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Winter City festivals: Chinook Blast returning in 2022

Chinook Blast, Calgary’s only multi-venue winter festival is returning in late January 2022.

The five-week-long celebration features a variety of indoor and outdoor activities. They include music and theatre performances, art displays, sporting events, and recreational activities.

Chinook Blast will be staged primarily around Olympic Plaza in the downtown core. Local community associations and business improvement areas are also getting involved, creating unique festival experience.

“We’re looking at bringing the best of Calgary during the winter—we are winter city,” said Franca Gualtieri, Executive Director for Chinook Blast and Strategic Projects a Tourism Calgary.

The event is being put on by Tourism Calgary as part of the City of Calgary’s Winter City Strategy.

The objective is to provide what Gualtieri called a hub base for all of Calgary’s winter events during late January through February.

“What we’re looking at doing is bringing areas of arts, non-profit, neighborhood tourism, and the sports community together to create this inclusive event that showcases the best of our city,” she said.

Inaugural Chinook Blast smaller than expected

The inaugural Chinook Blast festival was derailed by Covid-19 restrictions last year.

Still, said Gualtieri, they were able to work with their event partners, health officals, and the City to create an outdoor experience that drew more than 400,000 people to the downtown core.

“It became a lot more of an outdoor walking event than the actual event of having of having the art installations that we were looking for,” she said.

“We were able to evolve it to a place where 400,000 Calgarians felt comfortable to come downtown, and felt they were in a safe space.”

Despite being a smaller event, it generated $3.3 million in local impact for Calgary. They featured 120 artists and 50 local businesses.

Bigger and better for 2020

This year, with Calgary vaccination rates being much higher than they were in February, Calgary Tourism is more confident that the festival will be bigger and better.

“The exciting part is that it’s more like it was supposed to look,” said Gualtieri.

“So we’re looking to see what the numbers will bring this year and continue to grow as it becomes more of a known period of time for people to come enjoy the winter,” she said.

And getting people to come and enjoy the winter season is a primary part of both Tourism Calgary and the City of Calgary’s goals for the Winter City Strategy.

Pre-pandemic, according to the Alberta Government’s Tourism Market Monitor, occupancy rates for hotels in the city hovered between 45 to 55 per cent in January and February. It’s several percentage points lower than at resort hotels in the province’s mountain towns.

“So what we’d like to do is for it to become a staple, just like our summer activities have become, where if you’re coming down to ski in the mountains, or you find yourself here for a World Cup, that you’ll stay a little bit longer and enjoy,” she said.

“We’d like to have our surrounding areas come down as well—as they get to experience music, they get to experience theater, and a great light installation—bringing everybody to Calgary to enjoy the winter side of it.”

Safety will continue to be primary for festival organizers. The prospect of a fifth winter Covid-19 wave looms.

“We’ll always make sure that we work with the right groups and organizations to make sure the citizens and visitors are safe,” said Gualtieri.

Soliciting community ideas

Tourism Calgary has been soliciting community feedback and event suggestions from Calgarians.

“I think it’s important to to see what’s out there because we don’t know what we don’t know,” said Gualtieri.

They are also partnering with local community associations, and BIAs to ensure that those smaller winter events don’t get missed by Calgarians.

“We often hear there’s nothing going on, but we’ve actually learned the exact opposite, there’s lots going on,” she said.

“If they go to one of their local communities where there’s that comfort level, and there’s going to be other areas of Chinook Blast, it might entice them to come … there’s surrounding areas that they can support, to look and do something fun for the winter with their family.”

Five pillar festivals and what to see during Chinook Blast

There are five main events taking place during Chinook Blast, along with a multitude of other events for Calgarians.

There will be a mix of free events and ticketed events within the five-week schedule.

“There’s so much to see and do that I’d be remiss if I didn’t say everything is going to have their points of excitement, so we’re looking forward to it all,” said Gualtieri.

Chinook Blast will be releasing more event details in the coming weeks. The full festival schedule will be available on their website at chinookblast.ca.

High Performance Rodeo

Calgary’s premiere international festival of the arts for the past 35 years returns January 18 to February 6, 2020. Tickets are available through the High Performance Rodeo website.

BIG Winter Classic

Arts, music, and dancing over four days from January 27 to 30. A full weekend pass is $146.95 to see 90 bands, multiple art installations, and interactive performances.

GLOW Downtown Winter Light Festival

Downtown Calgary’s signature winter event runs for its fourth time with interactive light displays, entertainment, and food trucks. Runs February 10 through 12, and then again on February 17 through 19. No tickets are required to attend the festival.

Block Heater

The Calgary Folk Music Festival’s winter answer to their summer festival returns to Inglewood and the East Village. Performances take place from February 17 to 20. Concert availability on the Block Heater website.

Ethnik Festival

The premiere, all-inclusive celebration of Black history and excellence shares the culture and tradition of Afro-Canadian and Caribbean communities. Takes place on February 26 at the TELUS Convention Centre. Tickets are available on the Ethnik Festival website.

Artist Pavilion at the Central Library

The Calgary Public Library Central Library will be playing host to the 2022 artist pavilion. See original exhibitions of sporting history of Indigenous Hall of Famers, along with local creative collaborations. Runs January 21 to February 27.

Chinook Blast HQ

See five weeks of light installations from Ken Hacke, PARK, ‘nLiten tech’ project by Fuse33, B!G ART and Unlimited Video Staging. Along with the Exposure Phorography Festival’s display of The Fence. Runs January 21 to February 27 at Olympic Plaza.