There’s still time in February to embrace the final weeks of winter and everything that’s good about the season. You can go outside and play while the sun is out for a few brief hours during the day, head to the hills for a day (or more) of skiing or even use the cold nights as an excuse to stay indoors with a blanket and a hot drink.
But if your love of winter is a cause for a bigger celebration, you can also check out some notable winter festivals to visit in places both near and far. While some of these opportunities may be too far-flung to make plans for 2014, keep them on your radar as unique destinations for future years.
Harbin Ice Festival: Harbin, China, through March, depending on weather
This festival in northeastern China near North Korea and Russia features not just ice sculptures but complete ice towns. Everything gets lit up at night by illumination sources that range from lasers to traditional ice lanterns. It’s also a place to find gigantic snowscapes that dwarf the humans looking up at them.
Festival du Voyageur: Winnipeg, Canada, through Feb. 23
When the rivers running through Winnipeg freeze over, residents go out and throw a 10-day party on the ice. Celebrating its 45th year, this unique festival turns the French Quarter into a winter wonderland. You can explore the world’s longest naturally frozen skating trail, learn how to roll maple sap in snow to make taffy, play a game of broom ball or take refuge in high-concept warming huts that are part of an architectural competition. The ice is also home to pop-up gourmet restaurants and a fashion show, and there’s a large music scene with multiple concerts on a daily basis at a variety of venues. Grab an order of poutine (sort of like chili-cheese fries, but with gravy) and a glass of “caribou” (a fortified wine drink served in an ice glass) and find out why Canadians always seem so friendly, regardless of the temperatures.
Delta Snow Goose Festival: Delta, Utah, Feb. 21-22
Every year, thousands of snow geese migrate from Mexico to Canada, with a stop along the way in Delta, just a couple of hours southwest of Salt Lake City. You can get the experience of seeing a sky blanketed by birds as you run around Gunnison Bend Reservoir as part of the Wild Goose Chase 5K or 10K. If you want to be more directly involved, jump into Gunnison Bend Reservoir as part of the Dunk, Dunk, Goose event—bonus points for dressing up in a goose costume before jumping in. A skeet-shooting competition and a craft fair are other highlights of the weekend.
Anchorage Fur Rendezvous: Anchorage, Alaska, Feb. 21-March 2
The 79-year tradition of “Rondy” celebrates the town’s history of fur-trapping, but many people go just for events such as the blanket toss (where you can get thrown in the air or throw your friends in the air), or a street race with portable toilets on skis. Other highlights include the Running of the Reindeer—a mellower version of Pamplona’s Running of the Bulls—and sled-dog races that go right through the streets of town. A new event for 2014 is leaf-blower hockey.
North Lake Tahoe Snowfest: Tahoe City, Calif., Feb. 28-March 9
Much as how Hot Tub Time Machine took a group of guys back to their favorite ski resort in the 1980s, this year’s Snowfest is hearkening back to when it started in 1982, with the theme “Bringing Back the ’80s.” Just about an eight-hour drive from the Wasatch Front and surrounded by multiple Lake Tahoe ski resorts, Snowfest is 10 days that include all sorts of events, races, parties and concerts. Highlights include a laser show and torchlight parade on opening night, and an ice-cream-eating contest. Many of the events also seem to include an unofficial afterparty.
Frozen Dead Guy Days: Nederland, Colo., March 7-9
The story behind the title of this festival taking place in a mountain town above Boulder—about an eight-hour drive from Salt Lake City—is a long one. All you need to know is it involves somebody cryogenically storing their grandpa in a Tuff Shed, and an offbeat town finding this the perfect reason to throw a three-day blowout complete with events such as coffin-racing, frozen T-shirt contests, ice-turkey bowling, brain-freeze contests, snowy beach volleyball, the Parade of Hearses and wall-to-wall free concerts.
As long as Old Man Winter is still around for a few more weeks, you might as well party with him.
Kathleen Curry and Geoff Griffin host the Travel Brigade Radio Show podcast.