For more than 60 years, the Whitefish Winter Carnival has brought community members out of their homes during the cold, gray days of midwinter to the city’s center for a snowy parade, skijoring, broom hockey and much more to break up the winter and bring some life to downtown.
But as the pandemic continues to cancel and modify events around the globe, the carnival, too, will have only a virtual presence from Feb. 5-7, a first since it began in 1960.
“There’s never been a time when we’ve gone virtual before, but there’s a first for everything,” Whitefish Winter Carnival Board President Josh Akey said. “We’ve really used this year to focus on our social media presence as well as our website.”
To maintain some winter carnival spirit while keeping the community safe, the board canceled the normal festivities but created a set of “Survivor” themed challenges to represent the past year. Challenges include trivia, painting, songwriting and quilting.
Many events partnered with carnival sponsors, like a bubble challenge where contestants guess how many bars of soap Sage & Cedar sold last year. Most challenges are open to all ages, but some, like the Freya’s Art Gallery challenge, is categorized by age groups. Prizes for challenges include gift cards, Survivor buffs and more.
Several artists have already submitted songs for the songwriting challenge, and Akey was surprised to see out-of-area submissions in addition to local artists.
While some challenges have already closed, Akey says more are on the way as the carnival approaches.
Despite the absence of a parade this year, there will still be a float out and about downtown, with carnival royalty spreading frivolity.
There would normally be a new royal court this year, including a fresh king, queen, duchess and prime minister, but since carnival members didn’t travel to other events like usual, the court was extended one more year. The court typically travels to other festivities, from St. Patrick’s Day in Butte to the Calgary Stampede, to promote Whitefish.
“We’d go as a representative of Whitefish,” Prime Minister Marcus Duffey said. “It’s kind of a whole entourage of people promoting Whitefish.”
Akey says the carnival typically draws crowds ranging from 5,000 to 7,000 people from around and outside of the Flathead Valley, and while the event is virtual this year, the board is excited to be able to offer something for the community.
“We’ve found that people are craving the winter carnival, and so we’ve got a lot of traffic going to our website and a lot of people are voting,” Akey said. “There’s certainly disappointment but people understand why we’re doing it this way.”
“The intent of the winter carnival 60-plus years ago was to break up an overcast, dreary time of year for our little town,” Akey added.
“This year, we’re trying to find some way to keep with that intent because obviously 2020 was a rough year.”
For more information and to sign up for challenges, visit www.whitefishwintercarnival.com.
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