Travel

Eight Canadian rides you need to try

From ice chutes and air canons to floating hot tubs and Canada’s tallest rollercoaster, Robin Esrock invites you to buy the ticket, take the ride and scream to your heart’s content

  • Oct 26, 2023
  • 1,500 words
  • 6 minutes
Downhill Karting at WinSport in Calgary. (Photo: Dave Holland - Tourism Calgary)
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Robin Esrock testing out the skeleton at the Whistler Sliding Centre. (Photo courtesy Robin Esrock)
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The Skeleton (Whistler, B.C.) 

As one of the fastest ice tracks in the world, the Whistler Sliding Centre has welcomed elite bobsleigh, luge and skeleton athletes since it was built in 2010 for the Winter Olympics. But the track begs the question: why would someone willingly choose to barrel down a narrow ice chute head first on a sled going 130 kilometres an hour? In a sport named skeleton, no less? In winter, the Whistler Sliding Centre offers public bobsleigh, and skeleton runs on the lower section of the track for people ages 16 and up with no experience necessary. Provided with a helmet, presumably to capture the contents of my skull, I walk to the skeleton launch pad, where I’m told to lie on my stomach and assume the demeanour of a sack of potatoes. With my face just inches above the hard ice, I’m pushed into the track, and a heartbeat later, my nerves are French fried. Athletes will shift their weight and angle their descent to increase speed. But instead, I close my eyes and scream like a high-pitched banshee. Ricocheting around six corners at speeds clocking 100 km/hr, I finally enter the exit chute, banging into the ice walls before gradually coming to a stop. One descent is more than enough for a lifetime.

Robin Esrock and his son riding the Eagle Coaster at Cypress Mountain in Vancouver, B.C. (Photo courtesy Cypress Mountain)
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Mountain Coasters 

Invented in Switzerland, mountain coasters invite you to hop on a ski chair, ride to the top of the hill, and strap into a sled that is affixed to a narrow metal track. The downhill track twists and turns through the trees and over steep inclines, under tunnels, and sharply around bends. A simple brake lever allows riders to slow down according to their nerves. Not everyone will be keen to hit speeds of up to 40 km/hr, although my kids were perfectly happy to dispense with the brake altogether. It’s safe and fun for all ages, and younger kids can sit between your legs. The ride comes to a gradual stop at the bottom of the ski chair, where you can line up for another exhilarating run. As ski resorts transition into four-season destinations, check out Revelstoke’s Pipe Mountain Coaster, Cypress Mountain’s Eagle Coaster, Golden’s Railrider Mountain Coaster, and the Canyon Coaster at Canyon Ski Resort

Testing out Downhill Karting at Calgary's WinSport Canada Olympic Park. (Photo courtesy Robin Esrock)
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Downhill Karting (Calgary, Alta.)

This downhill carting contraption was invented in New Zealand, where they call it a luge. Luge means something altogether different in Canada, which is why Calgary’s WinSport Canada Olympic Park calls the same unusual ride Downhill Karting. Taking my seat in a go-kart with a simple push-pull brake mechanism, I found myself thinking of the mountain coaster, only this time, I would be racing down an 1800-metre-long purpose-built concrete track on small, rattling wheels. The track is wide enough to overtake, steep enough to pick up serious speed, and twisty enough to really feel the corners. Kids as young as six can pilot their own cart (smaller kids get the lap treatment), and a modified ski chair conveniently ushers both carts and riders to the top of the hill. One run just won’t cut it, which is why rides are sold in packages. After getting a knack for the kart and track, each of my four descents became quicker and more thrilling. As they say in New Zealand: “Sweet as!”

The Air Canyon at Canyon Sainte-Anne, Quebec. (Photo courtesy Canyon Sainte-Anne)
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Air Canyon (Saint-Joachim, QC)

Located just a 30-minute drive outside of Quebec City, Canyon Sainte-Anne answers the question: what would happen if you turned a zip line into a seated thrill ride that shoots riders across a canyon? Allow me to introduce the Air Canyon, where you experience the results for yourself. Two riders, comfortably seated in a booth-like carriage, are shot backwards at 50 km/hr over a 90-metre-high canyon, feet dangling in the air. If you can catch your breath, you’ll use it to appreciate the dense forest, ancient rock, waterfall and the canyon’s renowned pothole. Slowing down on the other side of the canyon, it’s time for the return journey on the 400-metre roundtrip ride, quickly flying forward and yet back to the start. Regardless of whether you’re coming or going, you can also spend the day exploring the canyon’s trails and three suspension bridges.

