Winter Festivals 2013: Alpine Adventures and Family-Centric Fun

by  Blane Bachelor | Jan 18, 2013
Snowshoe walker in the snow
Snowshoe walker in the snow / Jag_cz/iStock

Temperatures may be chilly at the moment, but the winter festival scene is certainly heating up. Across North America, outdoor adventurers can choose from all sorts of snow-centric gatherings that feature everything from ice sculpting to costumed ski jump competitions to a lively pub crawl – on skis, of course.

Choose from any of these fun, family-friendly festivals for the perfect antidote to cabin fever.

The action starts this holiday weekend, with the fourth-annual Estes Park’s Winter Festival in Estes Park, Colorado, held January 18-21, which has become one of the fastest growing festivals in Colorado.

It’s ideal for families who don’t ski but still want to enjoy some fun in the snow, with live music, activities like an in-town scavenger hunt, and free snowshoeing in Rocky Mountain National Park, plus Colorado cuisine, craft beer, and wine – all set against the majestic backdrop of the Rocky Mountains.

This year, a toboggan run and a life-sized active snow globe have been added to the already lively mix, while macaroni and cheese and chili cook-offs, also new, offer the perfect antidote to hearty appetites worked up in the chilly weather. In addition, many lodging options are offering discounts, plus the third night free for Winter Festival guests.

Steamboat Springs Winter Carnival / Corey Kopischke

Another popular festival in Colorado, the Steamboat Springs Winter Carnival, which runs from February 6-10, will mark its 100th anniversary in 2013. The oldest winter carnival in Colorado, it’s a tribute to the area’s skiing and ranching heritage, while celebrating winter with activities such as ski races, a high-octane activity called skijoring, pictured to the left, a snow sculpture contest, snow tubing, live entertainment, and performances by the Steamboat Springs High School marching band – which does its thing on skis, the only marching band of its kind in the world.

And for those who march to a different beat altogether, Durango’s quirky annual festival, Snowdown, which runs from January 30-February 3, hits the mark. This year’s theme is “Get Your Geek On” iSnowdown 2.0.13, and the off-the-wall itinerary includes more than 60 unique events, from a torchlight parade, beard-growing contest, ski softball tournament, and Bed Race, topped off by a magnificent fireworks show. Costumes featuring the geek theme are highly encouraged, and the festival's website even features a hilarious Geeks page for inspiration.

Another funky, fun festival: Winter Safari in the historic town of Cedarburg, Wisconsin, about 20 minutes from Milwaukee. Held February 16-17, this wacky winter gathering always delivers, with unique events based on this year’s safari theme that include an ice-carving contest, a Wild Expedition parade, complete with pith-helmeted explorers, bush-jacketed safari guides, assorted wildlife, and safari-themed bed-racing teams, and a co-ed snowball tournament.

Farther north, Canada has plenty of killer festivals, but Quebec’s Winter Carnival is the granddaddy of them all this time of year. Claiming to be the world’s biggest carnival, which will be held February 1-17 this year, the fabulous, two-week fete includes dog-sled races, dances, ice sculptures, music, and parades; in other words, a nonstop party.

Yes, it’s cold – February temperatures in Quebec City rarely go above 20 degrees – but belly-warming beverages are flowing all festival long, especially mugs of Caribou, an alcoholic drink from the settler days. And don't miss a photo with the star of the show, Bonhomme, the world’s most adorable mascot as a plump, smiling snowman with a red stocking cap called a tuque.

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