When the shovels and snow settle
From February 9th's YELLOWKNIFER
Written by Joe Snow aka Ryan McCord
As some readers may be aware, I took a sabbatical last year, after more than 10 consecutive years of helping to build Yellowknife's infamous yet ephemeral Snow Castle, home to the month-long Snowking's Winter Festival each year in March.
Upon my return, I discovered that the organization that makes this unique festival happen each year continues to chug along like a well-oiled machine. As one of the artisans who actually construct the castle – pour by pour, and often shovel-full by shovel-full – I can attest that the building crew, in particular, is operating at top efficiency to build the most majestic structure possible in the two-month-long construction period.
Some readers may wonder: "why did you go back to it?" or "why do these people do it?" Here are a few reasons:
Community building – bringing people together in a unique setting outdoors on the lake.
Civic pride – creating something that Yellowknifers can be proud to show to our visitors from around the world.
Creating a cultural capital – by creating a venue for a wide range of arts, music, film, and theatrical productions. We host a huge number of musicians from all across the country, as well as supporting local and northern artists.
Last week Mr. Freeze mentioned "snowcrete." Snow is an amazing material to work with. After many years of careful experimentation, we have become very confident in the structural integrity of snow. A front-end loader will have a hard time breaking through a three-foot-thick wall at the end of March. And several people can attest to having canoed through a standing snow arch in late May after Snowking XVIII, when it was surrounded by water and melting ice!
One recent afternoon, I was standing at the bottom of the formwork where Snowking was pouring snow in, for what would eventually become the popular ice slide. As he blasted snow into the narrow formwork with the Bobcat, I couldn't see what was happening in there at all. But after each shot, as the snow settled, I could see that the slide, like the castle itself, was going to be a good thing. Something for all of us to enjoy and to be proud of.
It takes an army to build a snowcastle
From January 26th's YELLOWKNIFER
Greetings from the peaceful, sunny frozen shores of Great Slave Lake. Our 23rd snow castle is beginning to take shape. We are almost half way through our build season for the Snowking's Winter Festival. I count it a great pleasure to have found my way onto the crew for my seventh build. This year I am very humbled to be charged with the responsibility as crew chief, to take the helm and to guide the process of building the castle.
We have cut and stacked our ice into rows and have started to square our edges, creating diamonds from the dross. We have begun to stack our ice panels up proud for the ice windows. We have shaken all the grass off our forms and have stood our walls and beetles to create our hallways and grottos. Our quarries have been filled with snow as we have started to cut our snow blocks with four foot saws. If this all sounds a little foreign or obscure, it is because we have created our own techniques and language of how and what we build.
Our snow castle is of our own creation every year. Our process is democratic and our methods collaborative and creative. I take note daily that it takes a small army of benefactors, patrons and volunteers, supporting partners, involved friends and family to enable us to accomplish the large task of building a castle, made almost entirely out of snow for our community. Some people ... well, most people to be honest, think it a bit strange that we would commit ourselves to such a strange and outlandish project. Braving the cold on a daily basis to build something that has no permanence. Something that melts and disappears as soon as the sun gains strength and prominence in our ever changing northern skies.
It is nothing short of strange, a 465-square-metre structure made out of water that is suspended by cold, molecules that have become slow moving and frigid due to the cold air around them. Snow pours like water out of the end of a large snow blower and takes shape as it is compressed and packed into plywood forms and revealed as grand hallways, tunnels platforms and 12-metre long slides. It is a magical experience being a part of it and helping the snow castle to take shape.
One of the main reasons that we all participate in such a venture is because we love the feeling of accomplishment and exertion. The winter can feel harsh and long. The days get
shorter and the city sometimes feels oppressed by ice fog and cold. But when we embrace this cold, put on our snow suits and bring a good attitude, we get more than a good dose of Vitamin D. We sweat and earn our sore muscles and get a good work out. We become encased in frost as we finish our hard work and cool down at the end of the day, and it feels good.
If you wanna shake off those winter doldrums, get warm and work outside. Join us or go chase a sundog that stretches across the whole sky.
