“Hey, New York!” is not what you’d expect to hear amongst the buzz of visitors, the scraping of metal on ice as sculptors carve and the swoosh of skaters on Lake Louise. But you could say Shelli and Les Flaum, from Long Island, New York, are as much a staple of the Ice Magic Festival as the grand ice castle that sparkles on Lake Louise every winter.
“A picture is a picture and a picture is nice,” says Shelli Flaum, “but it’s not the same as just standing there.”
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"There", of course, is Lake Louise. It was an autumn day – maybe 1996, she says – when Shelli and her husband first drove the road up to the lake. It was just one of many stops on their Canadian Rockies road trip. The Flaums are world travellers, but within minutes at the lake, they knew they were somewhere different.
“When they say rated on a scale of one to ten… I’ll say, well give it 100! Ten isn’t enough,” says Shelli, laughing. “It’s not one of these places that you say, Oh been there, done that… it’s, Wow I can’t wait to get back there again.”
Ever since their return visit to Banff National Park in the winter of 2000, when they stumbled on the Ice Magic Festival, they’ve made it an annual tradition. As former skiers, Shelli and Les Flaum, now 72 and 73 respectively, still find endless ways to take in nature during their annual, weeklong visits.
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“After Ice Magic it gets quiet again... we take our picnic and we have it in the snow,” says Shelli, who enjoys a daily ice skate on Lake Louise during their visits. “We immerse ourselves in nature, not just look at it… because it’s accessible.”
Over the years, only emergencies have twice kept the Flaums from their annual visit. A year ago, Shelli broke her arm ice skating just weeks before they planned their trip. Too injured to make the flight, staff at the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise printed out headshots of the couple, placing them with the ice sculptures and carvers, then taking photos to share with the Flaums.
“Everybody there missed us,” says Shelli, who received updates on Facebook and phone calls from people at the Ice Magic Festival while recovering at her Long Island home.
The stories and memories go back years. On one visit, after a nice chat with an ice sculptor from Texas, Shelli and Les found a gift in their hotel room: a bottle of wine in an ice bucket. “The carver carved an ice bucket out of ice… and he put the ‘I love New York’ logo on the ice bucket,” says Shelli, who still treasures her photos of it. “That was really special…we were thrilled with them for giving us such a good time and here they are giving us a present.”
This year, Shelli and Les will bring along envelopes of photos of ice sculptures and carvers from over the years, as they always do. They’ll take new photos and meet new people. They’ll not only visit the place they love, but the people they’ve encountered along the way. “We have met other people that come back too,” says Shelli. Including their friends who “come from England every year.”
Even from her home in the northeastern United States, the lake is on Shelli’s mind. “It’s very much a part of me,” says Shelli. “I dream about Lake Louise all the time.”