Art Installations. Photo: Neil Zeller

Chinook Blast explodes all over the city to clear away the winter blues

It may be a cliché of festivals, but Chinook Blast — the city’s winter festival — truly does have something for everyone.

From February 2 to 19, the fourth annual Chinook Blast provides an opportunity to explore the best of the city’s art, music, theatre, sport and recreation scene, not despite winter but in celebration of it.

“Chinook Blast not only showcases the diversity and vibrancy of our community but also becomes a testament to the collective spirit of bringing the community together to celebrate winter in Calgary,” says Calgary Arts Development president and CEO Patti Pon. “It’s the perfect chance to celebrate the season.”

Chinook Blast is essentially an umbrella festival that incorporates a series of world-class festivals, free outdoor programming, artistic light displays and cultural experiences ranging from Sport Calgary skating events and DIY Crafting Workshops to Musical Matinees, craft markets and Hackathons. The point of Chinook Blast is to get everyone out enjoying life in the city in the winter, and highlighting all the things happening in order to to bring them more audiences is a big part of the strategy.

Pon says the weather outside doesn’t affect what the festival can offer to Calgarians and that’s the beautiful thing about Chinook Blast.

“If you want to go ice skating, you can go ice skating. If you want to sit inside and watch some amazing music, dance or live theatre performances, it’s there for you. There truly is something for everyone,” Pon says. “If you want to wander inside the city hall atrium at the Asian night market or the Indigenous art market, you can do that. If you want to be outside and experience the winter art installations that we have, that’s there for you.”

In fact, there’s so much going on it can be overwhelming. So here are some suggestions to help you plan your Chinook Blast experience.

Fun for a Group

Whatever your group dynamic is, there’s a way to keep everyone happy at Chinook Blast. For the theatre lovers, there are dozens of both free and ticketed options at the last weekend of the High Performance Rodeo. The city’s international festival of the arts has no shortage of diverse and eclectic local, national and global talent on display. The festival wraps up on Feb. 4, so make sure you check out the last few days before it’s over. 

Gather your pals and eat your way through the Chinook Blast curated food journey with Taste the City. The the self-guided tour winds Calgarians through the city’s top restaurants as if they are tourists trying new dishes and exploring a rich offering of delectable menus. 

On February 18 at 3, fashion and fun take to the streets of Kensington with the annual Outdoor Drag Fashion Show. If the performances don’t warm you up, the firepits and hot chocolate will.

One of the most visible parts of Chinook Blast and a great experience with a group is the festival’s free art installations and outdoor performances. Taking advantage of the long winter nights, many of the installations are light-based.

Be sure to check out the 1000 faces installation at Eau Claire Promenade near 6th Street SW.

The art work created in collaboration between +Amor and Calgary-born composer King Aurorus, is the winner of the City’s 2024 Winter City Design competition. At press time, there were also confirmed installations at Olympic Plaza and Stephen Avenue and others that didn’t have a set location — so be sure to check the Chinook Blast website for locations.

Family-friendly Fun

Whether you opt for the Family Day Memories at Calgary Public Library, the Cabane à Curling at St. Patrick’s Island or the Let it Blow Pop-up Booth, there is no shortage of free events and attractions during Chinook Blast appropriate for all ages. 

On Family Day, Winsport will run a free Try Skate Activation to teach the whole family how to skate — for free! Those who already know how to skate can Skate with Heritage Park’s Townfolks at Olympic Plaza. 

But the family fun isn’t restricted to Family Day. Certainly not to be missed is the festival’s opening night free concert at Olympic Plaza on February 2. Co-produced by the Calgary Folk Music Festival and High Performance Rodeo, the show includes performances by Kris Demeanor, Ginger Beef Band and Ruby Singh. And on February 19 at noon, Gustovo the Impossibilist takes to the stage at Olympic Plaza to amuse you and the whole fam with his “feats of unrealized stupidity.”

For a Date Night

Whether it’s a first date or a night out after many years together, there’s something to be said for getting to know someone better and build memories through shared experiences and Chinook Blast has plenty of events that can set the scene for romance.

