Whitefish Winter Carnival Returns for 57th Year

The festival culminates with a parade, plunge and other events Feb. 5-7

By Clare Menzel
The Whitefish Winter Carnival. Beacon File Photo

Whitefish’s iconic Winter Carnival will wrap up just hours before the Denver Broncos face the Carolina Panthers in Super Bowl 50, where Kalispell’s own Brock Osweiler will make his Super Bowl debut as the Broncos’ backup quarterback. Fittingly, this year’s carnival theme is the Super Bowl.

“We’re looking forward to it,” said Paul Johnannsen, chairman of the Carnival Board. “Every year, we try to come up with a fun theme that will give people some great ideas to put together floats.”

Parade meister Suzanne Hyatt, who has overseen parade logistics for five years, says that she expects to see a lot of people in cheerleader costumes and football jerseys. But at least one group’s parade entry takes a unique interpretation of the theme – Glacier Bank will roll out on a “souper” float and accept donations to the food bank.

“Everybody’s getting involved (with the theme),” Hyatt said. For example, she continued, “Spay and Neuter is doing a dog versus cat football game. But I have no idea how they’re going to pull that off.”

There are also a few new groups with floats, like The Booze Brothers Kazoo Band and Beer Tasting and the children of LVII carnival royalty, who will debut, Hyatt said, “a miniature float with miniature people on it.”

In total, there will be nearly 90 unique floats. There are some mainstays, like the Miracle of America Museum in Polson, which has a float with an old Harley Davidson. Xanterra will also bring out the cherry red Glacier National Park buses.

“Everybody rallies really, really nicely,” Hyatt said. “It’s so much fun putting it together. It doesn’t matter if it’s raining or snowing or sunny, people come out and have a good, wholesome time.”

The Winter Carnival season began earlier this year with the crowning of Ray and Jerrie Boksich as the LVII Whitefish Winter Carnival King Ullr and Queen of the Snows. The carnival is built on the legend that the Nordic god of snow, Ullr, settled on Big Mountain and protected the valley’s human settlers from a vicious band of yetis.

Ray and Jerrie, who married in 1976, have long contributed to the local community, and have been involved with the carnival since the ‘70s. Ray has performed at the Merry Maker, the annual roast that kicks off the carnival, for over a decade, performing a piece called Prime on the Street where he pokes fun at the goings-on in Whitefish.

The couple first met at Muldown Elementary School in Whitefish where they were both teachers. Ray went on to serve on the Whitefish City Council and the park board, eventually becoming the mayor in the early 1990s. Jerrie, a winner of the national Milken Family Foundation Outstanding Teacher Award, has served as the president of both the local Northwest Reading Council and the Montana State Reading Council. They now volunteer weekly for the Meals on Wheels program at the Whitefish Community Center.

As King and Queen, the Boksichs attended the coronation of Prince Fray and Princess Freya, and presided over opening ceremonies at the World Invitational Ski Joring event held at the Whitefish Airport.

The two-day extreme skiing event began Jan. 30 at noon with the horseshoe-shaped track. Many valiant horses, riders, and skiers took on the curved course with 5-foot jumps, but Cody Smith and Joe Scanlon nabbed gold in the open division. Smith took second with Tim Guest, and Tyler Smedsrud and Mike Fredrickson rounded out third.
The competitors returned to the airport on Jan. 31 for the straight course, which is easier in that skiers don’t have to absorb whiplash from the rope, but harder in that skiers must collect rings from stations along the course. Every ring missed means a 5 second penalty, and in a race where the winner’s time can be just milliseconds faster than the second place team’s, missing a ring is hardly an option for the most competitive teams. Smedsrud and Tim McArttny came out on top, just ahead of Toby McIntosh and Scanlon. McIntosh and Guest took third.

Ski joring teams will make another appearance before the carnival is over. They’ll be at the Grand Parade to pull skiers down the snowy streets of downtown Whitefish, just one of many classic Northwest Montana spectacles that make this annual tradition so special.


Feb. 5

6 p.m. Gala at Whitefish Lake Golf Club Restaurant

Feb. 6

11 a.m. Penguin Plunge at City Beach

12:30 p.m. St Charles Pie Social at St Charles Catholic Church

3 p.m. Grand Parade in downtown Whitefish

Feb. 7

8 a.m. Rotary Pancake Breakfast at the Moose Lodge

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