Headbanging sheep descend on sleepy B.C. village

A headbanging festival in sleepy Radium Hot Springs, B.C., is making noise and attracting people and sheep alike. The festival celebrates the rutting display by bighorn sheep each fall in the area.

Big horns have replaced big hair at headbanging festival in Kootenay National Park

Bighorn sheep rut in Radium, B.C.

5 years ago
A headbanging festival in one of Canada's national parks celebrates the annual mating ritual of bighorn sheep. 0:21

Big horns, not big hair, are at the heart of the annual Headbanger Festival in Radium Hot Springs, B.C.

The sleepy mountain town just outside Kootenay National Park is home to just under 800 people, but each fall about 160 bighorn sheep can also be found milling around the community.

In November the bighorn rams begin to rut and have loud head butting contests with one another to see who will mate with the ewes of the herd.

The mating season usually lasts a month or two and following the rut, the sound of horns knocking together may die down, but many of the bighorns stick around the village throughout the winter.

Once spring returns the herd migrates back into the surrounding mountains to lamb.

To celebrate the annual mating ritual and educate the public about bighorn sheep, the village of Radium holds its Headbanger Festival. 

"Not many communities can say that they have 160 headbangers," says organizer Roberta Hall, who adds that the unique festival draws tourists during the slow fall season. "To see the action and to have the sheep right here in the village is amazing."

Hall says the battles between rams can last a full day and that the animals can reach speeds of up to 30 kilometres per hour before slamming their heads into one another.

That speed is a big reason why people who come to the Headbanger Festival should keep their distance from the main attraction, says Andrea Smillie of conservation group Wild Safe B.C. 

Roberta Hall says battles between rams in rut can last a full day. (Erin Collins/CBC)

"Best to give them lots of space. Lots of people are here to take pictures of the sheep and that is great. Just do it with a long lens."

Despite the shared name, the bighorn sheep who come to Radium each fall have little in common with human headbangers, who are fans of heavy metal music, not actually butting heads.

"You would both walk away with a headache at the end of the weekend," Smillie says. 


Erin Collins

Senior reporter

Erin Collins is an award-winning senior reporter with CBC National News based in Calgary.