Environment
Yellowknife

'I'm no Greta,' but Snowking calls out northerners for idling trucks


The face of a major Yellowknife winter attraction called on residents to recognize a climate crisis is taking place and begin practising what they preach.

Snowking's Winter Festival celebrates its "silver jubilee" 25th appearance in 2020. The event involves opening a castle, built partly of ice and snow, on the frozen Yellowknife Bay for the month of March.

This year, the castle was badly damaged by a heatwave and, for the first time in its history, had to close a week early.

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Admitting construction of the Snowcastle still involves more emissions than he'd like, Snowking himself – the Yellowknife resident who founded the event – said he was trying to make changes where they were practical, and others should do the same.

"I'm no Greta, you know?" he told Cabin Radio, but "obviously, we've all got to practise what we preach."

Snowking continued: "It's kind-of hard for me to preach too hard because I do run a diesel Bobcat to produce the castle. [But] we're using hydro power to work the castle instead of having a big diesel generator.

"We try to avoid having a large carbon footprint but, you know, it takes a little bit of everything, everybody's efforts, you know?"

Snowking described watching visitors to the castle leave their trucks idling while inside the attraction.

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"It's not really necessary to idle your vehicle," he said. "We live in the North, we wear long-johns and snowpants. So getting into a chilly car is not really a hardship.

"Come on. We're northerners, right?"



Last week, organizers said the 2020 castle would be reoriented to ensure the whole castle is built on a shelf of shallow water, which becomes ice stretching down to the lake bed in winter. This will help to ensure flooding doesn't ruin the castle in a repeat of this March, when warm weather turned the castle into a safety hazard and led to its closure.

In 2020, the castle will open in February for the first time – although only by a day. Opening day will be on Saturday, February 29. A fundraising raffle is once again being held.


This interview was recorded on October 25, 2019. The transcript has been lightly edited for clarity.

Ollie Williams: Where are we in the process of getting the 25th castle ready to go?

Snowking: We've already started calling the 25th castle our silver jubilee so, henceforth, we'll refer to it as the silver jubilee edition.

Yes, Your Majesty.

And we're very excited about that. We kind-of got our hand spanked last year from Mother Nature – the weather was exceedingly warm and that caused some issues. Mostly, the issues were caused by water flooding around the doors, because the doors and the big buildings deflected the ice down so it was almost a 16-inch drop. When we got the flooding, that collected all in those low spots and then the doors were made unserviceable. Safety is our number-one concern at the castle: we want to make sure that everybody is safe and also that we're fulfilling the requirements of the Office of the Fire Marshal, which requires all the egress to be in place.

So in response to that, this year, what we're going to do is instead of orientating the castle in the traditional east-west – where half of the castle would hang out over the shelf of shallow water, to deep water – in the deep water is where we get that deflection and where it kind-of dips down. So our goal is to switch the orientation so it runs more-or-less north-south. And it'll all be on the shelf, the shallow-water shelf, so it cannot sink, it cannot flood.

It's harder to see from, say, Pilots' Monument, because it tucks in behind the barges and my house and so on. But at least we won't have that issue again, and hopefully we have a really good, cold winter.

Well, the likelihood is now it'll be about minus-30 all through March now that we're starting to take precautions for this stuff.

What happens eventually is people just forget that there's a climate issue and they leave their truck idling while they just run in to do the curling or something, you know? It's a long time to idle your truck. Climate change and the climate crisis is amongst us and we've got to take that into consideration because, if in the future it becomes a warmer, and warmer, and warmer March… you know, it requires two months to build a castle, so we would probably have to… I don't know, look for solutions much as we can.

Much has been made of the fact that you're opening in February this year, albeit by about 24 hours. So it'll be February 29.

Yes, it's a leap year this year, and so we're leaping into things. It's bad luck, actually, I believe. We knocked this around quite a bit, like, we were thinking maybe it would be cool to start for Valentine's Day and then finish all the programming by the Ides of March, which is around the 15th. But because this is our silver jubilee, 25 years of snow motion, we figured it wouldn't be a good idea to all-of-a-sudden change the schedule people have come to know and expect: that the festival starts at the beginning of March, and they make their travel plans accordingly.

