At first glance, it appeared a breathtaking move to defy the increasing influence of climate change. “Next year’s Snowcastle will now open in February,” the news release read.
One small detail: 2020 is a leap year. Snowking’s castle will in fact open on Saturday, February 29, precisely one day before the start of March, which forms the castle’s ordinary opening date.
However, under the surface – literally – there are genuine, significant changes taking place to guard against the possibility of another year like 2019 for Yellowknife’s ice-based winter festival.
In March this year, Snowking’s Winter Festival closed more than a week early as temperatures hit 8C in Yellowknife.
As the city enjoyed, or endured, some of its warmest-ever sustained March weather, the ice on Yellowknife Bay began to melt and the castle, built on top of that ice, flooded. No longer safe for visitors, the castle closed for the first time in its 24-year history.
“Closing the Snowcastle for the first time really drives home the impact of climate change,” said Laura Busch, a member of the festival team, at the time.
“We are a winter festival held in a winter climate, and up until now have been inviting the public to come play in the snow with us for the whole month of March,” said Busch.
“It’s true there is a difference between one weather pattern and global climate, but this really shows the impact a couple degrees can have.”
On Thursday this week, aside from its clickbait reference to a February start, the festival’s organizers did reveal some serious work taking place to prevent a repeat if conditions are similar.
One of the most important changes will be reorienting the castle so that the structure sits entirely on solid ice.
In years past, including 2019, part of the castle has perched on floating ice – with the water of Great Slave Lake below.
For 2020, the castle will remain on the lake, and in broadly the same site, but will be turned so that it rests fully on ice which freezes all the way to the lake bed, organizers said.
“They have looked at what the real issue was last year, with the flooding of the castle and the early closure, and they definitely want that not to be a repeat,” said Shane “Snowpoke” Clark, a member of Snowking’s 2020 team.
Castle architects, said Clark, “have reoriented the position of the castle so it’s not on frozen ice that has water underneath it. It’ll be built on water that freezes right down to the bottom.”
In a news release, the festival said it would be “lending our voice to raise awareness about the climate crisis” in 2020, no matter the conditions.
And to be safe, organizers said they would “front-end our out-of-town entertainment, just in case” – meaning performers will play earlier in the festival, rather than risk their sets being wiped out by warm weather as happened in 2019.
Moving the festival back an entire month, to run in February, had been tentatively discussed earlier this year in the wake of the castle’s week-early meltdown.
That ultimately became a one-day shift to February 29, Clark confirmed.
“We’ll have some fun trying to trick Mother Nature by taking advantage of that extra day,” he said.
Snowking’s Winter Festival celebrates its silver jubilee – 25 years on Yellowknife Bay – in 2020. A souvenir booklet is to be produced and the “King or Queen of the Hill” fundraising raffle will return, Clark said, with bigger prizes and more chances to buy back in.
The festival has also launched its push for sponsors. Packages outlined on Thursday seek to attract corporate sponsorship ranging from $500 to more than $5,000.