Viewing the Northern Lights: Churchill, Manitoba

Churchill’s Eskimo Museum, included on the tour, has a collection of Inuit carvings and artifacts said to be among the finest and oldest in the world.

On a daylight snowshoe excursion, visitors will learn to maneuver on traditional wood snowshoes strung with gut or animal hide. The outing, which ranges from three to four hours depending on the fortitude of the tour group, includes a rest stop in a cabin and hot food and drink. Conditions permitting, trek leader Mike Macri will prepare “bush tea” by steeping tea bags in sparkling clean snow that’s been boiled over a wood campfire. A few wayward ashes and burning twigs give it a “smoky” flavor, Macri says.

Dave Daley, owner of dog sled operation Wapusk Adventures in Churchill and a co-founder of the Hudson Bay Quest dogsled race, gives tour-goers their own hands-on dog sledding experience. Guests have the opportunity to drive a team of seven or eight huskies — with a skilled musher on board — over a mile-long course through a boreal forest. For refreshments, Daley serves hot chocolate and freshly made bannock — traditional pan-fried flat bread from the European fur trade era — with tundra berry jam, if available.

Travelers will also have the opportunity to learn about the region’s First Nations cultures from members of local Native communities.

The ‘Northern Lights & Winter Nights’ package costs $3,999 Canadian per person — about $3,965 (US) at current exchange rates — plus tax, based on double occupancy. The price includes hotel rooms in Winnipeg and Churchill, round-trip air fare between Winnipeg and Churchill, meals in Churchill, and all scheduled outings and other activities.

The price doesn’t include transportation between home and Winnipeg.

‘Winter Skies’ Tour

The independent, nonprofit Churchill Northern Studies Centre recently moved into a new, two-story, 27,000-square-foot structure built to LEED Gold certification standards. Natural light permeates 90 percent of the interior space. A solar wall that heats incoming ventilation air is among the green features of the unusual trapezoid-shaped building. Amenities include sleeping quarters, cafeteria, laboratories, and classrooms.

The center’s ‘Winter Skies: Aurora and Astronomy in Churchill’ program will operate February 16–21 and March 1–6, 2012. Evening talks by an astronomer are followed by leisurely viewing of the northern lights from the warm comfort of the center’s enclosed viewing lounge, which is covered by an eight-foot-diameter clear-acrylic dome, or from an open-air, second-story deck that wraps around a corner of the streamlined building.

During daylight hours, guests can snowshoe, experience a dogsled ride, visit the Eskimo Museum, and ride a snowmobile into nearby woods for a presentation on “snow ecology” and winter wildlife. Visitors often glimpse arctic hare, arctic fox, ptarmigan, and caribou. Cost is $1,025 Canadian (approximately $1,016 US).

Price includes lodging in four-person dormitory-style bunk-bed rooms with shared baths, excursions, lectures, local transportation, and three cafeteria meals daily. Linens are provided, but toiletries are not. Tour prices don’t cover transportation from home to Churchill.

For comprehensive information about Manitoba’s “accessible arctic” and its attractions, contact Travel Manitoba at (800) 665-0040;