A cacophony fills the streets as cowbells ring and people cheer. Not exactly the type of sounds you’d expect to hear on the streets of a sleepy mountain town on a Saturday morning in late January. Even less expected is the sudden blur of a homemade bobsled, crashing down an icy street. For an outsider, it’s a crazy sight. For me, a smile slowly draws across my face. I’m back in my hometown, during my favourite weekend of the winter: the Rossland Winter Carnival.
Since 1898, Rossland, British Columbia, has hosted one of Canada’s oldest winter carnivals. Norwegian miner Olaus Jeldness introduced the town to skiing back in the late 1800s, and was the instigator behind the event. His infamous tea parties on Red Mountain and subsequent races are the stuff of legend. History emanates everywhere in Rossland, from its historic downtown core, to the homes that housed miners in its heyday and the mine shafts that still riddle the surrounding hillsides. These days, the gold rush has long since passed, but the town is busier than ever, with the nearby ski hill, Red Mountain Resort, receiving some of the best coverage it’s seen in years.
For me, the Rossland Winter Carnival means reconnecting with friends and enjoying the festivities around town. A parade kicks things off with a jubilant spirit celebrating all things winter. There’s an abundance of activities over the course of four days, and it’s tough to fit it all in. Highlights include the ice bar—an adult snow fort serving frosty beverages and live music, smack dab in the middle of downtown—a rail jam on the overlooking Queen Street, a music festival at various venues throughout town, and of course, the bobsled races.
The races have been taking place as long as I can remember. As a child, I would watch with my parents as their friends raced out-of-control contraptions down one of the steepest streets in town. Thirty years later, I’m watching my friends do the same. The course is icy and fast, with some teams hitting over 80 km/h. Carnage is nearly guaranteed on “crash corner,” a chicane near the top of the course that has seen many a sled slam into snow banks. It’s all in good fun, and a sight to behold, with teams dressed in outrageous costumes and spandex speed suits, bantering before their runs.
Later on in the day, after the “Albohaulics” take the win, it’s time to take in the rail jam and ice bar. A steep course made of jibs and jumps keeps competitors and spectators alike entertained. Across Columbia Avenue, the ice bar starts to liven up. Wandering through the crowd, I come across friends I haven’t seen since high school. We catch up over beers around a fire pit, as the light fades and a band takes the stage. The music is great, and everyone is dancing. As we meander past the statue of Jeldness in Town Square, I can’t help but reflect on this magical town nestled in the Monashee Mountains. It was gold that brought people to the area, but it’s the community that has blossomed a century later that keeps bringing people back. —STEVE SHANNON