Edmonton's international ice carving competition is serving up a local twist.
Not only can festival goers enjoy locally crafted beverages at the first annual ice bar, they are also invited to complete their Old Strathcona experience by taking advantage of special deals on local food and entertainment.
"We really want people to be a tourist in their own town," festival producer Wanda Bornn says. "To broaden their experience and learn more about what's local."
One of only three international ice carving competitions in Canada, Ice on Whyte takes place the weekends of Jan. 25-28 and Feb. 1-4, and brings together nine teams of professional ice carvers from around the world to transform over 42,000 pounds of ice into beautiful works of frozen art.
The competition ends at noon on Friday Jan. 26, but the resulting ice sculptures will be on display throughout the festival.
This year's festivities will take place in a giant tent on the northeast corner of Whyte Avenue and Gateway Boulevard. Typically held a few blocks away at End of Steel Park, the festival was relocated to better support surrounding businesses.
Festivalgoers can also purchase vouchers (valid only during Ice on Whyte) to participating Old Strathcona businesses, including these Edmonton Made establishments: El Cortez, Have Mercy, Strathcona Spirits, Sugared and Spiced and The Holy Roller.
“It’s a win-win really for both the festival and the business district," says Cherie Klassen, executive director Old Strathcona Business Association. "The festival looks like it’s got greater value — you go in and you buy a ticket and you can also get a discount at a local business. For the businesses, they actually know now that people that come down to Ice on Whyte will shop.”
Last year Ice on Whyte attracted 36,000 people to the area. Visitors came from all over the Edmonton region, as well as other parts of the province and country.
The discount pricing on local eateries and entertainment venues is being made available through a new partnership with Edmonton-based corporate perk program GoAsAGroup. A division of M31 Design Group, the online platform offers local discounts to employees of member corporations. This is the first time the service has been made available to the general public.
Sales and marketing manager Nick Chan says the reception has been exceptional so far. The festival hasn't yet begun and he's been fielding calls from organizers across the country.
The desire to broaden the festival experience and support surrounding businesses is a common theme across the country, he said, but lack of technical expertise and budgetary constraints make it difficult for festivals to offer this type of service on their own.
"I think we've touched on a vacuum in the market," Chan said.
Also new, is the festival's first annual ice bar. Serving only locally crafted beer and spirits, from Hansen Distillery, Rig Hand Craft Distillery, Strathcona Spirits and Situation Brewing, the bar will allow festival goers to discover Edmonton's thriving brewing and distilling scene.
As usual, the stew off will take place on the last Sunday of the festival — from 12-3 p.m. at El Cortez. This year's locally sourced ingredients are whiskey from Hansen Distillery and creamers from the Little Potato Company. Participating restaurants include Have Mercy, MEAT, the Fairmont Hotel MacDonald and the Royal Glenora Club.
Ice on Whyte is one of only three professional ice carving competitions in Canada. The winner of the festival will get a guaranteed spot in next year's Canada Cup of Ice Carving, a new joint initiative that will showcase the best ice carving talent from Winterlude in Ottawa, Ice Magic in Lake Louise and the Boardwalk Ice on Whyte in Edmonton.
The inaugural Canada Cup was held last year in Ottawa. Edmonton will host the 2019 Canada Cup as part of next year's Ice on Whyte festivities.
For a detailed schedule of events and to purchase tickets, visit the Boardwalk Ice on Whyte website.