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Photo gallery: Sunny Sundre Winterfest 2024 hailed by organizer as 'best to date'

Sundre’s Family Day long weekend activities draws out “record-setting numbers”

SUNDRE – An organizer of the municipality’s annual Winterfest said this year’s Family Day long weekend event set a new attendance milestone and attributed the sizeable turnout in large part to warm, sunny weather that enticed folks to come out.

“This year’s event was the best to date. In previous years, one day was glorious with lots of visitors, but then the weather would change and we’d have fewer people,” Jon Allan, Sundre’s economic development officer, told the Albertan.

“This year, we had record-setting numbers attend the museum on both days,” Allan wrote by email in response to follow-up questions.

The Sundre & District Museum, which joined the municipality alongside the Sundre & District Chamber of Commerce to put on a gamut of family-friendly activities on Feb. 18-19 both for residents as well as visitors alike, tracks the number of people who walk through the facility’s doors.

“And the traffic at the museum is usually used as a benchmark to track the number of people who attend the event, in general,” said Allan.

However, as there are also ice sculptures mounted on display throughout the Greenwood Campground that light up at night when the museum is closed, he said people come by at all times and that not everyone necessarily gets accounted for at the museum.

“It’s not a gigantic event, but I think suggesting that between 1,200 to 1,500 people attending this year is fair to say,” he said.

Beyond gauging the number of people who come through the museum’s doors, where they call home is also tracked and as is turns out, more than 50 per cent of those who signed the log book on their way into the museum came from out of town, he added.

Carrie Couch, the museum’s executive director, said close to 600 people signed in each day at the museum for a total of almost 1,200.

“We suspect there was even more,” she said, citing the spectacular weather as a major factor that compelled a bigger crowd. “These are only the individuals who gave us their demographics.”

Among those who included their place of origin were visitors who reported coming from locations such as Spain, Ukraine, Russia, Germany, Edmonton, Red Deer, Saskatchewan, Nova Scotia and of course the surrounding region.

“Our forestry demonstrator thoroughly enjoyed his day and commented on the pleasure of educating the public about our forest reserves, forest safety and the history of our province as it relates to our forestry industry and geographical proximity to the forest here in Sundre,” she said.

Couch also expressed gratitude on behalf of the Sundre & District Historical Society to the community and all of the visitors who supported the museum’s Raising the Roofs fundraising project. 

“We have three historical buildings requiring maintenance and repairs,” she said, adding nearly $1,300 was generated through a pegboard event.

Donations the museum receives also help support community programs such as Winterfest while also keeping the venue operational for public enjoyment and education. 

Aside from the ice sculptures, live musical entertainment, wagon rides between the museum and campground, a wood carver demonstrating her craft, vendors markets, and a chilli pitstop station set up at the Elks hall, there was also the fourth edition of the Mountain Survivalist Competition.

While nine adult teams demonstrated their survival skills – from setting up a rainproof shelter to starting a fire and boiling an egg as well as setting a snare with bonus points for quickly and safely accomplishing the tasks – there were also seven teams of youth contestants who came out for the first-ever 16-and-under survival challenge.  

The winners of the youth contest, which was held on Feb. 18, were Easton Burgess and Tim Gurnett – or Team Bronco – who came from Airdrie.
The champions of the adult contest, which was held on Feb. 19, were Jaye and Erin Selin, a father-daughter duo team from Calgary called Give-it-a-Try.  

Lead judging was provided and supervised by Mahikan Trails.

Brenda Holder, owner of Mahikan Trails as well as chair of Indigenous Tourism Alberta and vice-chair of Indigenous Tourism Association of Canada who also sits as a board member for Destination Canada, said there was a range of teams from Sundre and the surrounding region with a few adult teams that made special plans to attend.

“We had an international contingent of Dutch and Belgian students,” said Holder, adding they came from a school called Voshaar, which is located in the Netherlands near a little town known as Eibergen.  

“We’ve had a few teams in the past that have come over,” Holder told the Albertan during a phone interview.

“We’re thrilled that they wanted to join in once again to compete,” she said.  

The event starts off with two heats and the winners from each round go onto face off against one another in a final skills challenge. The final event in the adult competition, which came down to a Dutch team and Team Give-it-a-Try from Calgary, first featured a preliminary test in which each team had five minutes to make feather sticks, she said.

“That is slicing the small pieces of wood very, very thinly to create big curls,” she said, adding the judges then determined which team prepared the best feather sticks by factoring in the longest curl and how many there were.

“The Dutch group had nine curls, the Canadian team had eight curls,” she said, adding that earned the former a five-second head start over their Canadian counterparts in the last test to use the feather stick to start a fire with flint and steel.

“The first ones to get a sustainable flame was the winner,” she said.

Despite their advantage, the Dutch team struggled to capitalize on their head start and the Canadian team won, she said.

“It’s a difficult skill to manage, and it’s very exciting to watch them striking and trying to get their fire going. The participants loved it,” she said.

Describing the youth contest as “outstanding,” she said their skills challenges were similar but did not include having to boil an egg or set up a snare.

“They had to get a fire started and keep it going, they had to boil water, make tea and put up a shelter,” she said, adding they had a time limit of 45 minutes to do so, with bonus points awarded for completing all of the tasks in under 30 minutes, which a couple of teams managed to accomplish.  

“Some of the youth were just incredible,” she said.

The top two youth teams also faced off in a final that involved a five-minute limit to prepare a piece of birch bark in whatever way they wanted to start a fire, with the first crew to get some flames going crowned as the winners, she said.

“I think it turned out really well. It was exciting to see all the teams,” she said about both events.

“In the adult competition especially it was really interesting because the points were all so close; they were super tight. A lot of people were probably taking time to practise beforehand and really honing their skills, and it really showed and paid off.”

Looking ahead to next year, Holder has every intention of once again returning.

“I plan to be back next year,” she said. “We’re going to be doing something a little bit different in terms of what we’re looking for in the skills session…the core skills will all be there, but there will be a little bit of a shakeup,” she said.

“We’re going to be hopefully adding more prizes, and because of that we’re going to make the competitors work just a little bit harder.” 

Simon Ducatel

About the Author: Simon Ducatel

Simon Ducatel joined Mountain View Publishing in 2015 after working for the Vulcan Advocate since 2007, and graduated among the top of his class from the Southern Alberta Institute of Technology's journalism program in 2006.
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