Winter Carnivals and Festivals

Since the late 19th century, when winter festivals became a way for citizens to come together during the short, grey days, they’ve helped foster community spirit. Today, winter festivals also provide impetus for city-dwellers to visit or even consider relocating (so they can hang around talking about ski conditions, just like the locals). Here are a few regional winter-happy places to consider.

By Steven Threndyle


Fernie/Fernie Alpine Resort
At Fernie Alpine Resort, skiers and snowboarders believe in the Legend of the Griz, the story of an old mountain coot clad in a bearskin coat and hat who fires his musket and shoots down powder from the clouds. And each March, this Grizzly Man is celebrated in a three-day event of skiing, partying, dancing, parades and the famous Dummy Downhill race (teams build “dummies” from any manner of houshold objects and materials, and then let ’em fly off a huge jump built adjacent to the Timber Chair). Dummies are judged based on their construction, creativity, the distance they fly off the jump and the carnage factor when they land.
Did you know? Fernie is the only city in B.C. that is completely surrounded by the Canadian Rockies.
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Sun Peaks Resort
B.C. winter resorts go all out for New Year’s Eve (which means that the slopes on New Year’s Day are virtually deserted until noon). At Sun Peaks, the action gets underway with the First Flight Big Air Invitational in the Terrain Park, followed by the Kids Glow Stick Parade on the village platter learning area. The Sundance ski glows with colours as skiers and boarders descend with lit torches in hand during the famous Torchlight Parade. The grand finale is a spectacular Fireworks Show against the snowy trails of Tod Mountain. Take it all in at the base of the Sundance Express chairlift, just outside of the Village Day Lodge, and stroll over to the base of the advanced terrain park for the invitational.
Did you know? A resort shuttle service will get you safely home (last ride is at 1:55am).
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Photo courtesy Sun Peaks Resort


What’s more Canadian than a dogsledder mushing his huskies down a snow-packed trail? This multi-sport event is held over three days, during which dogsledders actually get sworn in as official Canada Post mail carriers and must safely transport envelopes from Quesnel to Wells to Barkerville. Teams of dogs (up to six in a team) come from as far away as Alaska to test their mettle along roads and trails that were first used by gold miners coming through the Fraser Canyon and up to the Cariboo Gold Fields at Barkerville, a fully-restored heritage town. Cross country skiers, snowshoers and runners are invited to take part in the Barkerville Dash on the final day.
Did you know? Dog sled drivers are known as “mushers.”

Dog Sled Mail Run. Photo courtesy Cariboo Chilcotin Coast Tourism Marketing Association


Rossland/RED Mountain
In one of the finest tricks ever played on a group of partygoers, 120 years ago, Norwegian miner Olaus Jeldness held a “tea party” atop Red Mountain. Ladling out grog to the many attendees, he then had them strap on primitive wooden slats for the wobbly descent back into town. Thus, the Rossland Winter Carnival was born (though skiers around these parts have become more proficient since then). It now features a variety show, a parade night, a bobsled run down Spokane Street, a snow sculpture contest and a downtown rail jam, featuring some of Rossland’s hottest skiing talent.
Did you know? The Jeldness tea party started in 1898, which local boosters claim makes Rossland’s Winter Carnival Canada’s oldest.
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Red Mountain. Photo Marc James


Whistler Blackcomb Ski Resort
Whistler has long been one of Canada’s most progressive resort communities, no more so than when it hosts its annual Pride celebration. At the annual Pride Ski + March, flamboyantly dressed skiers and riders descend from mid-station down to the village for a gigantic Pride Flag handover from skiers to marchers, who finish at the Olympic Rings at Olympic Plaza. Dozens of restaurants, nightclubs and businesses host legendary annual parties and events, including Comedy Night, the Splash Indoor Pool Party and the windup Snowball dance that jams the Whistler Convention Center until the wee hours of the morning.
Did you know? Whistler hosted the very first Olympic Pride House to welcome the LBGTQI community at the 2010 Winter Games.
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Vernon/Silver Star Mountain Resort
Most winter festivals around the province feature some kind of parade down Main Street, possibly a firehall pancake breakfast and, naturally, a beer garden in the local ice rink or community centre. In the North Okanagan town of Vernon, the annual local celebration has hot air balloon tours, elaborate ice sculpture displays and a peewee hockey tournament that has gone on for more than 50 years, plus the Silver Star princess and queen contest. Each festival has a special theme and for its 60th year, the 2020 Carnival will commemorate the 1960s, a bygone era that started 60 years ago–expect to see a few Beatles haircuts or gracefully aging hippies.
Did you know? The Over the Hill Downhill Race at Silver Star is the only Masters ski race of its kind in North America.
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Photo courtesy Vernon Winter Carnival Society


Nelson/Whitewater Ski Resort
The Kootenay Coldsmoke Powder Fest celebrates mountain culture in the laid-back yet lively mountain town of Nelson and the uber-funky Whitewater ski resort just down the road. At Coldsmoke, it’s not just about riding the lifts; it’s about learning how to safely venture into the backcountry and how to “ride pow.” There are clinics galore, a skimo (ski mountaineering) race and a costumed poker run. The Coldsmoke Village area allows skiers and boarders try out all the winter’s hot new gear. Down in Nelson, apr├Ęs-ski parties rage all night long.
Did you know? “Coldsmoke” refers to snow that falls in temperatures well below freezing (anything below -10 C is perfect).

Kootenay Coldsmoke Powder Fest. Photo courtesy Whitewater Ski Resort


Big White Ski Resort
Australian skiers and snowboarders are ubiquitous at Big White Ski Resort, owned by an Australain family since the mid-1980s. Although Australia Day isn’t a statutory holiday in Canada, it’s celebrated with uncharacteristic gusto from the moment the lifts open until the wee hours of the next morning. Be prepared for plenty of blokes stripped down to surf trunks and sheilas in swimming cossies on the slopes and in the bar. One highlight of the day is a mass descent of the intermediate Kangaroo slope behind–you guessed it–a giant ‘roo mascot. While Big White is known as Canada’s favourite family resort, some of what transpires on Aussie Day is probably for (im)mature audiences only.
Did you know? More than 700 centimetres of world-famous Okanagan “Champagne powder” snow falls here each winter.


Posted in Winter 2019