14 Amazing Winter and Ice Festivals Around the World


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sculptor working on ice sculpture
Photo credit: Yury Stroykin/shutterstock

While many people loathe winter's short days and freezing temperatures, true cold-weather warriors embrace the season. Across the world, festivals, contests, and celebrations are dedicated to the worship of snow and ice. Here are some of the best.

Sapporo Snow Festival, Japan
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Japan's Sapporo Snow Festival began in 1950 with only six snow statues made by local students, yet drew 50,000 spectators. In this 69th year, there will be some 250 sculptures, including 15 that will stand before judges in the International Snow Sculpture Contest. There are three sites: Odori, Susukino (both Feb. 5-12), and Tsudome (Feb. 1-12), which also has sledding and other winter sports.

Harbin Ice Festival, China
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China's international ice and snow sculpture festival -- billed as the world's largest -- officially runs from Jan. 5 through February in Harbin, though some events also take place in late December. It includes a snow sculpture art expo, an ice lantern art fair, an ice and snow world, dog sledding, ice hotels, winter swimming, and safari-style Siberian tiger watching.

Snowking's Winter Festival, Canada
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Deep in the interior of the Canadian Arctic, winter comes alive March 3-30 with the 23rd Snowking's Winter Festival in Yellowknife, in the remote Northwest Territories. Get there by driving on the Lake Ice Road to enjoy arts exhibits, film festivals, rock concerts, and some of the world's greatest ice and snow sculptures.

Bavarian Icefest in Leavenworth, WA
Photo credit: LeavenworthWA/facebook.com

Leavenworth is known for its love of the Christmas season and all things winter. Each year on the Martin Luther King Jr. weekend (Jan.13-14 this year), the Bavarian-style village tucked in near the Wenatchee National Forest celebrates with snow sculptures, a snowmobile sled pull, live ice carving, and fireworks.

Newport Winter Festival in Newport, RI
Photo credit: Courtesy of newportwinterfestival.com

The festival billed as New England's largest winter extravaganza comes to Rhode Island Feb. 17-26. There's live country music and a Jimmy Buffett cover band, comedy, a children's fair and princess party, beach polo, a chili cook-off, and an all-ages hot drink contest with entries from local restaurants.

Ice Music Festival, Norway
Photo credit: Courtesy of icemusicfestival.no

Planning a trip to Norway? The world's only festival dedicated to ice music is a must. The Ice Music Festival will light up the town of Finse under the first full moon of the year, Feb. 2-3. All the instruments are made completely from naturally harvested ice and snow. Previously held in Geilo, the festival is a tribute to musical art unlike any other.

International Snow Sculpture Championships in Breckenridge, CO
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Plan a trip to Breckenridge for the International Snow Sculpture Championships. Artists create icy masterpieces Jan. 22-29. All sculptures start as 12-foot blocks of ice and snow weighing more than 20 tons. During festival downtime, visitors can enjoy the mountain, with skiing and other winter activities. Dining, shopping, arts, and culture can be found nearby.

Saranac Lake Winter Carnival in Saranac Lake, NY
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From Feb. 2 to Feb. 11, the Winter Carnival at Saranac Lake celebrates all things snow and ice, continuing a tradition begun in 1897. Sporting events include arctic golf, ski races, snowshoe races, curling, a woodsman's exhibition, and pond hockey. Visitors can also try their luck at "FlowerBall" and a fry-pan toss, and take in  fireworks displays at the opening and closing of the festival.

Québec Winter Carnival, Canada
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From Jan. 26 to Feb. 11, visitors to the Quebec Winter Carnival can enjoy slides, an ice trail, and an ice rink at Village Nordik or take in a show of color and light at the Upper Town Night Parade. Children can go ice skating with the festival's mascot, Bonhomme. There are also human-foosball games and, of course, a snow and ice art contest at this 64th annual event.

Ice on Whyte, Canada
Photo credit: IceonWhyteFestival/facebook.com

The 15th annual Ice on Whyte Festival takes place in Edmonton's Old Strathcona district from Jan. 25-28 and Feb. 1-4, opening with an international ice-carving competition. Visitors can also glide down a giant ice cube slide, learn the art of ice carving, take part in “painting parties,” and enjoy musical performances by blues artists Russell Jackson and Randy McAllister.

Saint Paul Winter Carnival in St. Paul, MN
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The Winter Carnival comes to St. Paul Jan. 25 to Feb. 10. Revelers and floats take to the streets for three parades, and there's powder at Snow Park to enjoy. Carnival goers can test their stamina with a half-marathon, 10K, or 5K winter run, or compete in the Disc Golf Ice Bowl. There's an autonomous snowplow competition, carvings and ice palaces, and even a cat show.

Meltdown Winter Ice Festival in Richmond, IN
Photo credit: RichmondMeltdown/facebook.com

Visitors to the Meltdown Winter Ice Festival in Richmond get to see one-of-a-kind ice sculptures and other winter art -- but what sets the festival apart is the two-day Meltdown Throwdown, an ice "fight" between master ice carvers. The festival, Jan. 26-27, features activities for all age groups, including coloring and Lego contests, winter-themed crafts, warming stations, and chili cook-off for charity.

Ottawa's Winterlude in Canada
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Canada’s capital city celebrates the season with Winterlude on the first three weekends in February. Visitors can witness events like the Accora Village Bed Race in which costumed teams race decorated hospital beds across Dows Lake. Visitors can also admire magnificent ice sculptures created by professional carvers from around the world. The Snowflake Kingdom features snow slides, snow sculptures, maze, and a zip line.

Stowe Winter Carnival in Stowe, VT
Photo credit: StoweWinterCarnival/facebook.com

Famous for its ski scene, the tiny town of Stowe hosts 44th Winter Carnival from Jan. 13 to Jan. 27. The celebration features ice carving, ski movies, ski races, a snowshoe tour, and music and dance parties. This year’s theme is “StowOlympics,” and activities include offbeat competitions like snow volleyball and snow golf.

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