If we changed it too much it would be a kicker for somebody who flew all the way from somewhere else and, "Aw geez, I missed the opening ceremony." Our concession is one day early, February 29.

But it's bad luck. I'll tell you why. There was a guy who got married. We had not-a-lot of weddings in the castle and there was one guy who really, really, really wanted to get married February 28. I told him, I said, "Well, the castle's not open." He says, "Yeah, but I'm your neighbour and I'm your friend, come on, come on, come on, come on." So it was a beautiful day for the wedding, sunshiny and all like that, and the wedding came off with nary a hitch. However, down the road, it ended in divorce. And so that's why, whenever somebody says they want to get married in February in the castle, I always discourage them.

But you know, we want to get as much of the big stuff – the entertainment that we pay big money for – we want to get that kind-of tossed in towards the beginning of the festival, so we don't have to pay… like, for example, last year there was a fella who had a signed contract in his hand. And we said, "Well, there's no more castle." And he says, "Too bad. I'm coming there, and I'm playing a show, and you're going to be putting me up in a hotel." And we had to honour that. We had nothing for him to play in. So we donated his show to the Jamboree up at the arena there, which people seemed to enjoy. But you know, it was still kind-of like… [grumbling noises].

You mentioned the climate crisis a moment ago. Do you feel as though you have a specific platform that you can use when it comes to education, when it comes to messaging around that?

Well, I'm no Greta, you know? Obviously, we've all got to practise what we preach, and it's kind-of hard for me to preach too hard because I do run a diesel Bobcat to produce the castle. We're using hydro power to work the castle instead of having a big diesel generator. We try to avoid having a large carbon footprint but, you know, it takes a little bit of everything, everybody's efforts, you know? I use the example of idling vehicles: it's not really necessary to idle your vehicle. We live in the North, we wear long-johns and snowpants. So getting into a chilly car is not really a hardship. Come on. We're northerners, right?

You need a bit of fundraising for the castle, you need to bring some money on board. I know sponsorship packages already out there and people can find details of those on snowking.ca. Tell us a little bit about the raffle this year.

Well, I don't know if you recall, but last year's King of the Hill was a roaring success. Seems to me that everybody really got a kick out of tuning in daily to see if they got dropped off the hill or what have you. So we had a lot of fun. A lot of people got a kick out of having their name announced because, you know, it's like the 100 Men Who Give a Damn, where there's 100 guys who put $100 in and that makes $10,000. So it's a good way to raise funds.

You know, we're not trying to nickel-and-dime you like "buy a $2 raffle ticket," you know? That makes it… there are way too many chances to lose or win, or whatever, and it just comes in in dribs and drabs. Whereas if you state straight out, "OK, it's a $100 ticket, but you're going to win a big cash prize if you're the last man standing, and then the second last man standing and the third to last man standing, they also walk away with money."

New this year is, because it's our 25th anniversary, every 25th ticket that's pulled doesn't get tossed off the mountain. That 25th one will go back into the basket because that's how we roll. We're encouraging people to try to win. And also, you know, it's sad that you might get your ticket picked, but each person that gets picked – the first one – is going to get $100 consolation prize. So that means you got your $100 investment back and you still have your season pass that gets you free admission during the daytime and half off for all the nighttime events. So it's a win-win-win and everybody is going to be happy. And we've increased the amount of tickets, so I believe the actual quote was a one-in-nine chance to win.

What else is happening for the silver jubilee?

Of course, we're going to keep some of that stuff a little bit close our chest because we still are in the middle of contract signing, stuff like that. But guaranteed we're going to have a killer lineup of performers, and a little souvenir brochure. That way if you come to the castle and you don't really want to drop $25 on a sweatshirt or $10 or whatever it is for a toque, you can drop a toonie and still walk away with photographic evidence of your good memories.

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