By Byron Fitzky (Byron Von Blizzard)
How do you even build a snow castle?
From January 19th's YELLOWKNIFER
There was once a sign near the snow castle construction site that said four things: Snowbank, seven guys, 60 days, from Great Slave Lake.
This was the main engagement piece for people coming to see the snow castle construction. Like a game of Jeopardy, the sign had answers to four common questions: Where do you get all that snow? How many people does it take to build the castle? How long does it take? And, where do you get all that ice?
It was a little distant, but we were trying to connect with the curious onlookers. Fast forward to present day and the Snowking's Winter Festival is offering guided tours of the construction. No more wandering outside the site with a confused and curious look.
No more reading a sign about the snow castle. We are inviting locals and visitors to the castle construction in January and February to learn how we build it. If you're a friend visiting from Asia we will have handouts translated in Japanese, Korean, and Mandarin, to connect with you better. The tours are at 2 p.m. and run about 15 minutes. Our goal is to provide an informative and safe guided tour of the
methods and challenges that go into building a snow castle. We are also happy to report that the City of Yellowknife is supporting us with these tours. Tours are led by an experienced crew member, so you know you are getting the real deal. We're asking for a $5 donation that will go towards building an awesome castle and putting on a great festival. We are a not-for-profit society after all. We hope you come visit the snow castle construction and take a tour.
This is your SNOW castle (it's just built on ice)
From Friday, January 12th's YELLOWKNIFER
This new feature in your Yellowknifer will bring you news and updates of life in a snow castle. This year marks our 23rd castle to be constructed on Yellowknife Bay for the Snowking's Winter Festival.
True the first five were small and more akin to a snow fort but from tiny acorns mighty oaks grow. Grow indeed. It seems like every time I walk the streets of Yellowknife, someone will stop me and ask me how progress on the "icecastle" is going. I answer: "Uh, well, we're building a SNOW castle, but yes it's going good." It's the kind of thing that makes me smile nonetheless. Folks love the fact that our town has their/it's own snowcastle.
And so do I. what was started out as a fun little thing with my kids and my neighbour's kids now includes all the kids from all the hoods, and the kids at heart to boot. We have, over the years, built up a very dedicated crew of seasoned snow artisans. It's kind of like cubs or scouts, where you add to your snow status and gain yet another badge of honour.
For example, Joe Snow (a.k.a. Ryan McCord) has been with the festival for more than 10 years and has been the lead build - er, thus earning himself a 'king' designation. The same goes for Avalanche Kid (a.k.a. Joel Maillet), who earned his "king" status by taking on the Hurculean task of running the build process for last year. This year another one of our veterans has stepped forward to be the lead builder for SKXXIII. Baron Von Blizzard (a.k.a. Byron Fitzky or Daddy to his kids) has grasped that task with two mittens and is rockin' it. How proud am I eh? These aren't the only ones either.
This year we have the return of: Patr-ICE; Martin 1-boot; and Snomo Bill. Rounding out our roster of builders are: Capn' Morgansnow; Snocat; snowcadets Nicholas and Martin, (a German and a Dutchman). Then starting in February our carvers: Snow-Day N.; Vin - cent Van Snow; Courtney (who was a snowcadet last year); and Ambassador Ice (Mr. Terry Pamplin who is an excellent artist in every medium).
We're also very proud to have 11-year-old Snow Cadet Kieran coming back to us to once again do his share of the work. A lot of smiling faces at coffee-break time too. We love what we do. This column will be out once a week to give you a sense of what it takes to build a world class attraction.
There will be voices from the board of directors, voices from the trenches, words from our festival director, Mr. Freeze, and hopefully plenty of feedback from the citizens of Yellowknife. It is, after all, our festival. Stay warm, but be cool!
Tales from Snomo Bill
As I stepped out of World headquarters, I could see the horizon out on the far reaches of the lake. the blinding blankness of the landscape in the distance betrayed the trucks cruising the ice road back from Dettah. I zipped up the hood on my suit and went to get a shovel.
