North

SnowKing's Winter Festival celebrates 'silver jubilee' with its 25th snow castle

This year, Snowking’s Winter Festival celebrates its 'silver jubilee' — the 25th castle built of snow and ice — with a stacked roster of events.

Festival keeps its March schedule despite closing early last year due to warm weather

A file photo of the Snowking's Winter Festival snow castle on Yellowknife Bay. Festival organizers will no doubt be keeping their gloved fingers crossed this year, hoping the weather stays cool enough to keep the snow castle sturdy and dry. (Mark Hadlari/CBC)

This year, Snowking's Winter Festival celebrates its "silver jubilee" — the 25th castle built of snow and ice — with a stacked roster of events.

The snow castle, built atop the frozen over Yellowknife Bay, officially opens on Feb. 29 with the Yellowknives Dene Drummers, and hosts events throughout the month of March. This year's castle theme is outer space. 

Festival organizers will no doubt be keeping their gloved fingers crossed this year, hoping the weather stays cool enough to keep the snow castle sturdy and dry.

Last year's festival ended a week early after unseasonably warm temperatures caused pools of water to form around the castle's base. There had been talk at the time of starting the 2020 festival a week early, but organizers ultimately decided against it.

Last year's festival ended a week early after unseasonably warm temperatures caused pools of water to form around the castle's base. (Snowking Winter Festival/Facebook)

"The ice needs to be thick enough before construction can begin, so it's not realistic to start the build early," said Laura "LaurFrost" Busch, festival spokesperson, who has also worked for CBC North on a casual basis.

"And it's quite an undertaking to build — our hard-working crew works seven days a week from Jan. 1 to opening day."

While ending last year's festival early was "extremely unfortunate," said Busch. "One extreme weather event is not enough to make us give up on winter."

One extreme weather event is not enough to make us give up on winter.- Laura Busch, Festival spokesperson

Builders this year changed the orientation of the castle among other measures to protect against the glaring sun. The castle will be monitored daily, said Busch. 

As an additional precaution, the lineup was set up so that only local bands play in the festival's final week.

Acts from N.W.T. and beyond

Dozens of acts are slated to perform at this year's festival, from Northwest Territories and beyond.

One group coming up from the South is Toronto punk band PUP.

"PUP is for sure our quote 'big band' of this festival," said co-ordinator Janna "Snowstorm Sally" Graham. The band is playing sold out shows across Europe, she said, and they're on the bill for this spring's Coachella Valley music and arts festival. 

Fun fact: the band's frontman lived with his family in Pine Point, the old townsite for Pine Point Mine in the South Slave region, when he was a kid, and wrote a song about it.

As an additional precaution, the lineup was set up so that only local bands play in the festival's final week. (Randall Mackenzie/CBC)

"That's probably one of their lower-energy songs," said Graham. "It's going to be a very high-energy show."

Another band from out of town is Regina-based Brian Sklar and the Tex Pistols. 

"This band is a special request from the Snowking [Tony Foliot] because his partner, Ms. Brown, loves this band and I think everyone will," said Graham.

Playing the Royal Ball, the festival's marquee event, is a western swing band out of Yukon — The Swinging Pines, a family band from Whitehorse.

There will also be a strong showing of hometown talent, including performances from Leela Gilday, Wesley Hardisty, Baby Brian's Country Club, Miraj and Puppy and the Northwest Territories Creative Collective's showcase of young DJs.

Ahead of the castle's official opening, Snowking's subjects are welcome to join a castle construction tour or check out the sixth annual snow carving competition, which begins Feb. 19.

Written by Sidney Cohen, based on an interview by Loren McGinnis, produced by Rachel Zelniker

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