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Update: Winter Wonder Forest a 'contact-free' holiday extravaganza

A drive-thru forest of lights, entertainment and even Santa awaits Edmontonians this holiday season. Photo: supplied.

The Winter Wonder Forest fundraiser opened this week in Edmonton and--especially in light of current COVID-19 restrictions--there's probably no better time to take in a 'contact-free' family event, one that promises to put a smile on the face of even the most 'Bah, Humbug' among us.

Running through Jan. 3, the inaugural drive-through holiday light experience promises to be an enchanting evening for all. Presented by the True Start Foundation and partnering with Edmonton's Snow Valley, the Winter Wonder Forest transforms over 115,000 square-feet of the River Valley Campground into a stunning holiday light display. There are decorated paths, cabins, vehicles and, of course, Santa's workshop, where the jolly old man himself (and occasionally Mrs. Claus) will greet visitors safely from a one reindeer distance (two metres, six feet) who roll down their car windows to say hello.

Visitors must remain in their vehicles for the entire visit, making for a safe visit for all.

The True Start Foundation, whose mission is to end poverty, said it wants to break the cycle of financial dependency not only for individuals, but for the organization itself. So, as opposed to relying heavily on grant programs to operate, the non-profit has chosen the fundraising route to help support its initiatives. Proceeds from all tickets sold ($30 per car--$40 on specially designated dates), will aid foundation initiatives like the COVID-19 Emergency Relief Fund, with a dollar from every ticket sold going to Snow Valley's CIP Fund.

Open to small and medium cars, light trucks and SUVs, (larger vehicles will find it too difficult to navigate the turns of the light displays), organizers hope families will fill their cars with moms, dads, kids and grandparents to enjoy the unique evening out. From 4:30 to 8:30 p.m. daily, visitors can detour up Santa's driveway to stop in front and say hello. On Saturdays, Mrs. Claus joins in the fun, and on Dec. 5, 12 and 19, visitors can even enjoy the sight of reindeer grazing on the grounds near Santa's home.

There's also entertainment featured on many evenings, from 6 to 7 p.m. These include local artists like Tayler Grace, Jivin' Belles, Rose Coloured Glasses, Brandon Baker, Dylan Farrell, Drew Shalka, Eric Doucet and Mallory Chipman & Brett Hansen.  Whether it's a solo singer/songwriter, a duo presenting rock, folk and jazz, or standards from a lively trio, the entertainment is sure to set off a lovely evening out for all.

Organizers remind visitors to arrive on time for your designated slot. As the Rainbow Valley Campground is in a unique location with limited room within the forest, arriving too early (over 15 minutes) can cause a logjam in traffic.

"Please have your ticket ready to show our ticketing elves, so we can keep our line moving," said Winter Wonder Forest organizers. "And please have your mask to wear when you need to roll down a window and speak to our elves, or Santa.!"


Visitors to the Winter Wonder Forest ( can also enjoy a virtual shopping market, featuring locals artisans offering care-free shopping from the comfort of home. There's even an opportunity to book a live video chat with Santa, also in support of the foundation's COVID relief fund. See website to buy your car pass and for further information.

Winter Wonder Forest runs nightly, including Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and New Year's Eve, at 13204 Rainbow Valley Rd. NW, near Snow Valley Ski Hill. 

True Start Foundation offers free workshops, full education courses, downloadable resources and fellowship groups for individuals looking for help with financial literacy. From a workshop on basic household budgeting skills to personal development courses, the foundation seeks to help people who encounter difficulty either because of a tragic event or who have simply fallen through the cracks. Through education and relationships in the community, the foundation seeks to give people hope--to let them know that someone cares.