Discover The SnowDays Winter Festival In Banff and Lake Louise, Where Snow Days are Fun Days!

Discover the magic of SnowDays winter festival in Banff Lake Louise! Immerse yourself in a wonderland of ice sculptures, outdoor activities, and breathtaking scenery. Read on to explore the ultimate guide to this unforgettable event, filled with tips, highlights, and must-see attractions.

SnowDays Winter Festival Banff Lake Louise
Skijor athletes Vanessa Mannix and Cole Carey make a speedy dash down Banff Avenue – Photo credit: Carol Patterson

You might remember when snow days were an excuse to stay home from school. But in Banff National Park, Snow Days is a celebration of winter adventure that will have you clamoring to get out the door.  

From mid-January to the first week in February, parka-covered visitors head to Banff and Lake Louise for activities, events, and entertainment that are so fun you can’t help but make friends with frost. 

No special sliding skills are required! 

What Is Banff SnowDays Winter Festival?

A family celebrates SnowDays in Banff Alberta
A family celebrates SnowDays in Banff Alberta – Photo credit: Shannon Martin

Alberta, during the winter, is magical. Every January, visitors flood from cities like Edmonton and Calgary to the mountain towns of Banff and Lake Louise, which come to explode to life in their annual SnowDays winter festival celebration.

Lake Louise transforms its snowy landscape into a glittering display of ice sculptures during Ice Magic, while the streets of downtown Banff are morphed into larger-than-life winter galleries where gorgeous ice sculptures can be found everywhere.

These two towns are filled with attractions and winter experiences that delight both locals and visitors alike. In fact, they are both among the best places to visit in Alberta.

Skijoring Launches Horse, Skiers and Excitement

A Skiijoring competition during a winter festival in Banff, Alberta
A Skiijoring competition during a winter festival in Banff, Alberta – Photo credit: Carol Patterson

Snow Days kicks off with the craziest skiing you’ll see in a place known for alpine sports. During the SnowDays winter festival, Skijor Canada takes over Banff Avenue with fleet-footed steeds and gravity-defying skiers.

Skijor, a sport that originated in Scandinavia, sees people on skis towed behind dogs, horses or sometimes reindeer. 

Horses have been a vital part of Banff National Park since its inception, carrying outfitters and tourists to remote camps and ferrying construction materials for backcountry lodges. Archival photos show people skijoring down Banff Avenue and Jasper’s Pyramid Lake a century ago. The town of Banff and the hamlet of Lake Louise keep the tradition alive during Snow Days. 

Snow is trucked onto the track, and a series of jumps is built along the one-block track between Caribou and Buffalo streets. Some of Skijor’s best riders and sliders pair up for an adrenaline-inducing display of teamwork.

Horses wear special shoes for grip and an on-site veterinarian ensures equine athletes are ready. Skiers and snowboards grab the end of a rope that is wrapped around the saddle horn.  

What Does It Take To Skijor?

A skiier performs a flip at Banff Winter Festival
A skier performs a flip at Banff Winter Festival – Photo credit: Carol Patterson

Rider Vanessa Mannix, a professional show jumper, brings her 13-year-old quarter horse, Loren, to Skijor Canada events for fun. “She is very smart. Very fast. Most of our conversations are about trying to go slower,” Mannix says with a laugh.

But that speed is helpful for giving the skier and the audience awe-inspiring jumps as horses dash past the crowd in seconds, spraying snow in their wake.  

On her strategy for a successful run, Mannix says, “It’s important to accelerate slowly and get ready for the tension on the rope when the horse feels the weight of the rider.” 

Cole Carey, a professional mogul skier and a popular Skijor competitor, reaches heights that would let him look into second-story hotel rooms if he had time to look around. His landings are met with huge cheers from the crowd and applause as Loren pulls him back to the starting line. 

“I have a bunch of conflicting competitions with my mogul skiing at the same time as skijor races, so when I’m available, I love to come to this event. I love the Western aspect. I love horses. I’m a big skier. And this is just like the best of both worlds put together in such a unique event on the main street in Banff. It’s so cool!” Carey enthuses. 

Getting ready to ski behind a horse takes extra preparation. Carey says, “I do some stretches and a few practice jumps and make sure I know what I’m doing going in. I talk to my rider to know the speed. I tie a big knot in the end of the rope so I don’t slip off the back (when the horse starts) and then hold on. Once I get to the big jump, I let go of the rope a fair way ahead so I don’t get it caught in my skis.” 

Fashion Forward

Skijor isn’t just about fast horses and brave athletes. It’s also about fashion. A funky combination of western, retro, and tastefully tacky gear adorn racers and audiences alike. You might see someone with yellow-striped pajamas over their ski togs or a rider wearing fake fur or a Hudson’s Bay jacket. 

People are encouraged to raid their attics for hats and jackets, especially those sporting fringe or leather and come in Skijor-inspired get-ups. There are breaks in the races for fashion shows and audience members are encouraged to join in.

