If you’re looking for an adventure in the snow this winter and a way to celebrate all things cold, then now’s the time to make your plans, book a flight and find a nice warm hotel to escape the chill. Unless you’re booking into an ice hotel, that is!
We’ve got 10 suggestions for the best and weirdest winter festivals in North America to help you plan ahead for the new year:
Where: Ottawa, Ontario, Canada
Winterlude, held in Canada’s capital city, is the place to go if you’d like to hang out in the North America’s largest snow playground, snowflake kingdom, or skate on the world’s largest skating rink, on the Rideau Canal.
Where: Whistler, British Columbia, Canada
This festival might be home to the World Skiing Invitation and the AF World Tour Finals, but if you think this festival is limited to snow sports, you’re sadly mistaken. Oh no, this is a full on nine day party across multiple sports, and venues. There’s a music festival happening, with everything from free concerts to all night parties. There’s an arts fest complete with film screenings, photographic exhibitions, comedy shows and more. In addition to the expected snow sports, you’ll find roller derby, motorcross and a dog fest.
Technically, this festival happens in the spring, but you’ll still find plenty of winter at Whistler in April. The ski hill doesn’t close until around the first of June.
Where: Québec City, Québec, Canada
Since this is the first winter I’ve spent back in Canada in 23 years, I’m celebrating with this festival. I’ve already got nights booked at the iconic Chateau Frontenac and I intend to get back to my Canadian roots in proper style this February.
Stay in the historic district and everything will be within walking distance.
Where: Gatineau to Montebello, Québec, Canada
If you’re into Nordic skiing (cross-country) then this is the ultimate North American event. There are no winners, and no losers, because it’s not a race, but it is an endurance test worthy of the giants. Do you have what it takes to be a Courer des Bois?
Where: St. Paul, Minnesota
If size matters, then this is the winter festival to attend. It’s the nation’s biggest winter party, and it’s the oldest as well. It was started as a rebuttal to a New York reporter who disparagingly compared the city to Siberia and declared it unfit for habitation. In typical northern style, the Minnesotans set out to prove him wrong.
Where: Steamboat Springs, Colorado
This is the oldest winter carnival west of the Mississippi and the residents of Steamboat Springs are proud of it. It’s also one of the craziest! Skiers jump through fiery hoops. People ride shovels down the main street, pulled by horses at a gallop. Then there’s the guy who ends the night skiing extravaganza by skiing down the big hill wrapped in Christmas lights with Roman candles firing out of his backpack. Yes. Really.
Where: Breckenridge, Colorado
Sculpture Viewing: Jan.30-Feb 7 2016
Sponsored by Budweiser, the sculpting and judging happens one week, the viewing the following week. Weather permitting, of course. Teams of expert snow carvers converge, from all over the world, to compete in the ultimate winter arts exhibition on the planet. They start with identical blocks of packed snow and what emerges is truly breathtaking.
Last year, Lithuania emerged victorious with a piece that spoke to our perilous times and global climate change. Germany took silver and the USA bronze.
The International Snow Sculpture Championships run concurrently with Ullr Fest, a Viking themed winter festival with lots of crazy fun for folks of all ages. Oh, and since it’s Breckenridge, you could also ski!
Fur Rendezvous (a.k.a. Fur Rondy)
Where: Anchorage Alaska
Where better to celebrate winter than in Alaska? For 81 years the Fur Rendezvous (Fur Rondy) has been Anchorage’s answer to a winter that lasts longer than anywhere else in the USA. Originally, it was organized to coincide with the time when trappers brought their pelts into town, hence the name.
Now, the party includes fewer exhibits put on by the Trapper’s Association, a blanket toss, skating, outhouse races, the running of the reindeer (think bulls & Pamplona) softball played in snowshoes, the trappers & miner’s ball, and of course, sled dog races.
This one’s on my bucket list.
Where: Sandy Point State Park, Annapolis, MD
What is a polar bear plunge? It’s classic mid-winter fun (madness?) in the northern parts of the world. Leaping into the ocean, or through holes cut in the ice, plungers take a dip when most of us are wrapped up by a fire.
Maryland’s Plunge Fest, in support of the athletes of Special Olympics Maryland, is one of the biggest. In 2013 they reported over 25,000 plungers. That’s a special kind of crazy for a very good cause.
This year they aim to raise 2,000,000. It’s a Maryland tradition!
Where: Walker, Minnesota
What is an eelpout, you may ask? A very nasty looking bottom dwelling fish and there are plenty in Leech Lake. Every winter for the past 37 years the tiny town of Walker, MN has welcomed more than ten thousand fisherman to try their luck ice fishing. The motley community of bob houses and pickup trucks that mark the holes through which anglers try their luck is impressive.
“All fish entered must come from Leech Lake watershed. Contestants agree to submit fish sample for DNA testing. A lie-detector test will also be used and if the eelpout fails, one will be administered to the angler.”
If you’re interested in attending, the organizers encourage you:
“Don’t forget to sign up for The 4th Annual Eelpout Beer Pong Tournament”
Beer pong, holes in the ice and men in pickup trucks: what could possibly go wrong?
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