Snowking's Winter Festival to close for 2019, a week early

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Snowking's Winter Festival is to close for the season following Saturday evening's concert, a week ahead of schedule.

The festival's home, a castle of snow and ice on the frozen Yellowknife Bay, has suffered too much weather-related damage for events to be safely held in its courtyard.

Organizers have battled both heat and water during almost a week of extraordinarily warm March weather. Staff said the Snowcastle had never before closed early in the festival's 24-year history.

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"This is your last chance, so come on down," said Snowking Anthony Foliot in a video message on the festival's Facebook page, announcing the Snowcastle would close after that night's "Chills and Thrills" brass band peformance.

"That's a lot of water," the Snowking said to start the video as it showed inches of standing water in one roped-off area of the castle.

"This is it, folks," read a message from the festival accompanying the video.

"Tonight is our last night and the doors will be closing on season 24. Sorry to break it to you."

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Even a return to colder temperatures on Saturday could not save the Snowcastle.

"The castle took quite a hit in the heat," said Laura Busch, a member of the festival team. "We had a work day yesterday when a lot of people showed up to help out for free, which was great, to fix up the castle as we best we could.

"It looked great yesterday night and, for a minute there, we thought we might be in the clear. But the meltwater came off the lake through the front doors overnight and flooded the courtyard, turning it into a mucky disaster.

"It wouldn't be safe to hold any more public events there. We decided that the time had come to close. It's completely unprecedented ... we are dealing with a lot of firsts."

Busch acknowledged that the volume of water seeping into the castle was "surprising," adding: "We don't know, exactly, what's up."

More: NWT hits 20C in March for the first time since records began

The castle courtyard had already been out of action for days following melting brought on by temperatures that set March records both in Yellowknife and across much of the NWT.

Festival staff believe the same temperatures have caused unprecedented structural issues in which some areas of the castle have "sunk" slightly, allowing water to pool and render many parts unsafe for walking.

"The front door seems like it's sinking," Foliot told the CBC.

"I'm starting to regret that we had a nautical theme [for 2019's castle]," he said in a separate Facebook video posted earlier in the day.

'Real financial penalty'

The festival will now try to count the cost of losing well over a week to the weather.

"It's too early to say for sure. We're still waiting for the final numbers to come in to figure out where we're at, exactly," said Busch.

"Up until last week we were in really great shape and it was looking like a banner year. Now it obviously won't be quite that way, but we'll be OK. If we need to do some fundraising or try to put on a few more shows in a different venue, we'll look at doing that.

"Right now, we're focusing on this weekend. Then we'll do an assessment to see we're at, financially."

Yellowknife resident Brie O'Keefe created a GoFundMe page, attempting to raise funds for the 2020 edition of the festival, within minutes of this year's closure being announced.

"After two full months of construction from a dedicated crew looking to bring magic to Yellowknifers young and old, I can't imagine how sad they are to see their creation melting right before their eyes," O'Keefe wrote on the page.

"There is a real financial penalty that comes from early closing: lost admission fees, tickets for bands and acts booked from down south that are already paid for. Next year's castle's budget will be seriously affected by this early closure.

"Please, Yellowknife, let's do what we do best – let's help make up for the losses this warm March has meant."

Jamboree 'will go ahead'

The Long John Jamboree – a weekend-long annual festival at the end of March which runs next-door to Snowking's Winter Festival on Yellowknife Bay – lost $20,000 last year when wind ruined one of its three days.

Jamboree organizers are in the final stretch of preparations for this year's event, which only got the green light at the end of January following months of financial headaches brought on by that loss.

An accompanying ice carving contest is set to welcome seven teams from across North America. Conditions are set to once again move above freezing on Sunday and Monday before returning to colder temperatures later in the week.

Michelle Demeule, president of the Long John Jamboree, said on Saturday evening the Jamboree would be going ahead. More information is expected on Sunday.

Earlier in the week, ice carving contest coordinator Keith MacNeill told Cabin Radio organizers were "discussing daily" how to combat the threat posed by the weather.