After digging one out of a shack buried in the walls of snow, I rounded the southern limits of the castle walls under construction. A horn called out from behind a curtain of diesel fog bellowing from our dragon, the one we callBobcat. The pilot, who styles himself Snowking, beckoned me over, and through lips clenching a hand rolled cigarette, he shouted over Bobcat's roar, "WHO'S IN THE BOX WITH YOU?!"
"PROFESSOR CHILL! HE'S ON HIS WAY!"
"ALL RIGHT. THE BACK CORNERS ARE TIGHT, MAKE SURE YOU PACK THEM GOOD."
He'd already started filling the formwork before I showed up, so I climbed up the spill on the frontside of the giant wooden box, shimmied along the top, and mounted the 16 foot high snow wall. from here I could see even more of the frozen bay I live on. An 8 seater ski plane soared overhead, approaching the channel for landing on 4 foot thick ice.
Below me was the open formwork we'd just erected, the sloping walls of the beetle centred in the middle. a good pile of snow sat in the back and it needed to be compressed before it set, or we could get a sheer when we removed the formwork. I made sure all my zippers were shut, grabbed my shovel, and slid down the beetle's side into a space that I wouldn't leave until it was full of snow.
rigorously slinging snow to both ends of the backside space, I heard Bobcat start to churn more snow into the air, and seconds later I was experiencing a white out. a focused and centralized snow storm had descended on me, projected from Bobcat's spout, flying 20 feet into the air, and piling up around my boots, even up to my waist. I couldn't see anything at all, my eyelids quickly freezing shut. despite the -20 or -30 C temps, the cold was nothing compared to the heat in my suit as I worked to fling snow back and forth, and stomp it flat.
A pour is one of the best workouts I've ever had. usually more than an hour, and sometimes several, long, I'm either heaving shovel loads of snow as fast as I can, or I'm hauling giant blocks of hand cut ice into place, and shaping them to fit into a full course to make a window.
after several blows from Snowking and Bobcat, I get enough time to level things out while he farms and preps the next pile to blast up. The sweat makes my skin more sticky to the ice particles flying around, so my beard crusts up thickly with long icicles, we call them snotcicles. The nice part of the ice particles, though, is that they are so fine that they might as well be mist. Breathing this is a nice break from the dry air of winter on Great Slave Lake.
The walls we're pouring today don't have any ice work, so it goes quickly. In what seems like no time, I'm standing on a roof 14 feet high, and smoothing out the last of the snow with my pour brother, Professor Chill (He'd been on the front side) and Joe Snow, who'd climbed up to help with the last of it. Then we descend a ladder and start clearing snow from the base of the formwork before it sets.
Our first few pours of the season finished in the dark (they'd also had huge ice windows to install), but now we get to clean up in the last rays of daylight as the sun disappears behind Tin Can Hill. Because I'm soaked in sweat, and most of my suit is caked in ice and snow, I have to keep moving to stay warm. the rest of the crew come around to clean up the spill and put tools away, and as Snowking drives Bobcat to the his stand, we trudge to World headquarters, put our mitts and hats in baskets over the heater, and begin the daily chore of pulling the ice out of our beards and moustaches and hair and eyelashes. Then we open a case of Kokanee, pass a round of beers, and we all relax a little bit as the first sip filters into our brains and eases our minds after another day of life on the patch crew.
In year 5 a friend wrote a children’s play. The Snow Queen was the boss in the play. In the story, she had to leave to go somewhere, so Snow Man decided he would name himself and become the Snowking. Anthony Foliot became the guy who put on the Snowking play, ‘the Snowking guy’ the name stuck, and “Snowking” was born!
Every since year 2 there has been a slide with the castle. It has obviously grown in size over the years and now it’s a hot spot for children and the young at heart.
Building our skills with snow:
Up until year 9 or 10 snow blocks were used to build the castle. At that time the builders got better and more skilled and it was decided they would use forms and make walls out of wood that they would then blow snow into, let set and harden and then take the wood out. Sort of like how you would ‘pour’ concrete. This allowed for a bigger castle to be built, with less time, and more complex walls and ceilings.