Share live music and drinks to bring you closer to your sweetheart by checking out a show at Calgary Folk Music Festival’s Block Heater, one of the city’s fastest-growing music events. From February 15 to 17, there are more than 27 artists (read more on page 18) performing at a dozen events spanning seven inner-city venues. 

Go for a fun, silly, and romantic skate at Olympic Plaza. Skate rentals are free during Chinook Blast, so you can save up for a drink at a downtown bar after. 

Or bond while you check out the Glow Fusion Experience at the Central Library on February 9. This collaborative spectacle combines wearable tech, circus arts and dance performances and Indigenous culture to showcase a mesmerizing fusion of skill and artistry. Cirque de la Nuit,
Make Fashion and Indi City weave together a tapestry of dynamic performances that seamlessly blend acrobatics and theatrical flair at this must-see event.

Valentine’s Date 

Chinook Blast encompasses Valentine’s Day, so why not take advantage to build a special memory rather than just going to a set menu meal at a fancy restaurant? While you could technically opt for most of the offerings at Chinook Blast, we think you and your better half deserve a staycation with one of Chinook Blast’s hotel partners, many of which are offering discounts through the Chinook Blast website. Take a break from your usual routine and check into a hotel for some rest and relaxation while enjoying the festival. 

For Culture Vultures

Calgary is Canada’s third most diverse city, with Calgarians representing over 240 ethnic origins and Chinook Blast highlights this diversity.

Ethnik Festival of Arts and Culture, one of Calgary’s newest arts and culture festivals, runs February 9 to 10. Members of the Afro-Canadian/ Caribbean communities come together to celebrate diversity and inclusivity and share vibrant cultural traditions with festivalgoers. The festival kicks off with a Food War that is sure to be a hot ticket.

Four Winds Indigenous Market takes over the City Hall Atrium with 75+ talented Indigenous vendors selling a range of artisan products including jewellery, home wares, decor and more on February 2, 3 and 4. And on February 10, Four Winds Showcase brings a powwow, Indigenous fashion show, music and more to Olympic Plaza.

At Platform on February 7, the Urban Society for Indigenous Youth (USAY) will demonstrate their virtual and augmented reality experiences created by Indigenous Elders.

And on February 9 to 11, the City Hall Atrium will be transformed into the Imaginasian: Asian Night Market with performances, lantern making, games, vendors and more.

During Chinook Blast, the Central Library will be home to the Artists Pavilion. Stop by on Thursdays and Fridays during the lunch hour to check out free Mini Jam concerts curated by One Big JAM. These fully improvised concerts will celebrate Black History Month, Lunar New Year and Indigenous Culture.

For Adrenaline Junkies and Sports Fans

Chinook Blast is not just arts events and cultural festivals — sports and action are also on the menu.

On February 2 and 3, Nitrocross rally takes over the GMC Stadium on the Stampede Grounds again. Last year, 20,000 people caught this fusion of rallycross and action sports jumps, turns and high-voltage entertainments. If you love cars flying through the air and snow, this one’s for you. The event also features a gaming zone and entertainment stage. Tickets start at $35.

Chinook Blast also features a number of winter-sport competitions.

The Snow Rodeo at Winsport features both the Snowboard Halfpipe World Cup February 9 to 11 and the FIS Freeski Halfpipe World Cup February 15 to 17. Both events are free.

Also at Winsport, the 64th Women’s Curling Championship takes place February 16 to 25 and the Scotties Tournament of Hearts on Family Day (February 19). 

You can also catch the ISU World Speed Skating Championships at the Olympic Oval from February 15 to 17.

While technically after the end of Chinook Blast, Calgary will also host the Special Olympics this month with competitors from across the country competing in eight events from February 27 to March 2. 

There are also options for those who prefer to get physical rather than watch. The annual DeadCold Run on February 4 has 21k, 10k, 5k and 1k races in celebration of winter. And Chinook Slide, also on the 4th, includes a learn-to-curl event at Olympic Plaza.

 And more…

There are more events and happenings than we can list here so be sure to visit chinookblast.ca to learn more.