Yellowknife's Snowking prepares to launch his biggest castle yet

Once again, a team of Yellowknifers have spent a large chunk of their winter building a giant castle of snow and ice on Great Slave Lake.

'When you're 4 years old and you come into a building like this... it's pretty impressive'

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      Once again, a team of Yellowknifers have spent a large chunk of their winter building a giant castle of snow and ice on Great Slave Lake.

      The front door will be carved through a metre-thick wall of snow on Tuesday, launching a month of concerts, films, children's performances and even pancake breakfasts inside a majestic palace of snow.

      "We're a winter city," says Snowking who, in the off-season, goes by Tony Foliot. "So we should have something more than just a two-day day event, which is the whole idea behind this thing… promoting Northern art, musicians, etc."

      Snowking had a vision, and it escalated. (Stephan Folkers)
      The highlight is the Great Hall, which features the stage, a "snug" (a pub-style booth set into a wall), Cathedral-style windows made of ice, and even a VIP lounge with ice tables and chairs. The ice bar — which serves mainly hot chocolate — comes with a closet "to keep the cookies from freezing."

      The castle is even hooked up to the power grid, largely due to a crew conscious of their carbon footprint. "It's bad enough that we have to run a tractor and heat the place with a Herman Nelson [portable heater], but to have generators running 24/7 would be terrible."

      10 builders, 4 carvers

      Snowking's castle began as a labour of love, built mainly for the kids.

      "When you're four years old and you come into a building like this and you've watched the Frozen movie or whatever, it's pretty impressive."

      Snow Cadet Shauna with her snow saw. (Stephan Folkers)
      It's since become an institution, with some 30 volunteers including board members.

      Construction began in November, with crews harvesting 430 pieces of ice from the lake. Ten full-time builders started work in January, alongside four carvers who put the finishing touches on the castle walls.

      In the early years, the crew worked largely with bricks — blocks of snow cut from the lake. In the past decade, they've used a snowblower to pack snow into forms, where it sets before going into a wall or a ceiling.

      "It's like concrete," Snowking says, adding that the secret to a good pour is churning the snow through the blower multiple times before packing it into the forms.

      "Everyone is getting better," Snowking says of his crew. "Every year we get better."

      Snowking XX heritage snow

      This year, the Great Hall is slightly smaller, but the courtyard is bigger, including a snow maze, a kids climbing area and the most magnificent ice slide yet.

      Sunset along the south wall of the Snow Castle under construction. (Stephan Folkers)
      The castle will also feature a heritage item — a piece of snow from last year's 20th anniversary castle, which a child named Sage Acorn had saved in his freezer all year.

      "I guess I might have mentioned it was a heritage item," Snowking says. "So we're gonna put it on display this year."

      When the door opens Tuesday, all Snowking will have to worry about is the weather. February saw some unusually warm temperatures in Yellowknife.

      "I don't mind 10 below, five below is kinda pushing it, but anything above 0 degrees, like yikes, that's not very good," he says. "It would be a real shame if things started kinda melting out."

      But that's not likely.

      Last year, the ceilings of some parts of the castle were still standing on May 22.

      Snowking's XXI Winter Festival wraps up March 27.


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