Now in its 65th year, the Whitefish Winter Carnival is beginning to ramp up as the Flathead Valley arrives in the heart of the winter season.
Conceived decades ago as a festive attempt to break up the long winter, one of the goals is to ensure the carnival doesn’t stray too far from its original purpose, according to Miriam Lewis, a co-chair on the all-volunteer board that helps organize the event.
The full Winter Carnival Schedule spans from Jan. 6 all the way to Feb. 4, marking almost a month of festive community events. This year’s theme is “The Greatest Show,” and promotional materials for the carnival have hewed to a circus-inspired design, although the theme is open to interpretation.
Kicking it all off on Jan. 6 is the Merry Maker, a comedy roast at the Whitefish Moose Lodge for which tickets sold out early, Lewis said.
On Jan. 13, the carnival’s coronation is scheduled for 7 p.m. at the O’Shaughnessy Center. That event serves as an unveiling for “King Ullr” and “The Queen of the Snows,” two community members selected to be official carnival royalty. After the coronation wraps up, the revelry will continue at the Great Northern Bar for the carnival’s annual disco party.
Starting at 9 p.m., the Whitefish Winter Carnival Disco Party is for people ages 21 and up. Attendees are encouraged to dress for the occasion and be ready to dance. Prizes will be given out for best costume. The cover charge is $15, and includes a button.
On Jan. 19 at the Whitefish High School at 7 p.m., the carnival’s royalty will grow its ranks. Between the girls and boys varsity basketball games will be the crowning of local high schoolers dubbed “Prince Frey” and “Princess Freya.” The selection process that takes place prior to the crowning involves applications and interviews.
On Jan. 21, Whitefish Mountain Resort will play host to the Slopeside Selfie Scavenger Hunt put on in coordination with Sotheby’s. A creation originally born of the carnival’s efforts to continue through the pandemic, the mountain-wide scavenger hunt challenges participants to take selfies with banners hidden across the slopes, and submit the results for a chance to win prizes. There will also be a gathering spot with drinks and snacks for participants.
On Feb. 2 at Whitefish Lake Restaurant, the carnival Gala will start at 6 p.m. The 21 and up event includes cocktails, and a silent auction and raffle, as well as a dinner starting at 7 p.m. Silent auction and raffle items have not been finalized yet, according to Lewis. Tickets for the event are available online only starting Jan. 15. The fundraising component of the gala goes towards paying off the cost of the carnival’s events, and also goes towards youth winter sports scholarships in the community, as well as scholarships for the high schoolers named Prince Frey and Princess Freya.
Feb. 2 also marks the start of Beer Curling, a new two-day event added to the carnival’s lineup this year. Planned for the Great Northern Bar, the qualifying round is from 2 p.m. to 6 p.m. on Feb 2, and from noon to 3 p.m. on Feb 3. The 21 and up, the competition is intended to be something like shuffleboard on ice but with Foster’s beer cans. Beer curling will take place weather permitting, and sign ups are open. Cash prizes will be given out to the top three teams.
Feb. 3 is the carnival’s signature event, the Grand Parade, which will include entries of all kinds. Parade registration is ongoing, and the cutoff is Jan. 19. Leading up to the parade’s 3 p.m. start are a number of other events.
The Penguin Plunge is planned for Whitefish City Beach is scheduled for 11 a.m. that day. Proceeds from the event go to Special Olympics Montana. This year the Penguin Plunge has a fundraising goal of $65,000 and as of Jan. 5 was sitting at almost $5,600 raised so far.
At 12:30 p.m., the carnival’s Pie Social starts at St. Charles Parish on Baker Avenue. Running until 3 p.m., homemade pie will be for sale. Coffee will be served, and the event usually features live music. Lewis described it as something of a sleeper event, in that it punches well above its weight but can go overlooked amid the rest of the day’s activities.
“The truth is, it’s a super fun event,” Lewis said, adding that it’s “well worth going to,” particularly for people who love pie.
A post-parade social starts at the Firebrand Hotel immediately after the parade’s end, and the Carnival wraps up on Sunday, Feb. 4, with a pancake breakfast at the Moose Lodge from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m.
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