Those hoping the Silver Skate would continue as in past years prior to the pandemic can rest assured it will run Feb. 12 to 21 at Hawrelak Park.
However, due to Alberta Health Services current guidelines, events have either been modified or eliminated. The landscape will look slightly different from previous years with a mix of virtual, do-it-yourself and walk-thru activities. Even the theme, Silver Skate Create Your Own Winter Experience, takes on a new meaning.
“The festival is on during the same hours as the park is open. We want to give people the opportunity to come at their leisure and feel safe,” said producer Erin Di Loreto.
Visitors can expect to walk through a snow sculpture garden, explore the Folk Trail and listen to oral histories retold by Indigenous elders. There’s also the option to listen to music while skating recreationally on the lake or showing your athletic prowess racing Silver Skate’s traditional one kilometre loop on the pond.
The Waiward Snow Sculptures Garden is a perennial favourite, in large part because of the snow art’s dramatic sizes and shapes. Each year teams of artists demonstrate how to transform eight-foot high by eight-foot wide by eight-foot-deep blocks of snow into enchanting creations. This year five teams invite visitors to view their inventive pieces.
“The nice thing is that there’s an eclectic mix of carvings. You don’t pigeon-hole the sculptors into one particular theme. Mostly visitors are amazed. There are some pretty talented sculptors in our city,” Di Loreto said.
Year-after-year, one of the biggest crowd-pleasers is the Folk Trail with actors costumed in fanciful garb spinning uplifting yarns. This year organizers pivot away from in-person storytelling to a retrospective. The new toned-down Folk Trail returns with six artistic installations of fables from previous years accompanied by three snow sculptures.
Over at the Heritage Village, this year’s installations include a recorded version of three Indigenous elders’ oral histories. Their focus is a deep connection to all things on the planet: land, plants, water, sky and animals.
“Epcor recorded the elders’ Winter Night Sky stories. We have 15 hours of content. We’re very excited because some of it was done in Cree and some in English. Once Silver Skate finishes, the recordings will be gifted to the Provincial Archives (of Alberta).”
Music was always included in Silver Skate. Since stage performances are banned, organizers did the next best thing.
“We reached out to 60 artists and performers that had sung with us in the past, and offered them an honorarium to purchase three tracks of their music. We’ve curated a list and the music will be played in the park, but also at the oval where people skate.”
And in terms of sports competition, everything is on hold. However, organizers have painted a one kilometre loop on Hawrelak Park Lake and encourage speed skaters to push themselves to personal victory. Anyone who logs in their time on the Silver Skate website qualifies for a prize.
“It’s not about being the best. It’s about being outside with Mother Nature.”
Silver Skate continues to be a free. Park hours are 6 a.m. to 11 p.m. Complete event information is available at silverskate.ca. The organization has struggled with fundraising this year and notes donation boxes will be available at the site. Donations can also be made through firstname.lastname@example.org.