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Getting Weird in Winter
Like I was Sayin....
On a recent visit, a relative asked why Christmas lights were still hanging over the streets in Whitefish. I explained that they would stay up a while and that the Winter Carnival is approaching. I then explained what that is, which didn’t explain anything at all.

It went something like this:

“It’s a month-long celebration, maybe longer. The town chooses a king and queen. There’s a parade and, um, there’s people dressed like yetis and penguins and they run around the streets and stuff. And women kiss your cheek and it’s all good, clean fun.”
Blank stare.

Clearly, someone else could better describe this unusual event, but, to my credit, I’ve attended the festivities for the last several years and they aren’t easy to describe. So when this same relative asked how it could last so many weeks, I continued:
“Well, there are different events each weekend. Like, uuuhhh, the World Ski Joring Championships.”

“What’s that?”

“Oh, that’s when someone on a horse pulls a person on skis through the snow over large jumps. I think someone times them or something.” I then tried to paint a picture of what this looks like.

This, too, made little sense to my visitor. And to her, it only got weirder from there. I told her about the Penguin Plunge, where everyone jumps into the frozen lake, often wearing costumes. Then, there’s the beer barter, where participants offer gifts, like yaks and broken-down Volkswagen buses, and present their talents, like fire tossing or shoving change up their nose, in exchange for a year’s worth of beer.

“Everyone cheers them on,” I said. “It’s hilarious. I think the governor attended one year.”

She only laughed a little. And I couldn’t blame her, really. Again, this festival is hard to explain to an outsider. I didn’t even get into the legend of the event’s origins in which a god named Ullr came to the Flathead Valley and was confronted by yetis who try to steal the queen during the festivities.

And I’m sure if I told her that Mr. Las Vegas, Wayne Newton, was the grand marshal of the parade this year, she would be even more confused.

But this event, and others like it – and more obvious activities like skiing, snowshoeing and ice fishing – is my answer to those who inquire about how we survive the winter in the Rocky Mountains on the 48th parallel, a time when many of us arrive at and leave work under darkness.

It can, eventually, wear on you. But we stay active considering the short days and throw events for those who need to be coaxed outside in the cold. And, by and large, that works – even if some of our methods are a little unorthodox.

This valley is home to a bevy of other winter festivals, including traditional events surrounding the holidays and brew fests and hockey tournaments. But we also allow ourselves to get a little weird, like at Cabin Fever Days.

“What do you do all winter?” you ask.

“Well, in February, we head up to the Canyon to watch people race on barstools mounted on skis. There’s a steerable and non-steerable division.”

“What do you mean, non-steerable?”

“It means you can’t steer the vessel. But if that’s not your thing, you can also enter the arm-wrestling tournament or play in the snowshoe softball game.”

“I don’t get it.”

“What’s there to get?”
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