The Hot Tub Boat in Victoria, B.C. (Photo courtesy Hot Tub Boating Victoria)
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Hot Tub Boat (Victoria, B.C.)

It’s always nice to be on a boat, but it’s even nicer to be in a hot tub on that boat. It’s nicer still if the hot tub is the boat. Introducing Canada’s first fleet of hot tub boats, which invite you and five friends to putter about Victoria Harbour submerged in 40-degree bubbles. Disinfected and filled with fresh water after each use, an onboard stove heated by briquettes keeps the water toasty while a Bluetooth speaker provides the tunes for your 90-minute rental. Alcohol is not allowed, but you’re welcome to bring your own food aboard or pre-purchase a charcuterie board. And if it gets too warm, just leap into the ocean. Showers and change rooms are provided. Hot tub boating is perfect for families and friends in search of a relaxing and unique experience in one of Canada’s most scenic harbours.

A physical and mental challenge, Activate Games provides guests with state-of-the-art facilities for the ultimate interactive experience. (Photo courtesy Activate Games)
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Activate Games (Winnipeg, MB) 

My son is obsessed with computer games, so this summer, we sat down and watched the TRON remake, where the hero finds himself inside the video game. A few weeks later, we found ourselves at Activate Games in Winnipeg, which did one better. A state-of-the-art interactive experience, Activate offers dozens of laser and LED-lit games inside small, dark rooms, requiring competitors to jump, run, think, twist, toss, shoot and collaborate. Wearing an RFID (radio frequency identification) bracelet, our scores and progress are all tracked, players are efficiently directed through the facility, and each high-paced game is easy to grasp and lasts just 90 seconds. As each game concludes, we exit through a side door or have the opportunity to replay or level up. Activate’s vision and futuristic execution are remarkable, active, and 50 Nintendos worth of fun. Invented in Winnipeg, this must-do team building or party activity has quickly expanded to over a dozen cities across North America, with branches in Calgary, Halifax, Edmonton, Brampton, Burlington and Scarborough. My son’s favourite game required us to dodge lasers, jumping or sliding clear of the beams as we crossed the room. We loved the synchronized colour squares and blasting asteroids across a series of monitors. While Activate’s website recommends the experience for adults and kids 10 and up, it’s been several months, and my seven-year-old still won’t stop talking about it.

The VéloVolant at Au Diable Vert lets guests soar through the trees and experience nature from above. (Photo courtesy Au Diable Vert)
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Canopy Cycle (Sutton, QC) 

What would happen if you turned a zip line into a seated thrill ride that shoots riders both ways across a canyon? See above. Now, what would happen if you turned a zip line into a seated contraption that lets riders peddle through the forest canopy? See below. And while you’re at it, look down. Drive 90 minutes south from Montreal towards the town of Sutton, and look out for an outdoor resort called Au Diable Vert. It offers treehouse accommodations, hiking, cross-country ski trails and other activities, but we’re here for VéloVolant, the world’s highest suspended bicycle ride. Attached to a cable, we’ll peddle off a platform and propel ourselves 30 metres above the ground, riding among tree tops of maple and pine. It’s a one-kilometre circuit, with up to 15 riders spaced apart. There are no hills on a suspended bicycle ride, and while we can peddle harder to get some speed, the 45-minute ride invites us to take our time, enjoying the atmosphere of a lovely boreal forest from a rather unique perspective. 

The Leviathan at Canada's Wonderland takes three minutes and 28 seconds and reaches a top speed of 148 km/hr. (Photo courtesy Canada's Wonderland)
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The Leviathan (Vaughan, ON) 

At 1,672 metres long and 93.3 metres tall, The Leviathan is the tallest and fastest roller coaster in Canada. It’s a monster-coaster, a goliath-coaster, or, more technically, in rollercoaster speak, a giga-coaster. As of writing, it is the seventh tallest coaster in the world, the sixth tallest coaster by height drop, and the fourth tallest coaster with a traditional lift mechanism. At this point, I should mention that less impressive rollercoasters have turned me the shade of spinach. I projectile puked at a Six Flags theme park in the U.S. and just barely kept it together on the Incredicoaster at Disneyland. Rollercoasters are not everyone’s cup of peppermint tea (which soothes upset stomachs), but this is The Leviathan. For three minutes and 28 seconds, riders will plummet at 80-degree angles, hitting a top speed of 148 km/hr through twisty camelbacks and hammerhead turns. In technical rollercoaster jargon, this means you’ll battle to contain the contents of both your stomach and bowels. Those interested in such a challenge will find The Leviathan in Canada’s Wonderland.

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