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9 Can't-Miss Winter Festivals Around the World

Celebrate ice climbing, snow monsters, and bluegrass at these stellar seasonal jubilees

From December 14th to 16th, 2018, WinterWonderGrass will be hosting big-name bluegrass bands in Stratton, Vermont. (Courtesy WinterWonderGrass)
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Celebrate ice climbing, snow monsters, and bluegrass at these stellar seasonal jubilees

Summer isn’t the only season with a jam-packed lineup of raucous festivals. This season’s best fiestas will see you watching films atop a ski resort, rocking out to electronic music at the foot of snow-capped peaks, and learning new skills like skate skiing or ice climbing. Plan your winter accordingly.

Snow Monster Festival

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(Courtesy Whiteroom Tours)

Zao, Japan

February 2–3, 2019

These monsters are actually naturally occurring mounds of snow whipped into beast-like shapes by the wind. The weekend-long, free-of-charge Snow Monster Festival at the Zao Onsen ski area sees them illuminated each night by brightly colored lights. Plus, there are fireworks, friendly mascots skiing down the mountain, and street vendors selling hot sake and ramen to keep you warm. Whiteroom Tours offers guided tours of Japan and the famed festival.

WinterWonderGrass

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(Courtesy WinterWonderGrass)

Stratton, Vermont

December 14–16, 2018

WinterWonderGrass brings big-name bluegrass bands to small mountain towns every winter. This year, it heads to Vermont’s Stratton Mountain Resort for the first time. You’ll rock out to headliners Railroad Earth, the Infamous Stringdusters, and Keller and the Keels inside heated tents while sampling local craft beer and food truck fare. There’s even a kid pavilion filled with hula hoops, music, and face painting. Can’t make it to the Green Mountain State? The event stops off in Steamboat Springs, Colorado, February 22 to 24, and Squaw Valley, California, March 29 to 31.

Hahnenkamm

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(KSC/HKR)

Kitzbühel, Austria

January 21–27, 2019

Last year, 85,000 spectators showed up to watch the world’s best ski racers reach speeds of up to 85 miles per hour while bombing down more than 2,600 vertical feet in the Hahnenkamm, a legendary competition first held in 1931 that’s now one of the most challenging downhill races on the World Cup circuit. Many of those revelers also came for the street party that takes over the quaint Tyrolian village of Kitzbühel. The Streif and Ganslern runs are closed for the race, but you can ski everywhere else on the mountain.

Ouray Ice Climbing Festival

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(Mark-Smith/iStock)

Ouray, Colorado

January 24–27, 2019

Every January, the tiny town of Ouray, Colorado, welcomes the country’s largest ice climbing party to the Uncompahgre Gorge, where elite climbers battle it out and newbies check out clinics and gear expos. Spectators who aren’t interested in scaling frozen cliffs will find plenty to do as well, from demonstrations to beer tents to film premieres. It’s free to spectate and climb, or you can pay around $60 for an all-access pass to the clinics and nightly events.

Sundance Film Festival

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(Marisa McGrody/Sundance Institute)

Park City, Utah

January 24–February 3, 2019

Yes, the rich and famous descend on Park City once a year for the annual Sundance Film Festival. But very few of them actually ski, so the slopes at Park City Mountain Resort are usually empty. You can sign up to become a volunteer at the film festival, doing things like checking tickets or organizing shuttles in exchange for free entrance into select films. Or buy a pass or individual tickets to catch some of the 200 feature-length and short films premiering at the festival in between runs down the resort’s wide-open bowls.

Mardi Gras in the Mountains

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(Ron Weathers/Red River)

Red River, New Mexico

February 28–March 5, 2019

If you want to celebrate Mardi Gras clicked into your skis, Red River is the spot. This northern New Mexico town throws down every year with a six-day celebration through Fat Tuesday, the final day of the Carnival season. Rid yourself of worries by lighting them afire during the Burning of the Wild Tchoupitoulas, join a crawfish boil, and toss beads in the parade—all after spending a day skiing 1,600-vertical-foot laps.

Festival Sayulita

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(Courtesy Festival Sayulita)

Sayulita, Mexico

January 30–February 3, 2019

At this sixth-annual festival, held in the laid-back surf town of Sayulita, you’ll spend five days watching award-winning documentaries and short films in outdoor theaters set up on the beach. When you’re not watching movies, you can listen to live music around town, taste mezcal, or join festival group dinners—and, of course, there’s surfing and yoga aplenty. Plus, the event raises money for the town’s new community center.

Alpenglow Mountain Festival

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(Scott Rokis)

Tahoe City, California

February 16–24, 2019

Alpenglow Sports, a beloved outdoor shop in Tahoe City, California, hosts the legendary Mountain Festival every winter. The nine-day, backcountry-focused event includes guided ski tours, skate-skiing clinics, snowshoe treks, avalanche safety courses, film screenings, and workshops on everything from tuning your skis to backcountry bartending to winter astronomy. Whether you’re brand new to the backcountry or a lifelong enthusiast, you’ll find something to do, even if it’s just the free morning yoga classes.

Chamonix Unlimited

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(Gwendal Le Flem)

Chamonix, France

April 2–7, 2019

Every winter, thousands of electronic music fans and a handful of hardy skiers descend on this six-day music festival hosted by French ski company Black Crows in the company’s hometown of Chamonix. This year’s headliners include artists like German DJ Stephan Bodzin, Swiss duo Adriatique, and Detroit techno legend Jeff Mills. Venues include the tram deck just below the peak of Aiguille du Midi and the Plan Joran gondola station.

Filed To: Film / Music / skiing / Climbing / Snow Sports
Nicolas Henderson/Creative Commons )

San Marcos, Texas

Billed as the world’s toughest canoe race, the Texas Water Safari, held each June, is a four-day, 260-mile jaunt from the headwaters of the San Marcos River northeast of San Antonio to the small shrimping town of Seadrift on the Gulf Coast. There’s no prize money—just bragging rights for the winner. Any boat without a motor is allowed, and you’ll have to carry your own equipment and overnight gear. Food and water are provided at aid stations along the way. Entry fees start at $175 and increase as race day approaches.

The Ring

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(Courtesy Quatro Hubbard)

Strasburg, Virginia

The Ring is a 71-mile trail running race in early September along the entire length of Virginia’s rough and rocky Massanutten Trail loop. To qualify, you need to have run a 50- or 100-mile race before the event and win a spot through the lottery system. Entry is free. Complete the run and you’ll become part of the tight-knit Fellowship of the Ring and be eligible for the Reverse Ring, which entails running the trail backwards in the middle of winter.

Plaza2Peak

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(David Silver)

Santa Fe, New Mexico

Each spring, competitors gather in Santa Fe’s historic plaza with a simple goal: be the first to reach 12,308-foot Deception Peak, 17 miles and 5,000 feet of elevation gain away. Competitors run or bike the first 15 miles to the local ski area before transitioning to their waiting ski-touring setups for the final push to the top. Time stops only when they’ve skied back down to the tailgate in the resort’s parking lot, which is funded by the modest entry fee of around $25. To add to the sufferfest, some participants sign up for the Expedition category, in which they strap their skis, skins, boots, and poles to their bikes for the long ride up. Start dates vary depending on snow conditions, but look for the event page to be posted on Facebook in late March or early April.

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