting too close for comfort? Parks Canada is now offering the oTENTik, which combines an A-frame cabin – a raised wooden floor, a table, chairs and beds with mattresses – with a tent canopy. The experience is great for newbie campers. The name is a play on the French word authentique, intended to imply “a truer sense of camping,” says Greg Danchuk, visitor experience manager at Banff National Park. There are 238 units across Canada; 10 in Banff and 21 in Jasper. Each has a firepit, picnic table, parking and access to washrooms and showers. In Banff, add to that a barbecue with propane, and extra parking. And don’t forget AMA members save 7% on Parks Canada Discovery Passes purchased at any AMA centre. – Shauna Rudd

Test out a Test Kitchen

When Test Kitchen Calgary kicks off its third season of pop-up suppers this May, you’ll want to come hungry and thirsty. “For the launch, we’re doing a cocktail-inspired pop-up,” says project creator Garth Brown. “Canadian mixologists and chefs are going to collaborate on cocktail and food pairings.” But that’s just for starters. The kitchen will hold weekly pop-ups all summer and fall (in a still-secret location). “We transform a culinary idea into an operating restaurant for one night,” says Brown. Diners get the meal of their lives. Chefs get a salivating test audience. Past pop-ups have featured, among others, Mercato sous-chef Yeng Sreng cooking Cambodian food and up-and-comer Jean-Marc Mailloux doing modern barbecue. Details and tickets online ($45 for three courses; $60 with wine pairings). – Kirsten Rodenhizer

Show Your Jazz Hands

Medicine HatWith more than 60 events and 100-plus artists scheduled to perform June 21–28, the Medicine Hat Jazz Festival completely consumes the Southern Alberta city that hosts it. This year’s big-name acts will include trumpeter Guido Basso and pianist Kenny Werner at the Esplanade, but there are also events at coffee shops and restaurants around town, along with the always-anticipated, high-energy parkade party atop a Greyhound bus terminal.
– Tracy Hyatt

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