Whether rising inflation is hitting your wallet hard, you’re saving your pennies for holiday gift giving or you’re naturally frugal with your entertainment dollar, fear not — there is plenty to do this month at little to no cost.
CHEAP THINGS TO DO
Try Ice Biking
Picture a bike with a front wheel replaced by a set of skates and a rear wheel surrounded by a platform with even more skates on it — that’s an ice bike. Ice bikes are available for rent for $12 for 30 minutes or $20 an hour at Bowness Lagoon from the UCalgary Outdoor Centre. Helmets are free to rent.
Toonie Skate at the Oval
Skate the “Fastest Ice in the World” (yes, they’ve trademarked that!) for just $2 on Monday nights. Regular admission is $7 for adults, $4.75 for kids, and kids 5 and under are free.
And on Dec. 10 the popular Skate with Santa event returns to the Olympic Oval.
More information at https://oval.ucalgary.ca/recreational-skating-running/skating
Ski for Cheap(er)
Downhill skiing will never be accused of being cheap, but for the most affordable skiing nearby, head to WinSport for the last two hours each evening for a steep discount. Regular full day is $79 for an adult but you can ski for the last couple hours each night for just $49 ($29 for kids).
If you’re looking for deals on mountain ski passes, check out Sunshine’s Super Card. For $94 the card includes your 1st, 4th and 7th day of skiing, which can be redeemed at Sunshine, Marmot Basin or Revelstoke any time in the season. You also get $50 off skiing midweek (Monday to Thursday) and through May, $30 off weekend skiing, and a bonus free day at Winsport, as well as some other discounts and offers.
FREE THINGS TO DO
Trade your Time for Tickets
See a show for free at Lunchbox Theatre if you volunteer to usher or work front of house. Since 1975 this local theatre company has put on short plays over the lunch hour to the delight of downtown workers and really anyone with a short attention span or time frame.
The current show, the holiday comedy With Bells On, is on until Dec. 17. Next up, Kisapmata, part of the High Performance Rodeo, will be on from Jan. 30-Feb. 18
If you’ve got a pair of ice skates, outdoor skating can’t be beat for its combination of price and seasonal delight. The City maintains 10 outdoor rinks and there are another 35 rinks run by volunteers, so you’re rarely far from a skating surface in Calgary in the winter.
Because the Olympic Plaza rink surface is refrigerated, it is usually the most consistent in terms of ice quality and is also open for the longest season. This year for example, because of the mild weather, Olympic Plaza was the only City-run rink open at the time of writing.
The rinks at Carburn Park and Bowness are both lit charmingly and offer heated bathrooms. Bowness also offers skate rentals ($12 for an hour or $20 for three hours, helmets are free). The Thomson Family Park rink is steps from 17th Ave, making it a good choice if you’re looking to do something else before or after your spin around the rink.
North Glenmore Park offers a separate shinny hockey rink, but most of the City-run rinks don’t allow hockey sticks.
Tired of skating in circles? North Glenmore and Bowness also feature ice trails. At North Glenmore, the 730-metre trail is attached to the main skating rink. At Bowness, a separate ice trail runs for 1.6 kilometres next to the Bow River.
If you’re in the market for literal cheap skates, check out the selection at 2nd Chance Sports on Edmonton Trail.
Although it’s not yet the pickleball of winter, crokicurl is a new sport on the ascent. Combining the ultimate Canadian pastimes of curling and crokinole, crokicurl was invented in 2016 in Winnipeg. This year, rinks at North Glenmore Park and Bowness Park offer you the opportunity to try your hand at this new winter sport. All equipment is provided on site, you just need to come prepared with warm clothes and a sense of humour.
Book a City Firepit
While there are a large number of first-come, first-serve drop-in City firepits, for those anxious few who want to ensure they get what they want when they want it, there are more than 40 City firepits you can book in advance for no fee through Calgary.ca.
City firepits are available from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. on weekdays and from noon to 2, 4 to 6 p.m. and 7 to 9 p.m. on weekends. At many sites, alcohol is allowed — but make sure you confirm before you book.
You need to provide your own equipment including firewood, matches and of course marshmallows. Don’t use wood you find in
the park for your fire or you could face a damage fine of up to $10,000.
For the real cheapskates out there, Star Building Supply in Inglewood has a free
Much like skating, if you’ve got a sled, throwing yourself down a snow-covered hill is a time-honoured and free winter activity.
