Mark your calendars for the two winter carnivals in the MatSu
As I’m writing, the white stuff is coming down, ready to rock and roll on top a nice layer of facets. There’s no guarantee what kind of snowpack we’ll have by the time you read this, but one thing you can be sure of is winter carnivals to brighten up your days. There just aren’t any downsides to these events. They’re a great chance to meet new people, and get family and friends involved even if they don’t typically ride with you. And, you might even score some swag. Here’s what to expect from two of the biggest events around:
Willow Winter Carnival
Now entering its 52nd year, the Willow Winter Carnival is a fun-powered fundraiser for the Willow Community Center. As John Anderson, chair of the Willow Alaska Community Organization (fondly known as WACo) explains, the festival started right at statehood when some of the old homesteaders got together and built a “funky little log cabin.”
As you might guess, the carnival has changed a little in its 52-year history. The original cabin has been moved and turned into an art gallery, but the gathering goes on in the community center just off Willow Lake. The once-popular “Miss Willow” contest is no more, but you still have a chance to strut your stuff in the “talent or not” contest, where your imagination is the only limit. “There are quite some clever things and some oh-my-god-what-where-they-thinking things,” Anderson says. That, of course, is what makes this a contest for both the young and the young-at-heart.
If you’re itching to test your snowmobile’s speed, sign up to race in the on-lake drag strip, sponsored by Willow Motor Mushers. There’ll also be a poker run; dogsled races of all types (including two days of sprints as a tune-up for Fur Rendezvous); footraces; indoor board and dice games and lots of good food.
If you’re feeling lucky, you can buy a $5 raffle ticket — grand prize is a 2013 Polaris Sportsman 400 4-wheeler. The drawing is on February 3rd, and you don’t have to be present to win.
The biggest attraction of them all, though, may just be a pie and cake auction that’s taken on a life of its own. It usually happens on the last Sunday of the carnival, and Anderson says some of the desserts go for more than $50 when bidding wars kick up. Needless to say, they’re good — so bring your checkbook and pay attention to where the locals are putting their money.
This year’s kick-off dinner is set for Friday, January 25th, followed by an auction and fireworks display. The carnival then runs from 10 a.m. to 4 or 5 p.m. on January 26th and 27th, and resumes on the following weekend of February 2nd and 3rd.
“This is as rural Alaska as you can get,” Anderson says. “There is really going to be something for everyone,” adds carnival director Jaimee High. With an event that’s run for this long, I think they’re both right.
Willow Winter Carnival (waco-ak.org)
Kick-off dinner, auction, and fireworks on January 25
Carnival runs January 26, 27; February 2, 3
Hours: 10am to 4 or 5pm
Tickets: Parking fee TBD
Questions? Contact carnival director Jaimee High at email@example.com or 495-8911.
Big Lake Winter Fest
When asked about the Big Lake Winter Face, Ina Mueller of Lakeshore Entertaining & Event Management says they “really want it to be a family focused festival – we really want the kids to be out there.”
That emphasis shows with lots of family-friendly events planned for the two-day, mid-February event. In particular look for Kitty Cat/120 races throughout the day and Big Lake Trail, Inc.’s Family Fun Run, a chance to bring the whole family along to check out Big Lake’s best trails and win some prizes if you’re lucky.
More all-ages events include power-drawn wagon, sled rides around the lake, a chili feed, dog-sled races and rides with the Aurora Dog Mushers Club, and of course the big event on Sunday is the Iron Dog’s pro-class start at 11am. Plenty of food vendors will be on hand to keep you well fed.
And dog sleds and snowmobiles won’t be the only vehicles out there — you’ll also have a chance to test-drive a brand-new Mercedes on the ice.
One of last year’s biggest draws — Jayhawk helicopter rides — will be back too. The rides sold out quickly last year, so you might want to hustle to biglakewinterfest.org and register for a spot right away.
Mueller’s hoping to expand the service and include aerial views of the Iron Dog start but, no matter how many helicopters there are or when they run, you can expect it to sell out again. Helicopter rides are $50 per person and the aircraft carries three passengers at a time.
As darkness falls you’ll enjoy spectacular fireworks from Gorilla Fireworks set for 5 p.m. Saturday, with a concert by Big Fungus on the ice in the main tent. Have no fear adults, they’ve got a beer garden too!
The real blessing for the event, Mueller says, are volunteers that come together to pull it all off. “We have an amazing crew of volunteers,” she told me. “Big Lake is full of people who are passionate about our community and want to have fun, successful events. They come out of the woodwork to help me pull this off.”
And that kind of community involvement is exactly why it’s worth a trip to check both the Big Lake Winter Fest and the Willow Winter Carnival out. If you’d like to get involved contact Mueller by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or call her at 230-0935.
Big Lake Winter Fest (biglakewinterfest.org)
Carnival runs February 16 and 17
Hours: Saturday: 10am until the concert winds down (around 6:30 or 7pm), Sunday: Starting at 10am (the Iron Dog pro class starts at 11am)
Tickets: Free to the public
Questions? Contact carnival director Ina Mueller at email@example.com or 230-0935