Rev up your fun at Lac La Biche Winter Festival of Speed
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Lac La Biche, AB — Soaring above the snow-covered lake at Lac La Biche in a single prop Piper airplane, it hit me just how big the Winter Festival of Speed is. Cars, planes, snowmobiles: it’s a 40-year winter odyssey.
Racing a car on an icy lake is a pretty wild notion when most of us are just trying to get traction on regular roads. But that’s exactly the idea Ken Staples brought to the northern Alberta community of Lac La Biche 40 years ago this winter. And it stuck! (Unlike the cars.)
Now, forty years on, the Winter Festival of Speed is bigger and wilder than ever and mounting a massive event for its 40th year, Feb 25 - 26, 2023.
WATCH: preview of all the action at the Winter Festival of Speed
Add in snow drags, axe throwing, charity races, sled obstacle courses, racer ride alongs and of course the big spectacle itself: car races which take place on an ice track cleared through the snow on a giant lake… and that’s one wild weekend.
That is the Winter Festival of Speed: it’s big, it’s fast and it’s jam packed with fun.
A couple weeks before the 40th year of the festival, I popped in to Lac La Biche for an afternoon, and somehow managed to feel both thrilled and totally at ease as I caromed from lunch at Fat Unicorn Brewery with festival founder and lead organizer Ken Staples, to a vintage sled ride, to a flight seeing tour over the lake.
Preview fly-over of the festival site
Join me on a tour of the site for the Winter Festival of Speed, from the air, in this Facebook LIVE.
“We’ve been able to run the event for all but about three of the 40 years,” Staples says, noting it’s been mostly smooth sailing up until the pandemic. That and freak weather disrupted the event the last two years.
So there’s a keen community excited to see the Winter Festival of Speed back. And Staples reports conditions are solid.
“It’s looking good… Ice thickness pretty much dictates what we can put on the lake, you know the tracks and things that we need."
“We start about 10 days prior, clearing, and it’s a bit of a game of chicken. We’ve started too early some years, then a blizzard blows through and the track drifts in and you have to do it all over again.”
This year, the plan is to start preparing the ice surface on Feb 16, nine days prior to the first racing events on Feb 25.
Meanwhile, Rob Kruk of Offroad Adventures is planning some great fun and hijinks for the sledding activities. New sledders can get some safety and driving lessons, and there’s a group trail ride out to the Lac La Biche Mission.
For the experienced riders, there’s also a “snowball” race, which involves two-person relay teams riding together and switching drivers halfway through—but there’s a catch.
“Two people to a sled, a 100-foot run, jump on the machine, make one lap over a closed course, and then the driver and passenger have to change positions without touching the snow,” he describes, adding it’s a three-lap total for the race.
“You get two big guys on one of these, trying to switch positions without touching the snow, it’s going to be entertaining.”
The vintage sleds, like the classic 1980 Ski-Doo Citation I rode, have a certain nostalgia to them, says Rob.
“They’re actually really reliable if you maintain them. For a lot of people it’s part of their upbringing, the sleds they rode as kids.”
Flying, talking cars or racing around on sleds, my day was such a breezy, fun time that I began debating whether festival of speed or festival of ease would be a better moniker: speed is a perfect fit for all the wild motor-fuelled action, but ease for the simple hospitality of the community. In the end, I decided, it’s both.
Either way, the Winter Festival of Speed is going to be a surefire great time on snow for Feb 25 -26, 2023. Get your motor running, get out on the highway and get there.
WHEN YOU GO
Check out FestivalSeekers' Winter Festival of Speed event listing for the schedule and event details.
Where to eat
Fat Unicorn Brewery is a local fave for apres, with craft beers brewed on site and hearty pub food to fill you up after a day on the ice.
For a tasty Thai meal, check out Oslo Eatery. The chef spent years in Thailand studying the cuisine and has brought it back to this super cool joint. The seafood Tom Yum kicks.
For more fantastic places to eat, check out the Lac La Biche Region's restaurant, cafe and eatery listings.
Where to stay
You can find a listing of local accommodations on the Lac La Biche Region website. For an especially unique stay, check out the cabins on Sir Winston Churchill Provincial Park.
For more details on the weekend's events, head to the Winter Festival of Speed website.