Banish Winter Woes with Festivals!

By HOLLY ENDERSBY

I love the crazy, busy time of all the holidays in December and look forward to them every year. But January and February loom bleakly in the future, just when days are dark and spring seems a long way off. Solution to the deep winter doldrums? Why festivals, of course! Here’s a short list of some to sample this winter.

FIRE AND ICE WINTERFEST always held the first full weekend of February, shows that the Idaho town of Lava Hot Springs knows how to throw a party! Beginning this year on Friday, Feb. 2 with wine tasting, and moving on to a family friendly movie at the indoor pool (bring your flotation toys), bingo and a comedy night show, the event is off to a great start. Saturday brings the Superhero Endurance Swim at the indoor pool; a children’s water carnival; a polar float parade, requiring daring entrants to float down the bone-chilling Portneuf River, in costume preferably; a chili contest and tasting; a torch light parade with skiers from Lava Flow Fire zipping down the mountain with glowing torches, followed by performances of dance, acrobatics, and music with fire. Saturday’s last event is the ever-popular Casino Night for Twenty-one and Texas Hold ‘Em. Sunday wraps up with the not-to-be-missed Running of the Bulls, showcasing the daring, and just plain crazy, running down Main Street in swimsuits and flip flops as they head to the finish line and a long hot springs soak.

WHITEFISH WINTER CARNIVAL has something for everyone. Two days before the main festival, the town of Whitefish, Mont., hosts the world Skijoring Championships. This event involves horses or mules pulling skiers behind them on a course, including launching them over jumps. It’s great fun to watch, so come early, and enjoy this unique competition. The festival begins in earnest February 2, and a hockey tournament will be in full swing throughout the weekend as will the annual ski races. Ice sculpting is an ever-popular event as is the notorious Penguin Plunge, where normally sane people jump into freezing Whitefish Lake. Food is not to be ignored this weekend, either. The Carnival starts with a Gala Friday night at the Whitefish Lake Restaurant, and the following day features a delicious pie social. Try eating just one slice…bet you can’t!

This year marks the 53rd WINTER CARNIVAL IN MCCALL, IDAHO, and organizers are keeping their fingers crossed that everything will be in place for an Iditarod qualifying race. The route and final plans are being firmed up, so keep an eye on their website for updates. Twelve dog teams are expected to run over approximately 150 miles, depending on the final route. The festival runs from the last weekend of January through the first weekend of February and is wildly popular, so make hotel bookings as soon as possible. The first Friday features the opening ceremony, a kid’s torchlight parade, and spectacular fireworks over beautiful Payette Lake. The Mardi Gra Parade is Saturday as are the snowbike races. Both weekends feature live music at various venues. Sunday’s benefit for McPaw’s, the local dog and cat shelter, has a hilarious monster-dog pull contest, featuring every weight class imaginable. Dogs of various sizes pull weighted sleds on marked lanes on the lake with all the registration money going to McPaw’s. Yearly favorites like the Polar Plunge benefit for the local fire department and the popular Monte Carlo night are big draws. The Idaho State Snow Sculpting Competition brings thousands of visitors to see the fantastic frozen art. In addition, the snow sculptures scattered around businesses in town are a special treat every year. There are many other activities and events during the two weeks of the carnival, so be sure to check their website for more information.

Moving away from snow-centric events, Lewistown, Mont., hosts the 73rd MONTANA WINTER FAIR, where all things agricultural are on display. The third weekend in January brings those who love the agricultural life to enjoy a host of activities, from the popular fiddle contest, a hotly contested chili cook-off, a Dutch-oven cooking competition, a snowmobile “shootout,” and a home-brew tasting. Every year kids compete in the Youth Feeder Steer and All Breed Heifer Show while events like Team Sorting focus on skills ranchers need. Dogs are put through their paces in the Canine Good Citizen Dog Show. Equestrians will be happy to know a Natural Horsemanship Clinic will be at this year’s fair. Annual events include the quilt show, photography show, fiber arts show, and pinewood derby. The Lewistown Bow Hunters are hosting a fun shoot. Be sure to mark January 25-28 on your calendar.

The SANDPOINT WINTER CARNIVAL in northern Idaho has a unique focus on music of all types and runs February 16-25. Allthough people flock to the various outdoor events—like the ever-popular K-9 Keg Pull, and Schweitzer Ski Resort’s kid’s parade, fireworks, and snowshoeing hikes—the amazing music options are the main draw. Every day of the festival offers at least one music venue, often paired with wine, beer, and good food. Some activities are for those 21 and older, such as the Valentine’s Day Singles Speed Dating event in the Beer Hall, followed by a rousing and hilarious Cards Against Humanity tournament. At last count, 27 musical offerings are on the agenda, ranging from jazz to rock to reggae to classical. A vaudeville production, complete with dinner, is an event supporting the Bonner County History Museum and requires reservations, so don’t delay: it will sell out. A Parade of Lights is held on the 17th, complete with outrageous floats, marching groups, and, of course, snow shovel brigades. MickDuff’s Brewing Company hosts the annual Cornhole Tournament on the 18th, and the 25th features the Winter Beerfest and Pub Crawl. Pair that with wine tasting at the Pend O’Reille Winery, and you have the makings of a terrific winter carnival.

SNOFLINGA, January 18-21 in Butte, Mont., is this city’s answer to the winter blues. The town’s 400-meter outdoor skating oval, the High Altitude Skating Center, features free skating for all on Friday evening. Rental skates are available for a small fee. The next day features Elementary Kids Skate Races. The Homestake Lodge in nearby Whitehall is the site of free Nordic ski lessons on Saturday as well as open skiing from all day, with an afternoon snowshoe tour that meets at the lodge. The Homestake Lodge features 35 kilometers of groomed tracks, including 15 kilometers of dog-friendly skiing. The Mountain Con Mine features a 5k fun run and 1k kids run on Saturday as well. Sunday brings festival goers back to Whitehall in the morning for adult and youth Nordic racing. Skyline Park in Butte is the place to go for the Fat Bike Races and demos: if you haven’t tried bike riding in the snow, then be sure to check out this event. Butte’s youth hockey team, the Copper City Kings, offers hockey demonstrations and lessons throughout the weekend as well as an exhibition of curling. So, for all things snow, head to Butte and SnoFlinga!

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