It came together during a quiet winter in 2012. There wasn’t much snow at the Falcon Ridge Ski Slopes, and a number of musicians were working in the rental shop, kitchen, and around the slopes. Emily Christie, the eldest daughter of the Christie/Hamilton family, who have owned the resort for the past twenty years, says, “It was a music saturated year. We had this tight group of musicians, and they would be jamming every night after work. Usually our busiest time at the ski hill is over winter break, but it was such bad snow, we couldn’t even open over Christmas. That was pretty devastating. We had all these staff lined up who were already out, so we came up with the idea to have a one day festival with an amazing line up of in-house talent. It was so fun and a ton of people came. We ended up doing it again the next year. Every year we would add on some little part.”
Now it’s the second-to-last weekend of January in 2018, and the festival has indeed grown. Snowdance spans three days and three venues, with outdoor activities around the slopes throughout. Emily comments, “The other venues have been a nice addition, because it’s helped us spread the festival around Falcon Lake more. Down here at the ski hill at the end of the road, we're our own kind of micro-community. Expanding out to the hotel bar and the curling rink has been a nice way to bring in the community here who are also interested in outdoor activity and winter celebration. They’ve been really welcoming. We’re lucky to have those venues.”
Walking around the resort on that warm Saturday afternoon, the creativity and community are readily apparent. Seth Heinrichs, an artist and musician who spends his winters living with his roommate in the tube shack, takes me on a tour between watching one of his friends perform and the set he’ll be doing with his own band later that day. Sleeping bags line the floor of his one-room home, with three large dogs laid out across them. Seth cracks that the shack serves as lodging for musicians at night and a doggy day-care during the day. Two musicians are rehearsing at the kitchen table while we chat. There are scribbles and tiny drawings all over the walls.
Seth’s artistic influence extends out onto the slopes too, where cheery, hand-painted signs invite ski and snowboarders to stick their faces through a hole or two for a quick photo. Seth and his roommate Jacobey are also working on murals in the washrooms. Emily acknowledges, “That’s such an amazing asset we have here, the people who bring in musical culture and art. I’m so thankful that I have this community — it sets us apart. It’s like a family. Over the years, we’ve had lots of different generations of friends working out here. We all come and hang out together for Snowdance. It’s such a fun, happy weekend for me for that reason.”
The Christie family is a big part of why the resort draws so many creative and musical types. Musician Sheena Rattai, who has been performing at the festival both as a solo artist and with her band Red Moon Road since the beginning, says, “It’s a family out here. They’re so welcoming to transient types like us, musicians in and out of tour, virtually unemployable anywhere else. They go, ‘Sure! You can come work for us for a few months or a few weeks.’ It’s the only little bump in the part of the prairies we’re on, and it’s a really cool, creative environment.”
But that growing community and the people who want to participate it can also create challenges. During our conversation, Sheena mentions, “The tickets sold out in two minutes.” And Emily tells me the festival is at a bit of a turning point. “It’s almost a lottery to see whether you can get your hands on a ticket. We’re still figuring that out. We can take the next step, and get an outdoor tent, but our accommodations are still fixed. There are still other ways for people to get involved, like volunteering.”
The chalet also hosts a Sunday afternoon concert series throughout the winter. Emily says, “That’s more of a chill afternoon show. There’s no cover. That’s also a really nice way for me to meet new musicians coming through. It can wind up being a bit of an audition for Snowdance.”
Packed to the gills or not, listening to the plucking of a guitar and clear, harmonizing voices inside the chalet is one of the softer ways to spend a winter day. It’s a place where folks call out, “Good job!” at the end of a set and know the musicians by name. Emily emphasizes, “Snowdance is a celebration of the Falcon Ridge community. It’s not just the ski hill, it’s a huge network of musicians and artists and people helping out. We have a powerhouse of people here.”