According to local Minnesota lore, in 1885 a reporter from New York traveled to frosty St. Paul and was so turned off by the cold he called it "another Siberia, unfit for human habitation.'' To prove the New Yorker wrong, St. Paul's civic leaders decided to put on a spectacular winter fair to celebrate their state's winter charms. That festival's success spawned an annual event, the Saint Paul Winter Carnival, which is now the nation's oldest and largest of its kind in the U.S., attracting more than 100,000 visitors a year.
This winter, why not follow St. Paul's lead and get outside to make the most of the snow and cold by attending one of the many winter-themed festivals in the U.S. and around world? From massive citywide carnivals like St. Paul's to small-town ice-sculpting competitions and sporting events, you'll find plenty of options to keep you busy.
Quebec Winter Carnival
Quebec City, Quebec
January 26 to February 11
The historic Plains of Abraham and cobblestone streets of Old Quebec play host to the Quebec Winter Carnival, the biggest winter carnival in the world and the third-biggest carnival of any kind after New Orleans' Mardi Gras and Rio's Carnival. During this 17-day festival, nearly one million visitors descend on the city to take part in more than 300 events.
Some of the Quebec Winter Carnival highlights include two huge nighttime parades, an international snow-sculpting competition, an ice palace in the Place Desjardins, and unusual sporting events such as a canoe race across the partially frozen St. Lawrence. The Carnival is bookended by opening and closing ceremonies, and activities such as skiing, ice fishing, snow rafting, sleigh riding, and ice skating are available around the city.
Most of the events are free, although there is a small charge for some activities. While you're in town, be sure to pick up a souvenir doll or pin of Bonhomme, the Carnival's ubiquitous snowman mascot, and try a warm mug of Caribou, a zesty Carnival drink made of brandy, vodka, sherry, and port.
St. Moritz, Switzerland
February 4, 11, and 18
The resort glitterati of St. Moritz, Switzerland, love horse racing so much they see no reason to give it up, even in winter. In fact, winter gives them reason to try a whole other racing spectacle: "skijöring"—a race in which riders on skis are pulled by thoroughbreds galloping 35 mph.
During White Turf (German website only), skijöring races are held on three consecutive Sundays in February. Thousands of spectators converge on the thickly frozen lake of St. Mortiz to watch the races and drink champagne in the shadow of the Engadine Alps. Riders also compete in standard flat races and trotting races where drivers are pulled in tiny sleighs. Besides racing, there's also a children's play area, live performers, an art tent, and culinary offerings.
There's a charge of 16 Swiss francs (about $13; see xe.com for current exchange rates) to watch the races; grandstand tickets cost 30 to 50 Swiss francs ($25 to $41). Go to StMoritz.ch to read about the event in English.