Last updated: February 11th, 2020
If you’ve been following us for a while, you know how much we love Banff. Part of it is because we live so close but part of it is just because it’s so darn beautiful. Throw in some of the world’s best skiing, hiking, snowshoeing, and cross-country skiing, and it’s easy to see why we spend so much time there.
For those of you thinking of visiting Banff National Park, you might be wondering when is the best to visit. That’s a tough one to answer as it depends on a variety of factors but if you’ve already decided that winter is the best time to visit Banff, then you may also want to consider timing your visit with one of the many festivals that happen throughout the colder months.
There are quite a few festivals and events that happen, especially in late fall and early winter, including the Banff Centre Mountain Film and Book Festival, the Lake Louise Ski World Cup, the Banff Craft Beer Festival, the Banff Christmas Market, Mountaintop Christmas at the Banff Gondola, and the Santa Claus Parade. As we get later into winter, however, there’s another incredible festival that comes to Banff, bringing artists from around the world and all sorts of winter fun. It’s called Snow Days.
Banff Snow Days
Snow Days typically happens around the last two weeks of January and consists of many free activities, snow carvings, and the ever-popular Ice Magic Festival in Lake Louise. It also coincides with the Tribute Craft Spirits Celebration, which is perfect for those who love a creatively delicious cocktail. Banff Snow Days is simply a great time to experience the town of Banff. It’s always lively with tourists but Snow Days gives it that extra energy, allowing you to get out and experience things you may not experience otherwise.
There are a variety of activities and events that take place during Snow Days, which we’ll discuss below.
Lake Louise Ice Magic Festival
The Ice Magic Festival is a big ice carving event held outside the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise. Surrounded by mountains and glaciers, there’s no better place for magical ice sculptures to be showcased. We try and visit every year, as it’s always incredible to see what these artists from around the world come up with. The first three days of the event are when the carvers get 30 hours to create their masterpiece. Visitors can watch from start to finish, as blocks of ice become works of art. On the third day, both the public and the judges choose the winners. The public decides who wins the People’s Choice award while the judges choose the top 5. Then, for the next couple of weeks, the sculptures remain on display, including being backlit during the night.
In addition to the festival, there are many other activities you could participate in at Lake Louise, including ice skating, snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, or taking a ride in a horse-drawn sled. This is why it’s such a great time to visit Banff and Lake Louise during Snow Days.
SnowDays Play Zone
Within the town of Banff, there are also a variety of activities to participate in during Snow Days. For example, the main outdoor rink (right off Banff’s Main Street) is home to a number of activities for kids, as well as free skate rentals for both kids and adults. This removes that hassle of renting skates and makes it easy to enjoy one of Canada’s favourite winter pastimes while being surrounded by jaw-dropping scenery. There’s also a specially-designed kid’s activity area that encourages those of all sizes to engage in hands-on fun, while the live entertainment, deliciously creamy hot chocolate and sumptuous smores make everyone feel like a kid again. Plus, you’ll find outdoor fire pits to get a little bit of warmth on a cold frosty day.
Banff Snow Sculptures
While the Ice Magic Festival in Lake Louise unveils sculptures made of ice, Banff unveils sculptures made of snow. At the beginning of Snow Days, artists carve massive blocks of snow into incredible works of art, all competing for the coveted People’s Choice Award. If you’re there during the event, you can watch the artists do their magic, but even if you make it afterward, you’ll be able to admire the finished product. You’ll find these sculptures around the main outdoor rink or along Bear Street.
Tribute Craft Spirits Celebration
During Snow Days, another “festival” comes to Banff called the Tribute Craft Spirits Celebration. As you may have guessed, this celebration revolves around deliciously crafted cocktails, which are offered at a variety of restaurants around town for 12 days. What’s cool is that each participating restaurant or bar is given 5 bottles of locally-produced spirits (from Alberta and British Columbia) and the rest is up to them. The bartenders need to create a drink out of it. Visitors can visit the various restaurants and try the delicious drinks or wait for the last two days when it all culminates into a two-day, outdoor event on Bear Street. This event is free to visit and if you want to try samples of the drinks and food, you’ll just need to buy tickets. We had a blast trying out some of the 100 specially-crafted drinks, sampling the food, feeling the beats of the awesome music, and keeping warm at one of the many firepits.
Banff in the Winter
Banff and Lake Louise are magical times to visit throughout the year. In the winter, the sparkling snow creates opportunities for world-class skiing and an incredible winter wonderland to explore. However, if you want to add some pizzaz to your winter holiday, you can time it with one of the many winter festivals, with our favourite being Banff Snow Days and the Ice Magic Festival. Along with incredible ice sculptures and snow sculptures, you’ll also find a wide range of activities for both kids and adults, helping you to fall in love with Canada’s winter season.
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