Carnival Comes to Whitefish

By Beacon Staff

In early February, Whitefish expresses itself as only Whitefish can – through yetis, royalty, parades and a particularly chilly afternoon swim, among other festivities.

The 52nd annual Whitefish Winter Carnival, themed this year “Carnival Marvels at the Comics,” kicks off its main events on Feb. 4, 5 and 6, giving valley residents and visitors a chance to shake their cabin fever and mingle in the streets once again to celebrate a tradition as unique as the city.

Once Upon a Time, on Big Mountain…

The carnival tradition is 52 years old this winter, but local lore points to much deeper roots. According to festival legend, the Nordic god Ullr selected Big Mountain as his home after feeling unappreciated in his original domain overseas.

Members of the Whitefish Volunteer Fire Department warm up in the hot tub after braving the waters of Whitefish Lake during the annual Penguin Plunge in 2010.

However, Ullr soon realized he was not alone on the mountain after running into a band of yetis, who tried to steal his queen. The snowmen were unsuccessful, and future skirmishes were few and far between.

When humans moved into the valley, Ullr noticed that they appreciated snow sports and, after centuries of loneliness, he put on human clothes and joined them. Ullr helped drive the yetis away from the humans, and became their king. He decided that each year there would be a big party so his subjects could pay homage.

So, each winter, Ullr comes down from his frozen home on Big Mountain to celebrate with the humans in town, while a band of yetis tries to kidnap his queen and generally harass the celebrators, including Ullr’s prime minister.

Each year, the yetis are successfully driven off to their domain over the mountain and people in Whitefish are called to celebrate with their community.

Waiter, There’s a Yeti in My Hot Chocolate

Carnival attendees will not only see royalty, such as King Ullr and his Queen of the Snows, they will also meet some interesting characters at the public events.

Most notably, a band of yetis rambles through the crowds looking to play with anyone gathered at the event. While their main objective is to capture the queen, they also enjoy a good practical joke.

To protect the townspeople from the yetis, the Viking Divas patrol the streets, offering kisses and the “V” mark of protection. Carnival organizers suggest that young children who want the yetis to leave them alone get the protective mark from this good-natured group of ladies.

There is also a gaggle of penguin characters that wander around during carnival events. This friendly bunch enjoys taking pictures with the townspeople, and truly loves meeting Whitefish’s children.

Where the Action Is

Since driving off a pack of yetis is a definite cause for celebration, there are plenty of events scheduled from Jan. 28 through Feb. 6. Some events require a Winter Carnival button, which cost $3 and are available all over town, organizers say.

The skijoring competition, which consists of a horse pulling a skier around a track and through obstacles, begins Jan. 28 with registration. The action starts the following afternoon and ends on Jan. 30 with awards.

For more information on the competition, visit www.whitefishskijoring.com.

Whitefish resident Lori Collins is seen branded with the “Viking safety kiss” after the Penguin Plunge at Whitefish City Beach in 2010. A kiss from a Viking Diva helps protect the “townspeople” from the Yetis.

At the art walk, also beginning Jan. 28, 30 Whitefish merchants will feature artists’ work on display through Feb. 11.

Feb. 4

The schedule picks up during the carnival’s main weekend, beginning Friday, with the ball at Grouse Mountain Lodge and the Whitefish International Hockey Tournament, which runs all weekend at the Stumptown Ice Den.

Feb. 5

Start off with the kids’ carnival from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the Central School gym, which includes plenty of games geared toward the younger revelers.

Then, at 12:30 p.m., head to the City Beach on Whitefish Lake to watch brave swimmers take a dip in the frozen water during the Penguin Plunge, a fundraiser for Special Olympics. (Call 863-8888 to register.)

At 1 p.m., watch or participate as folks try to barter or perform for a year’s worth of Black Star beer at the Great Northern Brewery on Central Avenue. For participation, barter rules and regulations and more information, visit www.blackstartbeer.com/barter.

If pie is more your style, head to the pie social at St. Charles Catholic Church at 1 p.m.

Be sure to get a place on the sidewalk to watch one of the biggest events of the carnival, the Grand Parade, which takes place at 3 p.m. through downtown Whitefish. It includes floats, animals, carnival royalty and characters.

The Yeti Snowskate Jam also takes place all day at the park at Fifth Street and Central Avenue, and include various levels of competition and an open snowskate jam.

Finally, wrap up the day with the Winter Carnival Torchlight Parade and fireworks display at Whitefish Mountain Resort at 7 p.m.

Feb. 6

Wrap up the revelry with a Rotary pancake breakfast, beginning at 8 a.m. and running through 1 p.m., complete with all the popular breakfast fixings, for $7.

For more information, contact the Whitefish Chamber of Commerce at 406-862-3501 or visit www.whitefishwintercarnival.com.