Ice Magic Festival charms Lake Louise


An ice castle adorns spectacular Lake Louise during the International Ice Carving Competition, which takes place this weekend. (Photo courtesy of Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise)

Story by Jody Robbins Writer

LAKE LOUISE, ALBERTA — You’d think the sound of chainsaws ripping through a national park and UNESCO World Heritage Site would be cause for concern. But in Lake Louise this week the only thing being cut down are 300-pound blocks of ice. Bringing that ice to life are 24 professional ice carvers during the Ice Magic Festival, one of the top ice-carving competitions in the world.

During the International Ice Carving Competition weekend from January 18-20, teams of two are allotted 34 hours divided between the three days, to make whimsical art out of 15 blocks of ice. With this year’s “Carve a Song” theme, artists will play on creative riffs in a bid to place in the top three.

Ice carving is an endurance race as gruelling as any other, with the elements playing a huge role. Temperatures just above zero can make it challenging to keep the ice frozen together, while carving in minus-30 Celsius degrees (minus-22 Fahrenheit) is not uncommon.

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“We are 100% heads down carving ice during Ice Magic. That weekend we see our bed, the carving site and occasionally the hot tub, if they keep it open for us,” says Scott Harrison, last year’s second-place winner, with his partner Ben Rand, for the entry entitled “Lady Bug.”

To matters more difficult, carving the design is something these artists can’t practice ahead of time.

“It’s not like any of us have hundreds of pounds of ice sitting around,” says Harrison. “You carve it in your head 50 to 60 times, then you get one shot at it.”

Frosty Fun in Banff National Park

Plenty of places claim to be winter wonderlands, few actually deliver. Not the case at Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise, where the festival takes place.

“Lake Louise is the equivalent to Disney for anyone who loves the outdoors,” says Harrison.

The former Chateau employee-cum-ice-carver has several recommendations for families looking to make the jaunt. From swishing down the slopes of Louise to taking a horse-drawn Brewster Sleigh Ride to twirling on the frozen lake itself, you won’t be bored, he says.

For a quintessential Lake Louise experience, Harrison recommends strapping on cross-country skis. “Try skiing from the front to the back of the lake, and check out the waterfall that freezes.”

Besides the competition and the many outdoor activities, the festival also serves as a reunion for these skilled artists.

“It’s a time where I meet up with my buddies from around the world, share skills and stories. We all do what we love to do in that time frame,” he says.

Don’t fret if you can’t make it to Lake Louise during the festival. Even when the competition is over, the icy art stays for the duration of winter.

More About the 2013 Ice Magic Festival in Lake Louise

Dates: International Ice Carving Competition weekend takes place January 18-20, 2013. Little Chippers Weekend, focusing on family activities, takes place January 26-27, 2013.
Location: Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise, 111 Lake Louise Drive, Lake Louise, Alberta
Contact: 403-522-3511 or 1-866-540-4413 (toll-free);; email:
Room Rates: From $289 per night.

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Jody Robbins is a travel and lifestyles writer. Contributing to the Calgary Herald, Today’s Parent and Up! magazine, she divides her time between Calgary and Canmore. She is also the Family Travel Columnist for and the Alberta Regional Chair for the Top 50 Restaurants in Canada, which earned 2.5 million Twitter impressions in its first month for the #Vacay50 hashtag campaign. Jody is active on Twitter (@Jody_Robbins) and maintains her own blog (Travels with Baggage), where you can keep up with all of her latest adventures. When not travelling with her precocious children (one daughter, one husband and one dog), this wannabe foodie can usually be found chowing down at the latest hotspots before attempting to work it all off on the trails.

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