The City of Calgary maintains 22 approved tobogganing hills — find out where they are at Calgary.ca
In addition, CMLC maintains the enormous “Rise” on St. Patrick’s Island. With a firepit at the top of the hill and public washrooms nearby in the park, this is a great spot for a group tobogganing party.
Hosted by Kenna Burima and Chris Neville (Dec.17)
If you don’t like to sing, this event is not for you. But if you like a good old-fashioned singalong, with a bit of modern sass and banter, then head over to Congress Coffee at 2 p.m. on Dec. 17 to singalong with the musical stylings of Kenna Burima and Chris Neville for the holiday edition of their monthly singalong. Admission is a pay what you can.
Concerts at the Hygge Hut
Dec. 1, 8 and 15 from 3:30 to 5:30 p.m.)
Enjoy free live music each Friday at the East Village Hygge Hut. With a fire pit and a warming area, the Hygge Hut, located east of the Simmons Building, brings a touch of Scandinavian winter style to East Village.
ProArts Society’s Free Concerts
Wednesdays at noon Dec. 6, 13 and 20
Since 2002, ProArts Society has presented free lunch-hour concerts on Wednesdsays. On Dec. 6 Alberta Vocal Arts presents Die Fledermaus, the Champagne Operetta highlights — this is a preview show of their inaugural fully staged production in January. On the 13th, the Canadian German Male Choir will perform traditional Christmas music, and on Dec. 20, Harp Angel will perform a Christmas Concert.
Shows are at the Cathedral Church of the Redeemer at 604 1 St. S.E.
U/D Night Market Holiday Edition
Peruse more than 30 vendors and listen to the live music at this free outdoor holiday night market. Bring your skates for a spin around the rink.
Free First Thursday
At Contemporary Calgary
Dec. 7 from 5 to 8 p.m.
On the first Thursday of each month, admission at Contemporary Calgary is waived from 5 to 8 p.m. Wander the galleries to the sounds of DJ Joash Charles — it’s the perfect night to check out the interactive exhibit Three Dimensions by artists Jennifer Marman and Daniel Borins.
This month’s event ends at 8 p.m., when the gallery will be taken over for the artist group Breadmaker’s annual “Good Tidings” event, a ticketed evening in support of The Alex.
If you buy a Contemporary Calgary
membership ($20) at a First Thursday event, you’ll receive a complimentary tote bag and then be able to go to the gallery any time for free.
Free Photos With Santa or The Grinch
At The CORE, Dec. 2, 3, 9, 10, 16 and 17 between noon and 4 p.m. at the Simons Truck. Or Dec. 8 or 15 between 3:30 and 6:30 p.m. for a photo with the Grinch
Getting a photo of your kid with Santa can be not only emotionally taxing for all involved (long wait times plus strangers mixed with the anxiety of trying to capture a perfect holiday memory) it can be an expensive endeavour.
Stop by the CORE and Santa’s helper will assist you in taking a free photo on your phone with the jolly old elf or the Grinch, depending on your timing.
Take advantage of the long nights and check out these free light displays and events around the city.
Light Up the Square
(Dec. 2 from 3 to 6 p.m.)
This family-friendly event in East Village is free to attend and includes live carolers and firepits, free hot chocolate and baked treats, horse-drawn wagon rides and a special visit from Santa. The tree lighting will take place at 5:30.
Lions Festival of Lights
(nightly at 5:30 p.m. until Jan. 8)
Walk or cross-country ski through the 37th Annual Lions Festival of Lights at Confederation Park The lights turn on at 5:30 p.m. every evening.
Spruce Meadows Christmas Lights
Walk or drive through the Spruce Meadows Christmas lights display. Although the pond is not open for skating this year, the firepits will be lit and there will be concession tents open for hot chocolate, coffee and food.
CPKC Holiday Train
For 25 years, the CP (now CPKC) Holiday Train has crossed Canada and the US bringing holiday cheer and gathering food bank donations and raising awareness of food insecurity. This year, the train covered in holiday light displays will roll into Anderson C-Train Station, at 5:45 p.m. on Dec. 9. Various musicians perform across the holiday train tour, and in Calgary the Anyway Gang will perform. The Canadian supergroup, made up of Dave Monks from Tokyo Police Club, Sam Roberts, Menno Versteeg from Hollerado, and Chris Murphy from Sloan, released a full-length album, Still Anyway, earlier this year. Attendance is free with a food bank donation.