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McCall Winter Carnival

Celebrating community and creativity

Article by Sabina Dana Plasse

Photography by Melissa Shelby, Jon Conti, Samantha Sias, Gary Ertter

Originally published in Meridian Lifestyle

The McCall Winter Carnival, February 23-25, 2024, has remained one of Idaho’s longest-running winter events, dating back to 1924. The idea was to beat the winter doldrums with dog and snowshoe races, ski jumping, horse skijoring, and more. In those days, prizes were oranges. It was a time for locals to leave the house and see each other. Although the idea remains the same today, Carnival has become an attraction with many more events and happenings to enjoy winter in Idaho. Hosted by the McCall Chamber of Commerce, this year’s event will take place over a weekend at the end of February instead of ten days as in the past.

“An unintended experiment occurred during COVID when Carnival was canceled for health and safety reasons,” says McCall Chamber Marketing Manager McKenzie Kramer. “We surveyed business owners and found that 80% saw no drop in business or an increase in business the year Carnival was canceled. This insightful information gave us the confidence to make an adjustment so that our hospitality industry can realistically give those who visit McCall the friendly, high-quality experience they’ve come to expect and treasure.”

Kramer was the director of Winter Carnival for ten years, and in her current marketing role, she discovered that the absence of the event during COVID was a spike in business for locals. “It was an interesting discovery,” she says. “We also started to see a handful of businesses that would decide to close during Carnival because it was difficult to maintain the staffing level needed for 60,000 visitors.”

To assist shopkeepers, hotels and lodging businesses, and restaurants with a steady stream of business, the new weekend modification and date change accommodate staffing shortages that many businesses are experiencing. In recent years, the 60,000 visitors who have flocked to the 4,000-person town of McCall for Carnival added to the already significant growth of the area by winter recreationists, including skiers at Brundage Mountain Resort and Tamarack Resort along with snowmobilers, who prize the prime winter snow months of January and February, so moving Carnival to a weekend event was a decision to benefit the business community.

“It’s a great event, bringing many people to McCall. It is an introduction to the area to come and visit, and the need for a big event is no longer necessary because of all the winter recreationists. As Boise grows, more people naturally come to McCall, so we needed to accommodate and not displace the winter recreationists. Instead of two big weekends in January, there will now be ten big weekends throughout the winter for events that would have occurred during Carnival, providing an opportunity for them to have room to grow and spread out.”

With a goal of making this new transition to a weekend event work for the local economy, Carnival is not without all the makings that have made it a draw for so many years. “If the events are not happening at Carnival, they are happening at some other time throughout the winter, so nothing has disappeared, only scheduled for another weekend for more enjoyment.”

The parades, Snow Sculpture Tour, main stage, McCall Starz on Ice Figure Skating show, and Fireworks on the Lake will occur over three days instead of ten. Those events not included in this year's three days are scheduled throughout the winter and are on the Chamber’s website.

“Always check in with hotels and property management companies on lodging, which are available to accommodate,” says Kramer. “There are always cancellations, and many properties are available in McCall, the surrounding area and region. I recommend that people make a few extra calls, and you will find something lovely.”

The McCall Winter Carnival is family-friendly, with most events occurring throughout the day. In the evenings, bars and restaurants have festivities and events for those 21 and over.

“There is a great deal packed into the weekend,” says Kramer. “Most everything is free, except for a handful of private fundraisers, but walking around looking at sculptures, enjoying live music, and all the other events are free to all. It’s very fulfilling even if you only do a day trip."

If you're planning to go to the McCall Winter Carnival, you can look for a snow sculpture map, which will be available a week before the festivities. There are two parades throughout the weekend, including the Kid’s Torchlight Parade on Friday, led by the McCall Fire Department, a kickoff to the weekend's festivities. The second parade, the Mardi Gras Parade, which starts at noon and takes an hour, is the signature event for Saturday and promises to be as exciting as ever.

“The core of Carnival is the live music on the main stage, sledding on the lake, and the beer garden with many opportunities to walk into businesses,” says Kramer. “Don’t miss the ice skating show and Sunday’s McPaws Monster Dog Pull, which is a great way to end the weekend. However, there’s no shortage of things to do throughout the weekend between the signature events and the many things happening all accessible and in town.”

A live music schedule and Carnival’s full schedule of events will be on the McCall Chamber website, available February 1, 2024.

For more information on lodging, events, and dining, visit visitmccall.org/carnival2024.

2024 Winter Carnival Schedule of Events

Friday, February 23

Snow Sculpture Tour, Kid’s Torchlight Parade, and Snowshoe Golf

Tiki Torch Trek at McCall Golf Course, McCall Starz on Ice Figure Skating Show, and Vendor Court

Live Music on the Main Stage + Beer Garden

Saturday, February 24

Snow Sculpture Tour, Mardi Gras Parade,  Talent Show, and Snowshoe Golf

Live Music on the Main Stage + Beer Garden and Fireworks on the Lake

McCall Starz on Ice Figure Skating and Show Vendor Court

Sunday, February 25

Snow Sculpture Tour, McPaws Monster Dog Pull, and Snowshoe Golf

Grand Bingo

Expect Snow and Ice At The McCall Winter Carnival

Plan for icy conditions, and wear the appropriate footwear.

Dress For Success: That Means Layers

Layers are your best friends at the McCall Winter Carnival. Start with a base layer that will wick away moisture (cotton is not your friend here), add an insulating layer (puffy vest, sweatshirt, or fleece), and finish with waterproof outerwear—even if there isn’t precipitation in the forecast. Opt for winter boots, or add traction like Yaktrax to your shoes. Accessorize with a winter hat, gloves, warm socks, and sunglasses.

Walk Like A Penguin

It’s true! Penguins are a perfect model for winter walking—and who wouldn’t take advice from the pros? Walk flat-footed. Take short steps. Step down, not out. Use arms for balance (take your hands out of your pockets). Only carry what you can. Wear shoes with traction.

Keep Right & Keep Traffic Flowing

Lots of people equal lots of traffic. Locals know that left turns are nearly impossible when the town gets busy. Plan your route so you only encounter right-hand turns, or take the extra time to turn right and make a loop back to where you want to go. For parking, check out the City of McCall’s interactive parking map.

Don’t Be Frosty

The hustle and bustle of crowds and lines can make patience run thin. Please remember that we are all just humans working to help other humans. We are family-owned businesses, double overtime workers, and volunteers. When the frustration rises, here are some of our favorite ways to bring the happiness back: Smile. Say hello. Say please and thank you. Tip! Brake and watch out for pedestrians. Pay it forward—even holding a door open goes a long way. Don’t be a stranger.

 

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