Festival transforming small town into winter tourist destination

The “Fire & Ice Festival” is the brainchild of Tracy Larkman, administrative coordinator of the Bracebridge BIA, who was looking to attract winter tourism to the area. She manages all of the activities within the downtown core and bet on her vision for a tube slide in the middle of the street as inspiration for the festival.

It has paid off. In just four years, the downtown street transformed into a tube slide and has grown to attract crowds across the province and even into the U.S.

“It was one of those crazy ideas where we were looking at our downtown going, ‘I would love to do a winter carnival’ and saying ‘wouldn’t it be fun to put a tube run down your downtown’ and a year later it all happened,” says Larkman.

Volunteers like the Muskoka Sno-Bombers, a local snowmobile group, transform the downtown street by assisting in the carving of the lane. The BIA also enlist the help of Fowler Construction who actually dig snow mounds for use from now until the event.

“When you’re dropping snow on the street, you actually need clean, non-contaminated snow,” says Larkman. “It usually takes about 70 truckloads full of snow, so we usually have about six to eight local contractors that donate their time to truck it in and then they pull the snow out afterwards, so it’s a huge undertaking.”

The tube run takes around four hours to build and four hours to tear down.

“It’s a bit of a passion of mine, so it’s fun,” says Larkman.

The festival currently operates as a one-day event, this year on Jan. 27, but she would love to run it over the entire weekend and incorporate activities across the downtown area.

“It’s gotten national exposure,” she says. “I know, last year, we weren’t prepared for the number of people that came into the downtown, but we learned from (that) and worked on improving the programming this year for those coming and visiting.”

One of those steps, this year, is introducing shuttle buses so people will not have to park right in the downtown core. As for accommodations, it is not an issue as there are lots of options already in the vacation town filled with hotels and bed and breakfasts.

Festival goers can look forward to “FIRE” artists and fire pits set up throughout the downtown core, along with “ICE” features and interactive ice displays. A skating trail is also accessible in Memorial Park, along with a road hockey tournament, birds of prey demonstrations, and traditional carnival activities.

For tickets and information, visit: www.fireandicebracebridge.com

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