St. Paul, Minnesota's ice castle
St. Paul, Minnesota's ice castle

What’re the best winter carnivals in North America?

Some people like to head to the tropics in the winter. I like to bask in the snow and cold. What are your favorite winter carnivals in North America?

St. Paul, Minnesota's ice castle
Greg Melville

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You’re a lot like me. I enjoy sipping a Mai Tai at the beach as much as the next guy, but in winter I prefer to take advantage of the cold weather. These are my favorite celebrations of the season.

Saranac Lake, New York
When you live in the woodsy hinterlands of New York’s Adirondacks, you look for any creative way to get outside and have some fun during the frigid winters there—and it’s plenty frigid in Saranac Lake, which records the lowest temperature in the Lower 48 on an average of 13 days a year. The winter carnival in this former logging town just up the road from Lake Placid began in 1897, and it’s now a weeklong affair, beginning this year on February 2. The highlight is the massive Ice Palace, made from ice bricks cut from Lake Flower and lit at night. There’s also curling, skiing, a parade, a four-mile fun run, a downhill inner-tube race, and the coronation of an ice king and queen.

Quebec City, Canada
The world’s largest winter carnival takes place starting the last weekend in January every year in the snowy wonderland of Quebec City and lasts through the second week of February. Events, official and unofficial, take place throughout the European-styled city but are centered in the public park called the Plains of Abraham, where there are sleigh rides, snow sculptures, snow slides, sled runs, dogsled rides, cross-country ski trails, and a kids outdoor play village. Not to be missed is the annual ice canoe race on the impossibly chilly, fast-moving St. Lawrence River. This year’s carnival runs from January 27 to February 13.

St. Paul, Minnesota
Established in 1886 to prove to the rest of the country that St. Paul wasn’t just some frozen hick town, the city’s winter carnival has grown to become a Midwestern institution. Taking place January 26 to February 5, the main events include a half-marathon, sled dog race, a torchlight parade, and a medallion treasure hunt with a $10,000 prize.

Durango, Colorado
Snowdown, Durango’s annual February party, is proof positive that the long Rocky Mountain winter isn’t very kind to the psyche of the town’s stir crazy locals. It takes the mind of a very creative shut-in to think up events like the Polar beer plunge (picture an outdoor pool of beer), beard growing competition, burp-off championship, donut eat-off, kayak pool slalom contest, ski softball game, arm wrestling competition, winter triathlon (the events are skiing/snowboarding, snowshoeing, and snow tubing), and the contest to see who can stuff the most people into an outhouse at one time. Put all that together, and Snowdown may be the only winter carnival in the country that scares more people away from a town than it attracts. And that’s why you shouldn’t miss it. This year’s carnival runs February 1 to 5.

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