Angela Gzowski

Photos: Snowking XX Building Season, Part Two

Out on the lake, we learn about some surprises coming up for this year's festival from its ice expert, and discuss what the event has gained and lost with success
Words by Matthew Mallon| Photos by  Angela Gzowski

This weekend, the Snowking crew was doing what they could while waiting for their busted tractor to get back into action. The building techniques on display could have been seen a few thousand years ago, with structures being heaved into place with the use of rollers and a whole lot of huffing and puffing, pushing and pulling. “Just like the Egyptians did it,” proclaims the Snowking triumphantly as the bathroom unit lands pretty much where it’s supposed to.

Taking advantage of a lull in the action, we retire to the Snowking World Headquarters with Joel Maillet, a filmmaker and window-cleaner who’s been a member of the Snowking crew for six seasons. His Snowking name, self-assigned, is The Avalanche Kid, “because I like playing in snow, being buried in snow, and I think this whole project is reminiscent of our childhood, hence the “Kid.”

“I showed up about mid-February [2009], halfway through the pouring of the Snowking XIV castle. I was just blown away by the whole project. “ After a season as a volunteer, Maillet was offered a position as an official crew member and he’s been a part of the team ever since.

He’s the ice tech specialist. “I’m not as good as Joe Snow (this year’s project manager and planner) and the Snowking in working with snow. I’ve got a pretty good handle on it, but I’ve started working with ice, focusing on the cafe and its seating area for the past two years. I was quite proud of the results last year. I started experimenting with LED lighting, which allows us to put lights in the snow and ice, which is totally the coolest thing. It changes everything. We’ve basically chosen to light the castle strictly with lit ice. So all the light is diffused through the ice. I think that’s a beautiful idea.”

What can visitors expect in ice technology breakthroughs this year?

“This year we cut twice as much ice as before and so part of this year’s game is seeing ‘can we use all this ice?’ So we’ve come up with some ideas of where we can put it, and we’ve got some cool surprises in store for this year. Also, last year I built and designed the slide, with help from Lachlan MacLean, a New Zealander who just left town, sadly. That was a killer, awesome slide. Adults and kids alike enjoyed it. And I hope this year we can do something that’s the equivalent, if not better.”

Aside from his own increasing grasp of ice’s possibilities as a building material, he’s seen plenty of changes in the festival since he joined.

“It started as something so simple and almost silly. He’s got a snow castle and he calls himself the Snowking. But now, twenty years later, it’s not funny.” He laughs. “It seems so innocent and harmless in its origins, but it’s got infinite potential, and infinite resources. It just keeps growing and growing through spirit and goodwill and effort.”

“But the biggest changes I’ve seen since I started six years ago is the introduction of bureaucracy, new policies. The Snowking Winter Festival became a registered, not-for-profit society.”

It’s something Maillet has decidedly mixed feelings about. “There has always been this renegade quality, with the castle sort of outside city limits, on the water, similar to the houseboaters. It had a kind of carte blanche in how it can approach its production and what it can do. There was this beautiful freedom and opportunity to experiment. But now, with devolution and the scale that the festival is at, we’re encountering and needing to go through a lot of formality and bureaucracy to make the festival more legit. It’s kind of tragic, in my opinion, in some ways. And in other ways it’s wise. It’s going to preserve the longevity of the castle and its festival.”

Break’s over. Time to get back outside and start hauling and tugging and cutting, and hoping the tractor gets fixed soon so they don’t fall too far behind.