January 28, 2009 in Awayfinder destinations

Celebrate 50 Years of the Whitefish Winter Carnival

Renee Sande Awayfinder Correspondent
 
The Spokesman-Review photo

Penguin Plunge
(Full-size photo)

Are the grey skies and winter doldrums getting to you? They also got to the “Dirty Dozen”—a group of Whitefish, Mont., residents, who in 1960, decided to stir things up a bit.

The result was a big, little Whitefish Winter Carnival that would eventually turn the town completely upside down with crazy cold-weather events such as the Penguin Plunge and the Yeti Snowskate Jam—one of the biggest of its kind in the United States! Throw in a festive Frivolity Ball and a Torchlight Parade and Fireworks show on Big Mountain, and you have a weekend of amusing entertainment, delicious food, and anything but the doldrums.

Loosely likened to the St. Paul, Minn., Winter Fest and other festivals held throughout the Northwest, the first Whitefish Carnival opened with a torchlight parade on Big Mountain on a Friday and ended the next day with a 10-minute parade made up mostly of “Cub Scouts, fire engines, and a few corny floats,” according to local accounts.

Things have changed somewhat in the 50 years since that first weekend. For one, the fun actually starts building the second week in January with special events sprinkled here and there before culminating in a flurry of activity on the Carnival weekend Feb. 6-8 this year.

Also, with the population of Whitefish now doubled since 1960, activities haven’t only increased in quantity but quality as well, such as the Whitefish International Hockey Tournament on the same dates. Eight teams from the U.S and Canada will compete in a hot and heavy display, as avid amateurs go at it with former collegiate and NHL players, the likes of which, I’m sure, makes King Ullr very happy.

You’re not familiar with the fable of King Ullr, the “God of Winter?” Well, let me divulge.

It is told that King Ullr lived in the mountains above Whitefish, where he enjoyed peace and tranquility in which he could reign over his kingdom. However, one winter he discovered a fierce band of snowmen, called the Yetis, who occupied the same territory and the skirmishes soon began. These yetis were very resourceful and at times would steal King Ull’rs Queen, the Queen of Snows. Although he was always able to rescue her in the end, King Ullr’s quest to be rid of the Yetis quickly grew.

Eventually man invaded the valley and began to enjoy the sport of winter, which gave King Ullr great pleasure. So he went among these men and asked their assistance in driving the Yetis away. They obliged and were eventually crowned the King’s royal court. To show his gratitude, he declared that there be an annual carnival held in honor of his royal court so that due homage could be bestowed upon them.

King Ullr and his court continued to grow in numbers so that soon they subdued the Yetis and once again the King reigned over the sport of winter, beloved in the hearts of his loyal subjects.

But King Ullr and his Queen have since gone on to their place of rest, and it was decided that Whitefish residents would carry on their name and spirit by electing a new court each year, including a new Prime Minister, Duchess of Lark, Herald the Hark, Prince and Princess, and King and Queen.

And making their appearance at the Frivolity Ball—the Carnival’s finest hour—Friday, Feb. 6, these royal subjects will mingle with residents dressed in their best and ready to enjoy a night of fables, frivolity and fairytales.

The ball is the major fundraiser for the Carnival, responsible for keeping the snowball rolling, so to speak. Featured this year, along with a lovely dinner, will be a silent auction of memorabilia from throughout the years, famous art works, a word or two from the Royal Court, and a classic string quartet along with music from each of the five decades for all to enjoy. Gala dinner tickets are $40 and available through the Whitefish Chamber of Commerce.

And on Saturday, Feb. 7, is the big Whitefish Winter Carnival Parade down Main Street with various colorful and festive costumes, including The Yetis, The Vikings, and The Klumsy Klowns. Some all-star appearances will also be made by the Budweiser Clydesdales, famous grand marshals, and The Old Guard Fife and Drum Corps—the Army’s official ceremonial unit in the nation’s capital.

Head up to the Whitefish Mountain Resort on Big Mountain that night at 7 p.m. for a beautiful display of lights at the Winter Carnival Torchlight Parade & Fireworks Display.

And on Sunday the Rotary Pancake Breakfast @ 8 a.m. is “to-die-for!” And what a way to start your day, especially if you’ll be heading back up the mountain to get a little more ski time in before you head home.

So pack your snow gear, jump in your car and head for bluer skies, at least for the weekend. And even if they aren’t blue when you get there, you’ll be enjoying yourself too much to notice!


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