Nothing says “let it snow” like winter snow sport festivals, where freezing temperatures and blizzard-like conditions are reasons to celebrate. From skiing to snow sculpting to “polar bear” plunges, these festivals embody the joy of winter recreation. Our choices for the 10 best in North America combine spirited winter activities with scenic surroundings.
By Jayme Moye
WHERE: Aspen, Colorado
When: January 9-12, 2014
The 2014 Winterskol celebration marks its 63rd year, and Aspen’s popular winter carnival is showing no signs of slowing down. The new Fat Bike Race pits competitors riding bikes with extra-wide tires known as fatbikes against each other on a slippery, snow-covered course. As always, the Soupskol contest encourages Aspen’s world-class restaurants to duke it out over who can make the best soup.
Insider Tip: Winterskol is the only time Aspen offers night skiing, thanks to torches and fireworks lighting up the evening sky.
PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor's Aspen Guide
Ouray Ice Climbing Festival
WHERE: Ouray, Colorado
When: January 9-12, 2014
The biggest ice climbing festival in North America takes place every January in southwestern Colorado, in the small town of Ouray. Even if you have no interest in climbing, the park is a must-see with jaw-dropping walls of blue ice lining the rugged Uncompahgre Gorge. This year’s Ouray Ice Climbing Festival events include climbing competitions, demonstrations, clinics, presentations, films, and a gear expo.
Insider Tip: Brand-new beginners can try ice climbing on the 30-foot practice wall, known by locals as the Kids' Wall.
PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor's Ouray Guide
WHERE: Banff National Park, Alberta
When: January 10-February 9, 2014
SnowDays may be only three years old, but the new festival is off to an impressive start. Spanning 30 days and 361 events at various sites throughout Banff National Park, this year’s SnowDays features a send-off party for Canada’s Winter Olympics Team. Other highlights include a 40-foot ice-climbing wall erected in downtown Banff, the International Ice Carving Competition, and ongoing skating, skiing, snowshoeing, dog sledding, Geocaching, and sleigh rides.
Insider Tip: This is the festival to experience first-hand the quintessentially Canadian sports of curling and street ball hockey.
PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor's Banff National Park Guide
Stowe Winter Carnival
WHERE: Stowe, Vermont
When: January 18-February 2, 2014
Now in its 40th year, the Stowe Winter Carnival charmingly combines traditional snow sport competitions with one-of-a-kind events. All the typical favorites are there, like downhill ski races, ice hokey games, and a national ice carving competition, along with some unexpected surprises, like a snow volleyball tournament and snow golf. Children in Stowe appreciate the Kid’s Karnival, and adults cut loose to live music and dance parties in the evenings.
Insider Tip: The Stowe Winter Carnival is free, but expect to pay an entry fee for the sporting events.
PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor's Stowe Guide
International Snow Sculpture Championships
WHERE: Breckenridge, Colorado
When: January 21-February 2, 2014
For decades, snow-sculpting teams from all over the globe have descended on the ski resort town of Breckenridge to vie for top honors. Teams spend five days turning giant blocks of snow into art, creating an otherworldly outdoor gallery in the parking lot of the Riverwalk Center, just off the downtown main drag. Visitors are welcome to attend the International Snow Sculpture Championships at any point in the process; judging happens January 25.
Insider Tip: The final evening of competition (January 24) makes for the most memorable viewing as artists pull all-nighters perfecting their nearly completed masterpieces.
PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor's Breckenridge Guide
Carnaval de Quebec
WHERE: Quebec City, Quebec
When: January 31-February 16, 2014
Nobody does winter like the Québécois, whose annual Winter Carnival is one of the biggest on-snow parties on the planet. Ice sculpting contests and dog sled races abound, as do cups of caribou, a local libation made of maple syrup, red wine, and liquor. The marquis event is the Bota Bota Montréal Ice Canoe Challenge, where teams push/paddle their canoes across the iced-studded waters of the St. Lawrence River.
Insider Tip: That big white snowman walking around? That’s Bonhomme, the beloved Carnival Master. Be sure to tour his ice palace, a work of art that’s rebuilt each year.
PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor's Quebec City Guide
Whitefish Winter Carnival
WHERE: Whitefish, Montana
When: February 7-9, 2014
Every winter, Whitefish hosts what is arguably the defining small town snow sports festival in America. The Whitefish Winter Carnival is family-friendly, adventurous, and quirky. The essential event is the World Ski Joring Championships, scheduled for January 25 and 26, in which a horse pulls a skier at break-neck speed though a course punctuated by jumps.
Insider Tip: It’s free to spectate the ski joring, or better yet, enter the novice class and give it a try.
PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor's Whitefish Guide
North Lake Tahoe Snowfest
WHERE: Lake Tahoe, Nevada
When: February 28-March 9, 2014
Every spring for more than 30 years, the resorts on the north (and now west) side of Lake Tahoe come together to throw a 10-day winter sports extravaganza. Far from childhood summer vacation memories on the lake, the North Lake Tahoe Snowfest features an icy plunge (March 1) into the largest alpine lake in North America. Locals love the Tahoe Donner Ididarun (March 9), in which dogs pull covered sleds across a snow-covered course.
Insider Tip: Rahlves Banzai Tour, a rip-roaring ski/boarder-cross event created by former Olympian Daron Rahlves, makes a stop at the festival on March 8-9.
PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor's Lake Tahoe Guide
The World Ski and Snowboard Festival
WHERE: Whistler, British Columbia
When: April 11-20, 2014
It’s only fitting that the World Ski and Snowboard Festival take place at Whistler, one of the top resorts in North America and host of the 2010 Winter Olympics. The festival is the largest annual gathering of winter sports, free concerts, and mountain culture on the continent. Plus Whistler’s snow conditions are best in April, when the festival takes place.
Insider Tip: The resort offers generous lodging specials that coincide with the festival.
PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor's Whistler Guide