Yellowknife’s Snowking Winter Festival will appoint an executive director after a ‘dust-up’ with the territory’s fire marshal hampered preparations for 2018’s event.

A report on the festival’s future recommended creating a new position alongside other changes to drive more tourists to the site and make it more attractive for kids.

The festival, which runs throughout March every year and has operated for more than two decades, involves erecting a castle made of wood, snow, and ice on Yellowknife Bay.

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Organizers were asked by the fire marshal to install fire alarms and building code-rated portable restrooms for the 2018 festival, while also having the designs approved by an accredited architect.

Festival founder Anthony Foliot, known as the Snowking, led a fundraising campaign to meet the costs of satisfying the fire marshal’s demands.

“Yep, you read that right. Fire marshal. Snowcastle,” he observed drily in an online post at the time, while acknowledging the concerns related more to “emergency egress than fire prevention” at the icy site.

Writing on the castle wall

For the 2019 festival, the Snowking Winter Festival board has decided only a paid employee can now handle the mounting administrative work associated with holding the event.

“As the festival becomes bigger, better, and also more bureaucratic, we identified a need for someone to be on the ground, on a keyboard, and on a phone in a full-year, part-time capacity,” Mike Mitchell – aka Black Ice Mike – told Cabin Radio.

“Last year, during that whole fire marshal dust-up … we ran up against an inflexible policy, where we needed to find an architect to stamp drawings that allowed us to build a large-capacity venue. Most policies don’t accommodate square pegs in round holes.

“We asked for flexibility but discovered that wasn’t going to wash. That’s why we held a draw last year – and Yellowknifers came out and supported us when we needed it – but the writing is on the wall that we’re not going to be able to get around that in future.”

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Friday marks the deadline for applications to be Snowking’s executive director. The festival has budgeted up to $35,000 to fill the post until the end of this fiscal year, said Mitchell, adding: “We’ve tried to cobble together some of the budget lines from previous years to maybe amalgamate them into a position.”

He believes the post could become full-time in future. The work involves fundraising responsibilities and includes building partnerships with sponsors, plus helping to implement recommendations from a recent report on the festival’s organization and strategy.

‘Bigger and better’

The sustainability study, carried out by a consultant, looked at how the festival could continue to operate and remain financially secure.

A renewed focus on tourism was one of the report’s recommendations, including a drive to bring more aurora tourists to the Snowcastle.

“Last season we piloted a tourism initiative with the help of the City,” said Mitchell.

“We’re going to grow that to include an on-ice, heated merch booth, and a ticket booth that allows visitors to come down, have a tour, warm up in the booth, and buy some merchandise.”

Mitchell said that likely means the Snowcastle’s season will now be extended into February, lengthening the time available for tourists to arrive and the castle to generate revenue.

The report also called for more to make the castle entertaining for children. Mitchell said one action the castle is likely to take involves creating a “kids’ night” at the castle, “so they can come out and enjoy the illuminations.”

He added: “We’re just trying to think of how we can make the castle bigger and better for everybody, attract new clientele, and also maybe some funding dollars.

“The board has sort-of licked its wounds, realized we want this thing to carry on, and a little bureaucratic setback wasn’t going to stop us. I feel like we have come out of this a bit stronger. Having a bit more help will put us on a stronger footing.

“That sounds a little bit boring for a castle made of snow, eh? At the end of the day, the snow castle rocks. It’s the coolest place in Yellowknife. That’s why I’m still involved. It makes my life better, and I want to see it continue.”