Western winter festivals deliver thrills and chills, fire and ice, and plenty of fun


There’s no disputing that skiing and snowboarding dominate the West when the snow starts to fly. After all, the best ski areas in the country are here and backcountry options are nearly endless. But there are plenty of other entertaining things to do in the region during the winter. 

While there are huge international events such as the Winter X Games in Aspen and Sundance Film Festival in Park City, the best way to truly experience the West’s culture is at one of the many regional events. Here’s a sampling of some to consider, starting in our home state.

Recommended Winter Western Events


The Centennial State hosts a dizzying array of events, including the International Snow Sculpture Championship (Jan. 24-30). Teams of sculptors from around the globe descend on Breckenridge, where they get 65 hours over five days to create works of art using only hand tools. Or check out the Steamboat Springs Winter Carnival (Feb. 9-13), featuring Lighted Man, who wears a  suit that shoots fireworks, and skiers jumping through fire. Mirr Ranch Group has been a long-time supporter of the National Western Stock Show (Jan. 7-22) in Denver, which delivers music, livestock competitions, the Coors Western Art Exhibit & Sale, rodeo and more.


It’s no surprise that one of the biggest events this time of year in the Cowboy State is the Sheridan Winter Rodeo (Feb. 18). The event features skijoring, a thrilling competition in which a horse pulls a skier at high speed along a course with gates, jumps and rings the competitor must ‘lance’ to collect. And that’s not all in the state: You can also attend the International Pedigree Stage Stop Sled Dog Race and the Gillette Main Street Ice Fest, among other events. (Learn more)


All this outdoor fun is fine, but it can be a little frigid. Those in search of cozier seasonal entertainment might want to consider visiting for the Taos Winter Wine Festival (Jan. 26-29). The festival has attracted more than 40 wineries to Taos, where they’re teaming up with local restaurants to host seminars, tastings, wine dinners, and more. Find even more fun in the Land of Enchantment, including Mardi Gras in the Mountains during February, in this list.


The Fire and Ice Winter Fest (Feb. 3-4) in Lava Hot Springs features temperature extremes. Chill out at the Polar Float Parade down the Portneuf River, then heat up watching fire shows on the main street. And don’t miss the event’s thrilling (and chilling) conclusion, a race in which competitors jump into one hot spring, then race across downtown to another hot spring. Also consider the McCall Winter Carnival (Jan. 27-Feb. 5) and the Sun Valley Music Festival Winter Season (March 15-17). 


The Whitefish Winter Carnival (Feb. 4-6) includes a parade, pie social, Penguin Plunge,  torch-light ski parade, and skijoring competition. Also consider: the Snowglo Winter Festival (Jan. 21) in Missoula, which includes an ice sculpture competition, laser light show and kids activities as part of a fundraiser for the less fortunate. SnoFlinga (Jan. 20-23) in Butte includes a fun run, Nordic skiing clinics, polar plunge, and even curling lessons.


The Bryce Canyon Winter Festival (Feb. 18-20) serves up a wide array of clinics and fun for all ages, including snowshoe tours, crafts for kids, a digital photo workshop, pottery making and even a ‘Learn to Hula’ class. Seriously! And you can find more fun across the Beehive State here.


We can’t help mentioning two other intriguing events farther afield. Snowfest (March 2-12) celebrates the North Lake Tahoe area in California with a polar bear swim, winter golf tournament, and a raft of children’s activities in support of local nonprofits. Or venture north to Oregon and WinterFest (Feb. 17-19) in Bend, which features more than 20 fire pits and fire sculptures along the Deschutes River, along with live music and a marketplace. 

Lay of the Land is a monthly column by Ken Mirr, the Founder and Managing Broker of Mirr Ranch Group, that highlights news of the West impacting the ranch lifestyle. Have a question about the West? Email him at Ken@MirrRanchGroup.com.

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