One Fish, Two Fish, Carnival in Whitefish

58th annual winter tradition brings out the fun and charisma of small-town festivities

By Molly Priddy
The Whitefish Winter Carnival Grand Parade. Beacon File Photo

To new initiates, the Whitefish Winter Carnival may sound self-explanatory, given the name.

They may even get close with some ideas — wintery activities and maybe even a parade to go along with the fun. But the idea of a winter carnival merely scratches the surface of this event, which is more than half a century old and based on the idea that a little creativity and suspension of disbelief can go a long way to cure cabin fever.

Events for the carnival started in January, but its main weekend of festivities runs from Feb. 3-5. This year’s theme is “One Fish, Two Fish, Whitefish.”

Celebrating its 58th year this year, the carnival is what happens when people decide to go along with the fun, to laugh at the silly instead of retreating to cynicism, to gather with neighbors and community members they don’t see as much since the snow buried the valley.

And it all started with a legend.

The Legend

The Nordic god Ullr was lonely.

His subjects, the humans of the Nordic regions, were paying less homage to him and winter festivities now that the world was opening up. People were exploring elsewhere, and as a god, Ullr felt left out if he wasn’t celebrated.

Tired of being forgotten, Ullr trod the Earth in search of a home with his two loyal followers: the Queen of the Snows and the Prime Minister. When they found the Flathead Valley, however, the trio knew their journey was at an end. They fell for the beauty here, and made their home on Big Mountain.

But life here wasn’t without challenge, for the mountain was also home to a band of yetis who have an affinity for trying to kidnap the Queen. Both groups evolved, and soon were distracted from each other, because the humans of the valley had discovered winter sports and activities.

Ullr was thrilled, while the yetis were wary. The god wore human clothes and walked among them, helping them drive away the yetis. He became their hero, their king, and the subject of an annual festival for full homage.

The Reality

To celebrate the spinning of this tale, Whitefish residents elect a King and Queen for each festival — this year’s honors went to Ross Strauser as King Ullr LVIII and Sue Strauser as Queen of the Snows — as well as the Prime Minister (Nick Spear) and the Duchess of Lark (Renee Olson). Two Whitefish High School students are chosen each year as Prince Frey and Princess Freya.

Yetis — who, when out of costume, are beloved human volunteers — are a reality of the festival, with bands roving the streets trying to harass the Queen and the festivalgoers. Luckily for everyone, the Valkyries of Whitefish also roam, armed with red lipstick to mark your cheek and keep you safe from the yetis.

And for the littlest spectators, a waddle of gentle penguins will wander the streets to take pictures, give hugs, and revel in the winter air.

The festivities take center stage in the first weekend of February.

Schedule of Events

Feb. 3 – Friday

The Gala is the carnival’s kickoff, held at Whitefish Lake Restaurant. The Gala not only provides a lovely way to start the weekend’s festivities, but also supports the carnival. Tickets are $60, and available at the Whitefish Chamber of Commerce.

Pre-Penguin Plunge check-in runs from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. at First Interstate Bank.

Feb. 4 – Saturday

Penguin Plunge: 11 a.m.

Head to City Beach to watch the brave tackle the cold water in this annual tradition. Plungers raise money to benefit Special Olympics Montana and have contributed nearly $695,000 since 1999.

Pie Social: 12:30 – 3 p.m.

The challenge at the pie social is keeping your plate limited to one or two slices. Stop by St. Charles Parish at 230 Baker Ave. to buy some pie, and enjoy it with a cup of coffee to warm you before the parade.

Grand Parade: 3 p.m.

Here’s where the carnival’s theme really kicks in. Enjoy floats designed to exude “One Fish, Two Fish, Whitefish.” A fun, family-friendly time, set yourself up on the sidewalk for a great view or belly up to the bar at any of the local watering holes along the route. And as the signature sponsor for the carnival this year, the Firebrand Hotel will host an event following the parade to celebrate the hotel’s grand opening and the carnival.

For more information on the Whitefish Winter Carnival, visit www.whitefishwintercarnival.com.

Feb.5 – Sunday

Head over to the Nordic Center at the Whitefish Lake Golf Course for the Glacier Nordic Club’s Whitefish Winter Carnival weekend Classic and Ski Race, taking place for the first time in years. Races include a 1K, 4K, and 12K, starting at 9 a.m. Costumes are encourage. For more information, visit www.glaciernordicclub.com.

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