With roots tracing back to winter festivals in the early 1900s, the annual SnowDays festival in Banff and Lake Louise is a reason for non-skiers to spend at least one winter day in Banff National Park.
SnowDays first attracted our attention back in 2012, when we earned a special geocoin for completing the SnowDays geocaching challenge. We also accepted the Parks Canada SnowDays geocaching challenge in 2015.
SnowDays continues to evolve over the years. It used to be a full month of events and activities; in 2020, SnowDays runs from January 15 – 26 and features an international ice carving competition/exhibition at Lake Louise, snow sculpture exhibitions in and around Banff, a family-friendly play zone in Banff and more. Full details are here.
We got out and about on a beautiful mid-winter weekday that included a stop in Banff for sunrise photography at Vermillion Lakes followed by a walk through the townsite to check out the snow sculptures, a scenic drive to Lake Louise to admire the ice sculptures and take a walk on Lake Louise, finishing up with another stop in Banff to enjoy a late lunch at Park Distillery Restaurant & Bar.
Vermillion Lakes Sunrise
Just when we started to doubt there’d be any sunrise colour, we heard whoops of joy from the photographers further down the shoreline, as the first blush of pink tinged the clouds. After that, it was a matter of patience, tweaking settings and even moving a time or two to be sure we came away with some lovely images from this can’t miss photo stop.
By the time we packed up our camera gear, walked to our vehicle, drove to the Banff visitor center and parked, we had more than enough light to view the snow sculptures along Bear Street and at the Banff High School just across from the visitor center. While there’s no official competition between the snow sculpting teams, they clearly put a lot of thought and talent into their creations.
There are also snow sculptures at the Mt Norquay and Sunshine Village ski hills.
Scenic Drive to Lake Louise
The drive from Banff to Lake Louise was scenic and sloppy – there were snow plows out trying to clear more snow from the highway, but our car definitely needs a wash!
We stopped at the rest area near Castle Mountain, where the top of the castle was shrouded in clouds. In fact, low clouds draped parts of most mountains in the area. Except for the parking area, the snow here was very deep and we fastened on gaiters before venturing off the plowed parking area.
Despite arriving at the Lake Louise public parking lot at basically the same time as four bus loads of school kids and two bus loads of tourists, we found parking without any trouble. (NOTE: parking might be a challenge on weekends during SnowDays.)
The ice carvings were fantastic! We did the rounds twice, and the second time there was just enough sun peaking around Fairview that the sun made the ice glow! 🙂
Velo-Muse is the 2020 sculpture from Team Ledus, winners of the 2019 ice carving competition. As last year’s winners, their current year sculpture was at the centrepiece location:
The 2020 winning sculpture is Legend of the Sun Catcher by Team Sakha.
All the sculptures are lit with a couple of lights stuck into the snow. It would be a completely different experience to view them at night. No doubt the illumination would be beautiful. But the beautiful natural surroundings would disappear into the dark. We would like to see the ice sculptures at night some year, but aren’t excited about the idea of driving back from Lake Louise after dark. We’ll be checking out ROAM transit possibilities and/or scouting for a deal on a hotel room to make this happen in the future.
Thanks to the crowds, even on a weekday, it’s a challenge to photograph the ice sculptures without including strangers. Mr GeoK was persistent and often got down low to get clean shots.
NOTE: there is an admission charge to view the ice sculptures during peak viewing times on Saturdays and Sundays. See the SnowDays web page for specifics.
Lake Louise Walk
After making the rounds of the ice sculptures (twice), we decided to enjoy the sunshine and take advantage of the thick ice by walking for a ways on Lake Louise. Several visitors walked the entire length of the lake, to the base of the Plain of Six Glaciers.
The famous Chateau Lake Louise ice castle is still under construction, but what’s up is already beautiful. Staff were flooding the cleared recreational skating surface while we were there and hundreds of people, including plenty of school kids, were enjoy a skate on one of the world’s most beautiful skating surfaces.
On our way back to the parking area, we noticed the snow load on the roof over the trail information signs. A cooperative tourist took our photo and we appreciate that one of his fellow travelers nudged his arm to adjust the framing!
After completing the scenic drive back to Banff, we stopped in at Park Distillery Restaurant & Bar for a delicious late lunch, including a featured SnowDays cocktail – the refreshing Cirka Du Soleil – recommended by our server. As for food, I recommend the roasted autumn vegetable salad; Mr GeoK usually goes for the roast chicken. 🙂
Planning to take in SnowDays? Pack your camera and your skates and get out and about in Banff National Park before SnowDays is over (until next year).