If you don’t want to brave the cold, skijor runs are live streamed into some Banff restaurants (check Banff Lake Louise website for details) although you might miss the euphoria emitting from the crowd as horses streak by. In the evening there is a gathering of Skijorlings (as Skijor fans are called) at a Banff pub to wind-up the day’s excitement.

More Banff and Lake Louise SnowDays Activities

After race day, be sure to check out the other activities at SnowDays, including: 

Ice Magic at Lake Louise

After a day with the horses, you can head to Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise for their Ice Magic snow sculpture display. Ice Magic is best viewed at night when the sculptures glow with special lights.

I recommend buying tickets early so you don’t miss out.

For those staying at the Chateau, they can also access the site during daylight hours and walk to the sculptures. If you’re bunking elsewhere, you’ll need to take a shuttle bus. If you’re lucky, maybe you’ll experience some of the mysteries of one of Canada’s most haunted hotels.

Snow Sculptures in Banff

Snow sculptures at dusk in Banff, Alberta during SnowDays festival
Snow sculptures at dusk in Banff, Alberta during SnowDays festival – Photo credit: Shannon Martin

Throughout Banff townsite, you can admire several snow sculptures. Rather than presenting them all as “fait accompli,” completion dates are staggered during the SnowDays winter festival so you can see what it takes to carve these icy masterpieces.

Each year, the ice sculptures have a theme. In 2024, four teams of carvers worked under the theme “Small Wonders of Banff.”

SnowDays Play Zone for Family Fun

Family tubing at SnowDays Festival in Banff
Family tubing at SnowDays Festival in Banff – Photo credit: Shannon Martin

If you want to be more active, head to the SnowDays Play Zone, where you can try curling, fat-tire biking, and sliding in a family-friendly setting in the Banff High School yard.

The SnowDays Play Zone is open from Wednesday to Sunday.

Finish off your playtime with a visit to the Fairmont Banff Springs Sugar Shack, where you can get your sugar fix with maple taffy, hot chocolate, or apple hand pies from 3pm to 9pm. 

Bear Street Live Entertainment

On Friday and Saturday nights and Sunday afternoons, Bear Street comes alive. Not with the road’s namesake fortunately, but with live music, street performers, stilt walkers and firepits. Bring your appetite for marshmallows!

Bear Street Ice Bar

For adult-focused entertainment, on Fridays and Saturdays, there’s an ice bar at Three Bears’ outdoor patio. Swing by for a shooter, cocktail, or locally-made beer. 

Nightrise at the Banff Gondola

You might think riding a gondola to the top of a mountain in the dark would mean you wouldn’t see much. But you’d be wrong. Banff Gondola has an after-dark, multi-media experience created by Moment Factory in partnership with Stoney Nakoda Nation.

You can catch a meal while the sun dips below the mountain peaks and then stroll among the video projections for a visually engaging display. It’s popular during SnowDays Banff but runs from November until March.

So, if you want winter to be more than those months when you wait for spring, visit SnowDays in Banff National Park. You won’t look at snowflakes the same again, ever.

More Things To Do During SnoDays Winter Festival in Banff Lake Louise

SnowDays Banff offers a great excuse to make your way to the northern Rockies during winter. While you’re there, don’t miss some of these amazing places to visit nearby.

Jasper National Park

Glacier Skywalk, Columbia Icefield, Jasper National Park.
Glacier Skywalk, Columbia Icefield, Jasper National Park. Photo Credit: Robin and Arlene Karpan

Jasper is the largest of Canada’s Rocky Mountain national parks and our personal favourite. It has everything from magnificent soaring peaks to the most accessible glaciers in the Rockies, waterfalls galore, and outstanding wildlife viewing. Fabulous hiking is an especially large draw where there’s a multitude of choices from ambitious backcountry treks to leisurely strolls.  

You can read our popular Jasper National Park itinerary here.

Banff Hot Springs

Sit back and relax while soaking in the rejuvenating waters of Banff Upper Hot Springs. This popular spot invites visitors to unwind and enjoy the mineral-rich healing properties of these natural geothermal hot springs. You can find more about them here.

Breweries & Distilleries

End your day at Banff Snow Days winter festival with a well-earned evening on the town. The city has an amazing range of breweries and distilleries to taste your way through.

Grab a pint at Banff Ave. Brewing Co. This local brewpub is a popular spot for visitors and locals alike.

Park Distillery is another popular local hotspot that crafts backcountry lodge-inspired spirits that are perfect to enjoy around the campfire. They are the only distillery located within a Canadian National Park, and they hand-mill, hand-mash, and hand-distill everything

Embrace Winter At SnowDays Banff

SnowDays is a wonderful excuse to make your Banff and Lake Louise your new winter getaway in Alberta. Warm up in the snow with these awesome winter experiences that will have you celebrating the Great White North.

Do you have a favourite attraction or restaurant in Canada? Head over to the We Explore Canada Facebook Community and join the conversation! You’ll find an amazing group of people in Canada who are passionate about travel and love to share their local secrets.

You May Also Like To Read:

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *