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Every January, a palace of ice rises on the frozen glacier waters of Lake Louise to signal the start of the Ice Magic Festival in Banff National Park, Alberta. Surrounded by the knife-edged peaks that mark the Continental Divide in the Canadian Rockies, Lake Louise has always been known for its spectacular beauty in summer, but when the trees put on their white sweaters and powdery snow covers the ski hills and mountain trails, Lake Louise becomes a magnet for those who crave the exhilaration of the outdoors in winter.
In 2014, against the backdrop of massive limestone peaks, a select group of international artists created works of the most fragile beauty – the ice sculptures of the 20th annual Lake Louise Ice Magic Festival. Only carvers who had won in previous years were invited to take part in this demanding competition. Over the course of thirty-four hours, ten teams of two carvers defied gravity and the elements to capture their visions of the theme for 2014, “Freeze Olympic Fever”.
Racing the Sun
Although the blue Alberta skies are beautiful, the sun spells danger at the Ice Magic Festival. “As an artist you want the public to appreciate your work, not have it disappear overnight” says Kevin Roscoe of Seattle, a carver since 1977 and one of this year’s judges. If the temperature is much above zero degrees sculpting becomes challenging. The rules state that carvers must use fifteen 300 pound blocks of ice, no more and no less, and the sculptures must be between 7 and 13.5 feet tall. Chainsaws buzzed and handmade snow files swooshed as clouds of powdered ice cascaded to the ground in the frenzy of creative activity.
When the stars came out, the spot lights came on and the carving continued until 10 p.m. Out on the lake, a few steps from shore, families and couples young and old were wheeling and dipping under the moonlight on “the number one rated natural ice skating rink in the world”, according to CNN Travel. A fire pit stood close by to warm up frosty toes and fingers. In true Canadian tradition, there is one rink for skating and another one dedicated to hockey right beside it created on the lake every year.
For those planning to spend the night, the welcoming Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise, host of the Festival, is just a few steps away. Families will find their little ones are well looked after with their own fluffy little bathrobes, tuck in toys and cookies and milk at bedtime. The Chateau restaurants feature locally sourced, organic and vegetarian menus, ranging from casual to authentic Canadian to international dishes. “They love the skating and the ice sculptures but hot chocolate in the Glacier Saloon is the high point for our girls”, said Eric Christie of Calgary who was bringing his daughters, ages 6 and 4, to the festival for the third year.
Warming Up to New Experiences
Day two begins at 8 a.m. for the carvers, who also participate in ice carving demonstrations and side competitions like One Carver, One Hour, One Block. But for travelers there’s time to explore other options: bundling up for a thrilling dogsled ride, skiing nearby beginner to expert runs, or riding along the lake in an old fashioned black wooden sleigh listening to the silvery jingle of the horses’ bells.
We spent a morning with Nadine Fletcher of Great Divide Nature Interpretation on a guided snowshoe trip, breaking trail and learning how flora and fauna keep up their remarkably busy winter schedule of foraging and hunting. Nadine taught us how to track the area’s top predators, lynx, wolf and cougar and their prey, the snowshoe hare and pine marten. Although the bears were hibernating, the marks of their claws on the pine trees brought shivers of a different kind.
And the Winner Is
On the final day of the competition the theme had been captured in ice and the carvers put their finishing touches to sculptures of figure skaters caught in a twirl, stags with their horns locked in combat and snowboarders suspended in mid-air. The winners of the competition were Victor Dagatan from Atlanta, who was invited to sculpt ice in Sochi at the XXII Olympic Winter Games, and his partner, Chris Foltz. Their sculpture titled “The Silence Below” showed an Olympic diver, plunging into a pool surrounded by a froth of icy bubbles. Every year the sun claims all the sculptures, but the ice carvers will be back again in January to create more masterpieces and memories at the Ice Magic Festival. As award winning sculptor Heather Brice says “Ice sculpting is an addiction – a combination of testing myself physically and sculpturally. It has absolutely endless possibilities.”
Lake Louise is located 2.5 hours from Calgary, Alberta on the TransCanada Highway 1. For more information visit www.banfflakelouise.com. For trip planning assistance, contact your local AAA Travel agent or AAA.com/travel.
Contact Debra for more stories from Banff, Jasper and Lake Louise.