BANFF – Turning Banff and Lake Louise into a winter wonderland – snow carvings, ice sculptures and other cold season activities will once again return for the SnowDays Festival.
“SnowDays is a celebration of all things winter in Banff and Lake Louise,” said SnowDays media and communications director Angela Anderson. “You remember when you were a child and the excitement of a snow day – there were heaps of snow and you just got to stay home and play. That’s the feeling that we really want people to have when they come and experience SnowDays.”
The festival captures the “wonderful mountain culture” of the Bow Valley, Anderson said. Guests will have an array of activities to participate in from Jan. 15-26.
“Whether you’re a local who lives here, or a visitor, there’s something for everybody,” Anderson said.
An exciting addition to this year’s SnowDays is a skijoring demonstration taking place on Jan. 19, weather permitting.
“It looks absolutely amazing,” Anderson said. “I’m really excited to see it.”
Founder of Skijor Canada Sam Mitchell said she is excited to bring the sport to Banff for the first time. Skijoring is a celebration of winter that involves a person on skis being pulled by a horse.
“It’s pretty dynamic. It’s a pairing of wild west and mountain culture – it’s cowboy meets skier,” Mitchell said. “It’s a huge opportunity for us to go play in a town we love.”
It is important being a part of SnowDays, she added, because the event serves as an opportunity to showcase the sport to an international audience.
Mitchell added it has been fun putting the course together for the athletes to traverse. For the event, Banff Avenue is closed, an eight-inch snow base is brought in and jumps are incorporated in the course.
The horses featured in the event are athletes who are experienced in everything from barrel racing and cross-country racing to trail rides, Mitchell said, explaining that skijoring serves as a great way to keep active in the winter.
“This gives them a chance to have fun and play outside,” she said. “The horses love it, they really get into it.”
Cowboys bring their top horses to the event, she said, and look forward to showing the competitive edge they have fostered in their steeds.
Visitors will have a chance to speak with teams after the event to learn more about skijoring, she added.
Anderson added that SnowDays decided to include skijoring because it is an exciting sport that combines the cowboy culture of Alberta with ski culture.
“It blends those very important parts of Banff’s history and culture in an entertaining way and a thrilling way,” she said. “These are trained riders and trained horses— It’s a professional event and we’re really excited to see that blend of two aspects of Banff’s history coming together.”
The majority of SnowDays activities will be located in Banff – including the Playzone, snow sculptures on Bear Street and ice carving.
Anderson said she recommends also going to Lake Louise to see the ice sculptures that are complemented by the beautiful ice bar at the lake.
A snow sculpture competition featuring international sculptures from around the world will be taking place where they will put their skills to the test to create one-of-a-kind works of art.
An ice carving competition takes place in tandem with the snow carving, Anderson said, and it is the longest-running aspect of the SnowDays celebration. The competition has taken place for 25 years on the shore of Lake Louise and features artists from around the world.
“They create these beautiful ice sculptures,” she said.
Professional snow carver Adam Green has travelled from the Yukon to participate in the SnowDays.
“It's quite a joy … It's just nice to kind of see the vibe of the festival,” Green said. “Last year we saw some big crowds down on Bear Street – generally speaking, people seem to really be drawn to snow carving.”
While the weather was warmer for last year’s event, Green said he hopes visitors still brave the deep freeze and stop by for a visit. The one perk to the cold snap hitting the Bow Valley, he said, is that it makes the snow easier to carve.
“You get more detail and stuff out of the piece. But certainly, it's a little harder on the body,” Green said with a laugh. He added that he and his team will be adding some extra layers to survive the frigid temperatures.
His team will be carving two pieces for the event.
For their Sunshine Village snow carving, the team is creating a cabin scene. Green said he was wanted to create the sculpture as a homage to his grandfather who worked as a park warden in Banff in the 1950s – living in a cabin with his wife and six kids.
“He always relayed lots of stories to me as a kid,” Green said with a chuckle explaining that the cabin scene was inspired by one of his grandfather’s tales.
“He's was at his cabin and this American skier wanders up. My grandpa goes out to meet him and asked if he wanted to sleep inside the cabin. [The skier said] ‘Oh no, I'm here for the whole experience,' ” Green said with a laugh. “He [the American] wanted to be an outdoors-man and pitch a tent outside. It was spring skiing. My grandpa was like, ‘well the bears are coming out right now. You might want to be cautious in the area.' Well, of course, a bear came up that night and freaked this guy out. So this guy broke down the door of the cabin he was freaked out so bad.”
The second piece will be part of the snow carving competition on Banff Avenue and features a grizzly bear walking on water.
While out exploring the snow carvings, Anderson said she recommends visiting the SnowDays Play Zone because visitors, “Can ignite your inner child.”
SnowDays has introduced the Barbegazi event to the Play Zone running Friday to Sunday each weekend of the event. During Barbegazi, guests can participate in axe throwing, fat bike rides, a foam ball slingshot, human curling, hockey, an obstacle course and other activities.
“Barbegazi is essentially going to be a chance to try different really fun activities,” Anderson said. “It’s going to be a very festive atmosphere – it gives people a feeling of the playfulness of it [SnowDays].”
SnowDays is still on the hunt for teams ready to put their best foot forward for the Community Novelty Races taking place on Jan. 19 from 10 a.m.-1 p.m. Activities include reverse dog sledding, fat bike skijoring, snow canoe races and three-legged snowshoe races.
Banff SnowDays runs from Jan. 15 to Jan. 26. For more information visit banfflakelouise.com.