Canada's 'Igloofest' revels in music, loves cold

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The Independent Travel

Thousands of partygoers gather each year at Montreal's Igloofest celebration, united by their passion for electronic dance music and fearlessness in the face of Canada's unforgiving cold.

For the three weekends in January, revelers at the open air party dance to Techno music on Montreal's old waterfront, usually in temperatures well below freezing.

"Montrealers love the cold and have a festive nature," explained Nicolas Cournoyer, director of operations and co-founder of the annual event, which now is in its fifth year.

"Dancing in minus 20 degrees Celsius (minus four degrees Fahrenheit) in the snow with mittens on, that's what attracts people - braving the cold as a group, being in a crowd."

The Igloofest event is held during some of the longest, darkest days of winter, but manages to attract those who not only are inured to the Arctic, but who gleefully thumb their noses at it.

"The month of January can be brutal sometimes and this sort of event helps nurture solidarity," Cournoyer added.

The list of music festivals held in temperate, balmy and even sweltering temperatures is long, but Igloofest is rare in that it takes place in the most brutal months of the Canadian winter.

Last year, 45,000 people braved the cold to dance to tunes spun by internationally-renowned disc jockeys, boxed in by giant screens splashed with colorful lights.

"The cold is exciting," said a young woman, out of breath, sporting ski goggles and a cap, resting on a snow-covered bean-bag chair and sheltered from icy winds by a half-igloo.

Photographs of revelers who choose to dress in costume - some as bears, or in 1980s-vintage ski wear, for example - are projected on video screens for all to see and vote for the best costume, with the winners offered an all-expenses-paid week for two at a local ski resort.

The first outdoor music festival Cournoyer held in the dead of winter five years ago was modestly successful, attracting about 2,000 over a single weekend.

In the past couple of years the event has grown dramatically.

"Over the past two years, we've hosted the event each Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights for three consecutive weeks in January," according to Cournoyer, who said about 50,000 participants are expected this year.

The event is sponsored by various energy drink bottlers and breweries that serve up drinks at ice bars. Consequently, one must be 18 years or older to buy a ticket to the event, which costs 12 dollars Canadian (12 dollars US).

Attending an outdoor dance party in winter can be risky in this country where the average temperature in January is minus 30 degrees Celsius (minus 22 degrees Fahrenheit.)

Still revelers at Igloofest for the most part, don't fear a cold snap, but a warm spell. Nothing puts a crimp in festivities as much as when temperatures rise above freezing, resulting in melting snow and creating havoc for organizers who must wait for temperatures to drop to rebuild their icy discotheque.

The event over the years has taken on an increasingly international nature, with about one in four merrymakers from locales outside of Montreal.

Igloofest attracts increasing numbers of Americans from the northeastern United States and even a few Europeans who sometimes purchase travel packages to revel in the brutal but exotic cold.

"These circumstances are rare, with blocks of ice everywhere and it's snowing!" delighted DJ dEbruit, born Xavier Thomas, who came here from France to perform for the crowd.

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