These are the events that make you hope the weather stay wintry. How else do you set a world record for snow angels or carve ice sculptures? And chili tastes so much better when it's cold out, doesn't it? We have two local winter festivals, and several more are within a drive. Let's celebrate winter.
January 23, Mendon Ponds Park
The Friends of Mendon Ponds Park are nice people --- they want everyone to be able to enjoy winter and the outdoors. That's why their Mendon Ponds Winterfest is and always has been free.
And admission would be worth so much more. While winter camping, birding, face painting, and demonstrations by Monroe County K-9 and mounted patrol units are going on at the Nature Center, ski and snowshoe orienteering groups will be heading out from Cavalry Lodge, and ski demonstrations, lessons, and races will be taking place at Stewart Lodge. There will also be curling, ice boating, and ice fishing demonstrations on Hundred Acre Pond; storytelling and more kids' activities at the West Lodge; and star and planet gazing, tubing, and ZooMobile at the East Lodge. A new event this year is a demonstration by Finger Lakes Community College's Lumber Jack and Jill team.
For more information on Mendon Ponds Winterfest, visit www.mendonpondswinterfest.org or call 256-4950.
February 6, Ontario Beach Park, Charlotte
Every year the city stages an afternoon party at Ontario Beach Park. The two keystone events of the festival are the annual Chilly Chili Challenge, a cook-off that'll give festival-goers a nice warm fire in their bellies, and the Polar Plunge, a chilly dip in the Lake that benefits the New York Special Olympics. And you might want to try those activities in the opposite order.
There is also a snow sculpture contest (open to anyone) and an ice-sculpture contest (for professionals only, which is probably for the best). There will be games for kids, horse-drawn sleigh rides, dogsled demonstrations, and a sailboat race. This is a concentrated festival, only an afternoon long. But there will be special ice-skating hours at Manhattan Square Park all weekend.
The Lakeside Winter Celebration is free. Get information at 865-3320, 428-6755, or www.cityofrochester.gov. Register for the Polar Plunge at 800-836-6976 or www.polarplunge.net.
January 28 to 30, Ithaca
Ithaca celebrates the season with what they call "a fusion of music, art and science." It's a unique and ambitious concept for a festival, since many festivals have been organized around ideas much less lofty --- food, for instance. This thinking-person's festival only debuted last year, notably bringing together a Nobel-winning chemist, a performance artist, a Celtic harpist, and an electric cellist for one performance.
This year, even more is on the docket. The first evening will see a Carnival for the Rainforest, including music by Brazilian composer Hector Villa-Lobos, the songs of Antonio Carlos Jobim, and new music inspired by the sounds of the rainforest, all performed by Paul Winter and his Brazilian Consort, along with Ivo Aruajo and his Manhattan Samba band. The Kronos Quartet will perform world music the second night. On the third day, the key performance is called Dance of the Machines, which explores the beauty to be found in machines --- demonstrated by the words of a scientist and the dancing of Byron Suber and Ensemble X.
In between these gala performances are workshops and performances all at the intersection of science and art and treating audiences to swirls of film, music, fiction, poetry, and lectures. Plus there are free or low-cost events going on at museums, nature centers, and planetariums all weekend, and late-night live music at restaurants and cafes around Ithaca.
Light in Winter is at venues throughout Ithaca. Tickets are available for individual events ($10-$30), or you can buy a festival pass for $120. For information and detailed event schedules call 607-273-4497, 800-284-8422, or visit www.lightinwinter.com.
January 28 through February 10, Toronto
Toronto's WinterCity definitely wins points for pomp and glitter. The two-week party gets the whole city involved, and concentrates on the arts and fine food. Probably the biggest spectacle is the Wild on Winter series of free, outdoor performances. This year France's Groupe F will illuminate Nathan Phillips Square opening weekend with its own brand of pyrotechnics, music, and street theater. The following weekend Holland's Close-Act will turn the Square into a fantasy land full of stilt-walkers, hot-air balloons, giant birds, acrobats, and futuristic silver creatures. The rest of the series has comedy acts, performance art, dance theater, and circus and street-performance acts.
Indoor entertainment includes La Boheme, a performance of Tennessee Williams' The Glass Menagerie, an acrobatics show, master classes with the National Ballet of Canada, a film festival, comedy at The Second City, and a roots, blues, and folk music marathon. Tickets range in price, but most are affordable. Families can take an animation workshop, participate in special activities at museums, take advantage of lift-ticket discounts, or catch some theater for kids.
The festival's culinary component, Winterlicious, lets you dine at 120 of Toronto's best restaurants, all at prix fixe menus.
A WinterCity passport gets you discounts at restaurants and landmarks throughout the city. Many outdoor performances are free. Maps, schedules, and ticket information can be found at 416-338-0490 or www.toronto.ca/special_events.
February 18 through 27, Syracuse
Winterfest in Syracuse is all about snow. The theme is "There's Snow Place Like Central New York" and this year the organizers are going to try to break the Guinness Book of World Records for the most snow angels. They need more than 1,792. That's a lot of powder.
This ambitious 10-day party packs in 150 events. Watch ice carving demonstrations, listen to live music, pull a pal in the human dogsled race, try your hand at trivia or karaoke, cut a rug at one of several dances, or volunteer your tasting services in the gumbo, chili, and chowder cook-offs --- or at the martini and Bloody Mary mix-offs.
There is also the Medallion Hunt: A plastic disc is hidden somewhere in Onondaga County and finder gets $1000.
Don't forget to make a snow angel.
For more information, including schedules and ticket information, call 315-466-9468 or visit www.syracusewinterfest.com.