For over 60 years, the town of Whitefish, Montana has embraced all that is winter at its annual Winter Carnival celebration.
The Whitefish Winter Carnival is steeped in rich Nordic legend. According to the official Whitefish Winter Carnival website, a god-like King named Ullr, along with his Prime Minister and Queen, reigned over winter activities in the Nordic regions.
Over time, the king’s subjects wanted to explore the world and paid less homage to him and the winter festivities. Ullr became a god all-but-forgotten.
Soon, they discovered their new serene abode was also the home to a fierce band of snowmen called Yetis, who (of course) attempted to kidnap the Queen. However, Ullr and his followers (being more agile and resourceful), prevailed and learned to live with occasional skirmishes with the Yetis.
As man invaded the valley, Ullr observed them and found these men not only enjoyed winter sports, but referred to Ullr as a patron saint of their small celebrations. Thrilled, Ullr assumed the dress of these men and mingled among them. The Yetis, however, wanted nothing to do with the new invaders and attempted to drive them away.
Ullr (being a great god-like fella) aided the men in subduing the Yetis’ harassment, thus becoming their true hero. It was then proclaimed that henceforth there would be an annual festival honoring King Ullr and his court...and Whitefish Winter Carnival was born.
The event embodies everything we love about the quaint mountain town of Whitefish, Montana. From the colorful legends to unique activities like Ski Joring, Snow Sculpting, Penguin Plunge, and of course, Grand Parade, all wrapped up in a new, snappy theme each year. Past themes for the Whitefish Winter Carnival have included Superheroes, Dr. Seuss, The 60s, and the most recently, the Roaring 20s.
The annual Whitefish Winter Carnival celebration begins with the coronation of the official Winter Carnival Royal Court at the O’Shaughnessy Center in downtown Whitefish: King Ullr LXI, Queen of the Snows, the Prime Minister, and Duchess of Lark. The event is immediately followed by a Disco Party at The Great Northern Bar. You haven’t seen anything until you’ve seen a Queen in full Queen regalia do “The Hustle”.
Not quite a week later, the newly crowned King and Queen officially coronate local high schoolers Prince Frey and Princess Freya between the boys and girls varsity basketball games at Whitefish High School.
The Winter Carnival Royal Court makes appearances throughout the kingdom of the Flathead Valley knighting, waving, and inspiring their subjects in preparation for the Winter Carnival festivities.
The day of Winter Carnival begins early with a chilly dip into frigid Whitefish Lake at the annual Penguin Plunge. Faithful, hearty (and somewhat crazy) locals willingly jump into the icy lake to raise money for Special Olympics. After a quick warm-up, (try a Trapline Hot Toddy at The Lodge at Whitefish Lake!) the crowd heads downtown to prep for the Whitefish Winter Carnival Grand Parade down Central Avenue.
On-lookers start lining the streets for the 3p parade as early as 1p. Early birds can grab a grilled burger or brat and some sweet treats at the Firebrand Hotel & Restaurant Patio Tailgate Party conveniently located along the parade route. If you venture inside, you'll find live music, a full bar and fireplace to keep you warm.
The parade has everything you’d want in a charming community parade – fire engines, dance troupes, classic cars, homemade floats, mountain goats and plenty of candy hand-outs for the kiddos! You’ll hear the Whitefish High School Marching Band, see floats from local business like the Whitefish Credit Union, watch the wacky Working Women of Whitefish perfectly choreographed dance moves and even catch appearances by the local canines from Dog Sled Adventures. Of course, the Royal Court makes an appearance as does the infamous Yetis.
The Yetis (bolder than ever), continue their attempts to bug the newly crowned King, steal the Queen, harass the Prime Minister, and interfere with the Whitefish Winter Carnival festivities and it’s on-lookers.
The only thing that will stop them is the mark of a kiss from a Viking Diva. Did we mention this parade had Viking Divas too?
King Ullr and his growing band of followers inevitably subdue the wily Yetis and send them fleeing back to their haven in the high valleys beyond the Big Mountain. Ullr again reigns as master of winter sports and frolics along with his Queen and Prime Minister, beloved in the hearts of his loyal subjects.
On to the frolicking. Post-parade, the Royal Court heads to The Firebrand Hotel & Restaurant with loyal subjects in tow. The unique boutique hotel / restaurant / bar is THE PLACE to party after the Whitefish Winter Carnival. Not only is there more great live music, but their impossibly high ceilings offer the optimal stage for aerialist troupe Levitation Nation. This high-flying act twists and turns around hoops and silks 15 to 20 feet above a gasping and cheering crowd.
The staff at the Firebrand throws one heck of a party! Always in full costume no matter what the theme, they are at the ready to happily serve up micro-brews from sources like Bias Brewing and Big Sky Brewing (to name a few) or a top-notch handcrafted cocktail made with spirits from local distilleries like their neighbors at Spotted Bear Spirits just around the corner.
Ridiculously enough, after the Plunge, Parade, and Party there is still time to get in a few runs at Whitefish Mountain Resort. Night skiing at Big Mountain is typically available and with the free S.N.O.W. Bus pick up just a short walk from the Firebrand, why not? This is Montana and what better way to celebrate the snow & cap off a great day at the Whitefish Winter Carnival than a ski down Inspiration. King Ullr would be proud.
Look for Whitefish Winter Carnival every year, the first week of February! www.whitefishwintercarnival.com