Chill at These 6 Cool Winter Festivals
The winter festival is as old as time, a way to lighten the mood when days grow short and gray, temperatures plummet, and snow and ice make leaving home a chore. Northerners have long welcomed festivals of all kinds, from traditional tree lightings with caroling and hot cider to polar bear plunges. A crop of adventurous – and sometimes quirky – festivals have emerged featuring activities such as snowshoe baseball and snow golf.
Between January 17 and 25, professional ice carvers from around the country will gather adjacent to Stowe Mountain Lodge in Vermont for the Winter Carnival and National Ice Carving Competition. In addition to the pros, amateur carvers can hone their skills with ice and pick. Die-hard golfers compete in snow golf, which entails dressing in goofy costumes and hitting a tennis ball into flagged hula hoops scattered about the snowy golf course. Nearby, teams vie for bragging rights in volleyball matches played in the snow. For kids, there’s a playground made entirely from ice.
National Harbor, Maryland
Christmas on the Potomac is one of the most anticipated events in the nation’s capital. Hundreds of the world’s best ice sculptors, all hailing from Harbin, China, descend on the Gaylord National Resort to create ICE!, an attraction that re-creates a tale from a storybook – this year, Frosty, The Snowman – using 2 million pounds of colorful ice. Visitors are given protective parkas before they enter the enclosure, which is kept at a crisp 9 degrees. Photos with Santa, gingerbread decorating, miniature train rides, a 60-foot glass tree, indoor snow, and strolling DreamWorks characters round out the event, which runs from November 14 through January 4.
Adventure junkies with a sense of humor seek out Schuss Mountain Slush Cup Weekend in Bellaire, Michigan, which takes place each March. Skiers and snowboarders race across a 40-foot pond while sporting the most outlandish costumes they can create. Others wrap themselves in garbage bags and ride belly-down in the seal sled race. A sweeter side to the festival is the Fruity-Suity event, where contestants compete to see who can stuff the most fruit into their swimsuits before climbing out of a heated outdoor pool.
Frozen Dead Guy Days was inspired by a weird turn of events when a frozen corpse from Norway was deposited in the small mountain town of Nederland, Colorado, with the hope of establishing a cryonics facility. From this morbid event sprang a joyful – albeit unusual – one. In addition to a polar plunge (where participants must break through the ice before swimming), snowshoe racing, and snow sculpting, there are also coffin races and a frozen dead guy look-alike contest. This winter the festival runs March 13 through 15.
Cle Elum, Washington
Ever see a bride fly through the air on a snowboard? How about a Minion from Despicable Me taking to skis? If not, you haven’t been to the Dummy Downhill at Suncadia by Destination Hotels & Resort, about 90 minutes east of Seattle, Washington. In February (exact date depends on snowfall), you can watch costumed dummies ski or snowboard down a slope on the golf course. Stick around for an award ceremony full of antics before strapping on your cross-country skis and heading out onto the property’s 20 miles of trails.
Photo: Courtesy of Suncadia
Long, hard winters don’t get any longer or harder than in Alaska. Since the 1930s, folks in Anchorage have celebrated this stubborn season at Fur Rondy (short for Fur Rendezvous), the state’s biggest winter festival. This winter, from February 27 through March 8, classic diversions like dogsledding will be paired with hilarious events like the Running of the Reindeer (an icy version of Pamplona’s Running of the Bulls), along with games like snowshoe softball and outhouse races, where skis are strapped to porta-potties and teams race down a snowy two-lane road.
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