With ‘Fire and Ice’ Theme Honoring First Responders, Whitefish Winter Carnival Nears Kickoff

Even after more than six decades, having fun in the heart of winter is still a core component of the carnival

By Mike Kordenbrock
The Whitefish Winter Carnival Parade in downtown Whitefish on Feb. 5, 2022. Photo by Jessie Mazur

The early January start of the 64th Whitefish Winter Carnival is drawing near and this year the multi-week celebration will take place under a “Fire and Ice” theme that pays tribute to first responders, including firefighters and search and rescue personnel, who provide help and critical aid during the seasonal weather extremes characteristic of life in northwest Montana.

Miriam Lewis, the co-chair of the carnival, described how it’s not uncommon for carnival organizers to settle on a theme that pays tribute, like this year’s version dedicated to Montana’s first responders, but that during other years (like 2021’s 80s-themed carnival) the theme might just highlight something fun.

“The fact is we’ve got these extreme seasons and we have a lot of people that we rely on to help us through those,” Lewis said.

Regardless of the theme, having fun in the heart of winter is still a core component of the carnival, and it’s what Lewis pointed to as the original motive for the event’s inception more than 60 years ago. There is, however, another component that she said sometimes gets overlooked amid the revelry.

“Most people think the carnival is just a big party, and it is a big party, that’s how it originated, that’s the original reason that it happened. The founders intended it to be a breakup for our long winters,” she said.

Lewis added, though, that after expenses are calculated, whatever proceeds remain are distributed in the community through scholarship programs to Whitefish Parks and Recreation, Big Mountain Ski Club, Glacier Nordic Club, Glacier Skate Academy, Glacier Hockey Association and DREAM Adaptive.

Last year’s carnival marked a shift back to the in-person festivities the festival was originally built around, after a year in which the carnival went remote amid the pandemic.

“It really, truly felt like it was a true return,” Lewis said. “It definitely felt like, ‘Yeah, we’re back.’”

The opening of this year’s carnival begins with the Merry Maker on Jan. 7 at the Whitefish Moose Lodge, which is described on the carnival website as “A bawdy adults-only good time” including “a hearty roast of Whitefish and current events.”

The unveiling of this year’s festival royalty who will take on the titles of King Ullr and the Queen of the Snows is planned for Jan. 14 at 7 p.m. at the O’Shaughnessy Center.

On Jan. 14 at 9 p.m. at the Great Northern Bar, the Whitefish Winter Carnival Disco Party will kick off. The event is 21 and up and there is a $15 cover charge. The disco party offers attendees a chance to dust off some retro dance moves and awards prizes for best costume.

Between the Whitefish girls and boys varsity basketball games at Whitefish High School, Prince Frey and Princess Freya will be crowned Jan. 21 at 7 p.m.

On Jan. 29 starting at 10:30 a.m. at Whitefish Mountain Resort, the carnival will open up its Slopes, Sovereigns, and Sotheby’s mountain-wide scavenger hunt. Scavenger hunt participants will be on the lookout for eight banners with images of six Winter Carnival Royalty members, as well as a yeti and penguin. Upon discovery, participants should take a selfie with their find. The Whitefish Mountain Resort scavenger hunt is actually a product of the virtual shift the carnival took at one point during the pandemic. Lewis, the carnival co-chair, said that it’s been kept as part of the annual lineup because of the fun people have had participating, and it incorporates the mountain, and skiing, which she called “one of our most important winter activities.”

The peak of the carnival begins Friday, Feb. 3, with the Carnival Gala at 6 p.m. at Whitefish Lake Restaurant. The following morning, on Saturday, Feb. 4, at 11 a.m., the Penguin Plunge into Whitefish Lake will take place. After the Penguin Plunge, St. Charles Parish will host the Pie Social with pie and coffee for sale from 12:30 p.m. until 3 p.m. At 3 p.m., the carnival’s Grand Parade will get going. The event features a variety of floats and the Post-Parade Social at the Firebrand Hotel is planned for right after the parade ends.

The next morning the Whitefish Moose Lodge will be serving up pancakes for the Rotary Pancake Breakfast from 8 a.m. until 1 p.m. The carnival will draw to a close Feb. 15 at noon at First Interstate Bank with the Grand Prize Button Drawing, with prize options of a 2023-24 ski pass donated by Whitefish Mountain Resort or $200 donated by Great Northern Bar and Grill.

More information on events and tickets can be found at whitefishwintercarnival.com.