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The Best Winter Festivals of 2017

BY: MADDIE FREEMAN | 11.29.2016 |

Group of Adult Friends Attend Outdoor Winter Festival in Daytime

Despite frosty temperatures and forbidding snowdrifts, winter festivals encourage communities to gather outdoors and stave off cabin fever together. So put down that mug of cocoa, pause that binge-watching marathon, and get ready for rosy cheeks with our roundup of 2017’s best winter festivals in North America.

Traditional winter carnivals

Happy Family Sledding Outdoors in Winter

The grandaddy of wintertime fests

The Saint Paul Winter Carnival dates back to 1886 and stands as what might be the longest-running comeback to an insult ever. After a reporter claimed that the often-frigid Minnesota city was unfit for habitation, planners cooked up this civic thumb-nosing to the delight of St. Paulites. Since then, the fest has grown into a rambunctious two-week affair.

  • If you have four hours: Take your time wandering Rice Park, the carnival’s hub, for twinkling ice sculptures and live music. Depending on the day, you could also take in a parade, disc-golf competitions, or the cuteness vortex that is the Saintly City Cat Show.
  • If you have one hour: Make a beeline to the Ice Palace, the centerpiece of the carnival. Each year, local architects bid for the honor of designing the monuments to icy ingenuity—a tradition that dates back to the founding of the carnival.

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For fur trappers and dog sledders

For most people, two hours of sunlight and nothing but snow seems like a recipe for lethargy. For the good people of Anchorage, Alaska, it’s the raw material for creating a blowout winter festival. The Fur Rendezvous—affectionately known as Fur Rondy—has been celebrating Alaska’s cultural and sporting history since 1935 with the help of real-life reindeer and the biggest fireworks bonanza in Alaska.

  • If you have four hours: Grab a hot beverage and stake out a spot along the 25-mile dogsled route to watch mushing teams race by. They’ll complete the route three times over three days, racking up a total of 75 miles.
  • If you have one hour: Take a spin on the Century Wheel for magical views of the Rondy Carnival's midway lights. But if you’re feeling a little more playful, catch the Outhouse Races—think bobsled races, only with skis strapped to toilets.
  • While you’re in the neighborhood: Take in a little of the Anchorage nightlife, whether that translates to a concert by the University of Alaska orchestra or a plate of classic comfort food at one of the many surrounding lodges.

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Winter sports festivals

Female Ski Jumper

Chills and thrills in the Rocky Mountains

Right in the heart of ski territory, Steamboat Springs, Colorado, has been hosting its Winter Carnival for more than a hundred years. Spread over five days, the fest celebrates all things downhill with a signature blend of athleticism and spectacle.

  • If you have four hours: Sign your child or yourself up (in advance) for some of the weekend street events, all of which involve people being pulled down snowy streets by horses, dogs, or their dads. We recommend the Shovel Race (18+), in which contestants try to remain seated on a shovel that has been tied to a galloping horse (!). 
  • If you have one hour: Wait for the Winter Carnival Night Extravaganza to see skiers with flares zip down the mountainside, creating trails of light, and jump through flaming hoops. Look for the Lighted Man—a skier outfitted with a light-wrapped suit and poles, with roman candles strapped to his back—to signal the start of a climactic fireworks show.
  • While you’re in the neighborhood: Get in on the action yourself (minus the pyrotechnics) by skiing or snowboarding some of Colorado’s world-class slopes.

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Ice carving and snow sculpture festivals

Ice Sculpting

Temporary masterpieces created in real time

The Ice on Whyte festival in Edmonton, Alberta, showcases masterpieces carved entirely from blocks of ice. Artists from all over the world sculpt more than 50 tons of ice into realistic, larger-than-life statues.

  • If you have four hours: Watch local artists in action during the Three Block Challenge, which takes place during the festival’s final weekend. Each two-person team gets 10 hours and three blocks of ice to create something magical.
  • If you have one hour: Grab a hot cocoa and play I Spy amid the completed sculptures. Past creations have included a praying mantis, a leopard (complete with spots), and a roaring lion.
  • While you’re in the neighborhood: Relive summer fun in the icy heart of winter at Galaxyland—a massive indoor water park and carnival whose neo-Victorian touches are guaranteed to charm away the winter blues.

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There’s no business like snow business

Breckenridge, Colorado, is host to the annual Budweiser International Snow Sculpture Championships, where visitors can see the process of creating snow sculptures from start to finish. The snow blocks are packed together by pros and volunteers during Technical Week, then given a couple days to settle. Teams of builders then spend days constructing their masterworks.

  • If you have four hours: Catch the last night of Sculpting Week. As the clock ticks down, teams works furiously to pull off their grand designs. Artists generally stay up all night perfecting details and adding finishing touches amid a celebratory atmosphere and crowds cheering them on.
  • If you have one hour: Trade ice for fire and visit the Fire Arts Festival—a fest-within-a-fest that features fiery performances, fire-craft demos, and flaming scuptures. With just an hour to spend, you can certainly make time for the latter (we particularly recommend the Jabberwock and fire robots). 
  • While you’re in the neighborhood: Take in gorgeous mountain vistas during a drive up the Boreas Mountain Pass, or spend a few hours on a horse-drawn open sleigh ride from Breckenridge Stables.

Icewine festivals

Group of Friends at Outdoor Winter Festival

Food festival at Niagara Falls

The Niagara Falls Icewine Festival in Niagara Falls, Ontario, pairs the sweet dessert wine—along with reds and whites from local vintners—with gourmet bites from top chefs. A party atmosphere, complete with live music, permeates the largest icewine fest in Canada.

  • If you have four hours: General admission is good for 3 hours of tasting—but with a VIP pass, you can get a full 4-hour experience. That's plent of time to learn about your favorite samples. Representatives from more than 20 wineries are on hand and eager to chat about everything from growing processes to aging. Just be sure to save room for culinary treats like coldwater lobster carpaccio.
  • If you have one hour: It would be silly to let those extra hours of winetasting go to waste! But if you are pressed for time, limit your sampling to the icewines, then head outside for some fresh air and ice scuptures at the Icewine Winter Wonderland.
  • While you’re in the neighborhood: As the honeymoon capital of the Midwest and North Atlantic, Niagara Falls has more or less perfected the art of the couples massage. Keep the romance going by winding down after the festival in a private massage suite with your partner.

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