Mid-winter in North Idaho is beautiful, but the winter blues settle in in full force. Several months of cold, snow and (mostly) grey have left the majority of us cabin-bound, vitamin-D deficient and desperate for some much-needed activity and fun. Thankfully Sandpoint locals 47 years ago felt the same, and so was born the Sandpoint Winter Carnival—the much-anticipated yearly antidote to North Idaho cabin fever.
The carnival debuted in 1973, put together by local businesses and individuals who saw the need for an event to bring the town together and provide a fun release in the dark winter months. It’s continued every year since, and this February marks its 47th anniversary. “We are [all] getting a little weary of winter at this time, so it’s always fun to spend time together laughing and enjoying ourselves,” says Kate McAlister, Sandpoint Chamber of Commerce president and CEO.
This year’s Sandpoint Winter Festival will begin February 14 with funfilled events through February 23. Sponsored by Ting and presented by Schweitzer and the Greater Sandpoint Chamber of Commerce, the weeklong event features activities throughout town and up on the mountain, with various local businesses hosting their own time-honored traditions, or adding to the fun with new ones.
“The variety of things to do make this a unique event,” says McAlister. “Each participating business is responsible for their own event, and the Chamber promotes and markets the two weeks in a variety of ways. It’s always fun to see what people come up with.”
The 14th annual Parade of Lights, sponsored by Ting, will kick off the festival, with individuals and businesses throughout town participating. Its date of Valentine’s Day set the theme of “Love and Light” for this year’s parade. “Our town loves a parade, no matter how small,” says McAlister. “It’s a great family event.” Anyone can enter the parade for free, which is set to start at the City Parking Lot at 5:30pm. Register for entry by February 7.
Local businesses are offering various valentines events throughout the weekend to contribute to the celebration, including a wine and cheese pairing at Pend Oreille Winery on Valentine's Day, Valentine’s Day sleigh rides and dinner at Western Pleasure Ranch on February 14 and 15, and a production of “Love Letters” by the Panida Playhouse Players February 13 through 16.
The thrilling Starlight Races will be held at Schweitzer on both Fridays, with a fitting roaring ‘20s theme of “gatSKI.” Teams of five will compete for the best times, with a party at Taps following the downhill competition. Registration is $50 per person or $250 per team.
Saturday, February 15, will start off with an all-day Family Fun Day + Winter Games at the Granary from 10am to 8pm, featuring live music, brew tastings from hosts Evans Brothers and Matchwood Brewing, a hot chocolate bar, magic show, snowman competition and more. The following day will feature the beloved Coca Cola “Let it Glow!” Night Parade and Fireworks at Schweitzer. Kids who are pre-registered will receive LED battery-powered torches for the parade down Ridge Run, with an epic Coca Cola Fireworks show following the parade.
On February 21, look out for Northern Stars Rising at the Heartwood Center—the Pend Oreille Arts Council’s showcase performance of local talent. Various local performers must audition for the show and will compete for prizes and professional development opportunities.
Prepare for an all-day adults’ party on Saturday, February 22, with another year’s appearance of the “Weird and Wonderful Pub Crawl” in Downtown Sandpoint throughout the day and National Margarita Day Celebration at the Panida Theater. Jalapenos Restaurant will honor the event by serving margaritas, and a 5:30pm showing of “Agave: The Spirit of a Nation - The Making of Tequila” will be followed by a live performance of band Heart’s Roger Fisher.
Whether you have your own, are renting or borrowing, this tight-knit group of outdoor enthusiasts is often ready to get you up and riding in a safe and responsible manner. “I personally take my time to help new people to the sport learn how to properly ride a snowmobile. This year I am doing a small riding class to help out anyone that wants to learn how to be a better rider,” said Jacob.
Nightly music at the 219 Lounge, McDuff’s Cornhole Classic, tubing at Schweitzer, Winterfest Whiskey Wednesday at A&Ps Bar and Grill, and live music at Schweitzer will happen throughout the week, along with many other activities to get you out of the house and celebrating winter with the rest of our Sandpoint family and visitors. “All of the events are great and offer something unique from Sandpoint to up on the hill at Schweitzer,” says McAlister.
The festival will conclude on Sunday, February 23, with the all-day “Get the Girls Out” presented by SheJumps up at Schweitzer—a luau-themed event celebrating the outdoors and inviting women and girls to get outside and experience the mountain. This fifth anniversary of the event will feature various activities throughout the day, along with a raffle, prizes and family friendly after party.
“Of course, closing the winter carnival festivities on the 23rd is the famous K-9 Keg Pull—a classic everyone loves,” says McAlister. In the morning, make time to stop by the event downtown on Cedar Street.
Registration starts at 9am, and the event goes until noon. Dogs of all sizes will be racing down snow-filled Cedar Street pulling anything from kegs to beer cans as the crowd cheers them on. It’s one of Sandpoint’s oldest and most anticipated Winter Carnival events, and a great way to end the fun-filled week.
The Sandpoint Winter Carnival offers a host of fun activities to get the community together, but it also allows Sandpoint’s businesses to get out in the public eye and take a direct part in the action. It can be a good boon for business during the winter’s slower season while also providing an opportunity for businesses to reconnect with their customers in a fun-filled way that brings the entire community together.
Any business can join in the carnival, offering their own event to contribute to the celebration. Visitors from around the area—including Spokane and Coeur d’Alene, and as far away as Seattle—venture into Sandpoint to enjoy the activities and experience some small-town charm. “Anytime we can hold events attracting visitors from outside the area, it is great for our economy,” says McAlister. Between epic skiing at Schweitzer and downtown dining and entertainment, the town has much to offer visitors and locals alike throughout the carnival season.
For a full schedule of events and ticket or registration information, visit SandpointWinterCarnival.com or stop by the Greater Sandpoint Chamber of Commerce. Pricing varies by event, with many free or by suggested donation. Local businesses that would like to get involved in the parade on February 14 or would like to hold their own Winter Carnival event can call the Chamber at 208.263.2161 or visit in person at 1202 5th Avenue downtown.
Don’t forget to mark your calendars, and get ready for the 48th annual event of the winter.