Thursday, February 13, 2014

20 Years of Ice Magic at Lake Louise

We spent a weekend at Lake Louise during the popular Ice Magic Festival at the end of January and I was quickly reminded that I don't like crowds.  Why did I possibly think it would be good idea to visit Lake Louise on one of the busiest weekends of the year? 

Ice Magic at Lake Louise

It was the 20th anniversary this year of the Ice Magic Festival and it felt like all of Calgary was out to see the professional ice carvings and to skate around the ice castle.  At times you could hardly even make out the castle on the lake for the sheer number of people clustered in front of it.

Trying to get close to the ice castle - good luck!

Fortunately for us, we had a second chance to visit Lake Louise again on the Monday after the festival had wrapped up - without the crowds.  And this is the secret for those who want to visit the famed ice festival next January - go AFTER the festival has finished.   The sculptures don't melt overnight.  The ice castle will still be there weeks later.  The crowds however, will not.

One day after the festival - no crowds

Family Highlights of the Festival This Year

Viewing the Ice Sculptures


The International Ice Carving Competition always takes place over the third weekend in January.   We headed out the next weekend during the Little Chippers Festival where you get to view the finished sculptures.  This year's theme was Freeze Olympic Fever. 

Carving Through the Gates - 3rd place
The Silence Below - First Place Winner

Skating Around the Ice Castle on Lake Louise

Always a highlight of the festival, we didn't even bother trying to skate on the lake when we were there on Saturday.  Monday however, was lovely with a fraction of the people.

The Ice Castle on Lake Louise
Who knew ice could be so beautiful?
Looking through one of the windows on the castle
So lovely without the crowds!
Skating around the castle
Ice Magic 2014

Learning to Carve Your Own Block of Ice

One of the reasons we chose to visit Ice Magic Festival over the Little Chippers weekend was so that Noah could try his hand at carving a block of ice.  We were disappointed however that the kids had to pay for their block of ice.  (Meanwhile, they didn't at the Christmas in the Rockies festival we went to in December.) Also, the kids' carving was down at the village rather than up at the lake.  - Something that Lake Louise would do well to change for next year so that you don't have to find parking twice! 

Little Chippers Festival

We actually had to come back on Sunday for the kids' ice carving because we were busy up at the lake on Saturday and weren't able to get down to the village in time for the Little Chippers Ice Zone, which only ran from 11am till 2pm.

So cute, right?

Skiing Across Frozen Lake Louise

If you have to visit the festival on a weekend at the peak time, at least take the time to go for a ski or hike across Lake Louise to get away from some of the people.  We only had to ski for 15 minutes before the crowds thinned out and we had some solitude.

Child-friendly skiing across the lake
Teaching our son to ski with a tow rope for an upcoming backcountry trip
Always bring a sled for the return trip with kids

Notes for Ice Magic 2015

If you want to go to Ice Magic next January, check out some of my advice below:

One - As mentioned above, don't go on a weekend.  Go mid-week, view the sculptures, skate on the lake, and skip the rest of the festivities.  My son's attention span for the kids' ice carving was about 10 minutes, and we had to pay for it.  Other family activities also had a cost including face painting, crafts, and games.  And don't even bother thinking about the sleigh rides.  You probably can't afford them.

Two - If you have to go on a weekend, plan to arrive at Lake Louise before 10am at the latest.  If you arrive early enough, you will be able to park at the lake and avoid the shuttle bus from the Village, which had wait times of an hour or more later in the day.  With a family, I can't imagine having to pack skis, skates, sleds... up to the lake in the shuttle bus.  Better to arrive early and park at the lake.

Three - If you like photography, plan to be at Lake Louise by 10am as well.  The lake is in the shade by 11am in January.  All of the bright photos you saw above were taken between 10 and 11am. 

Four - If you are going for the kids' ice playground (something we were excited about), go to the town of Banff instead.  In past years, Lake Louise made an ice slide for the festival.  This year they chose to set it up downtown Banff instead.

Playing in the Ice Castle


  1. And a couple of weeks after your visit, I was there and the ice castle is just as perfect, the sculptures are still in tack and beautiful and even more beautiful early to mid week there may have been a couple of dozen people in sight the whole morning in the whole area. I'm like you Tanya, I don't like crowds!

    1. I'd definitely go out to Louise again to see the sculptures and skate on the lake, but like you, would go when it's quieter.