Our winter scene breeds Scrooges if left to its own devices. Prizes like the Golden Snowball Award, an unofficial prize given last year to the Upstate city with the highest snowfall, bring only a small smile amidst snow heaps, icy winds, and flu strains.
Thankfully, there are festivals. That's right: Some hard-working and happy-go-lucky souls who don't even know us have arranged days --- sometimes weeks --- of fun to prevent us from developing seasonal affective disorder or moving to California.
Bill Cooper and Anne Goehner are two such souls in Syracuse. The pair is working to thaw winter angst in the city that was last year's Golden Snowball Award winner. Cooper claims that Syracuse Winterfest (February 12 to 22) is the best attraction in Central New York during the winter months. It has the distinction of being the largest event of its kind in the northeastern United States.
One of the first events of Winterfest is the kickoff to the Medallion Hunt, where a medallion is hidden on county or city property prior to the first day of Winterfest. Whoever finds the treasure can take home over $1,000 in prizes.
In between the festival's start and finish much fun will be had, including a week-long trivia contest, a variety of cook-offs, kids' games, free ice skating, and sledding. The Culinary Cruise, which will take place on Valentine's Day, lets you sample the appetizers, entrees, and desserts of 15 different restaurants reachable on foot or by bus.
Another tradition, and one of Cooper's favorite events, is the human dogsled race. Four people push or pull a sled while a fifth person rides. If there isn't enough snow on the ground --- an anomaly in the land of the Golden Snowball --- snow will be trucked in.
For information, call 315-466-9468 or visit www.syracusewinterfest.com.
With a set of snow tires and at least a small craving for the out-of-the-ordinary winter festival, you should be all set to enjoy Ithaca's Light in Winter festival, January 23 to 25. With the vast group of activities, lectures, concerts, art shows, readings, and museum exhibits, most people will find something worth a drive.
Twenty-one different events are scattered throughout three days and various locations at Ithaca's impressive collection of museums, colleges, and cultural centers. The festival doesn't just offer food vendors and typical performances. This is truly a light amidst the low-stimulation winter months: Each event provides a unique fusion of music, art, and science.
For example: a concert called "Voice of the Whale," featuring George Crumb's piece for electric flute, electric cello, and amplified prepared piano; a story and music concert reenacting the activities and voices of a community of African elephants; a choreographed ice climbing performance; a music performance illustrating the science of spontaneous order; a combined performance by chemist and poet Roald Hoffmann and performance artist Michelle Berry; and an outdoor hunt for snow crystals.
Tickets are available both for individual events and for weekend packages. For information and detailed event schedules call 607-273-4497 or visit www.lightinwinter.com.
If you like the ideaof a dogsled race but would rather not pull your friend around, check out the IFSS World Cup-qualifying dogsled race at this year's I Love New York Winterfest. Held each year in a different region, the I Love New York Winterfest 2004 will take place in the Tug Hill area --- the roughly 2000-square-mile region located in the triangle formed by Watertown, Rome, and Syracuse. The Tug Hill Challenge alone "draws quite a crowd," says Suzanne Bixby, marketing coordinator for the 1000 Islands International Tourism Council.
"It's mushers from all over the country and Canada competing in various dogsled races," Bixby says of the Challenge. "It gains in popularity every year. It's one of the biggest dogsled events on the East Coast."
This Winterfest has already begun: its activities start in early December and continue through March 14. Events like cross-country-ski and snowmobile races, sleigh rides, cookouts, a quilt show, and an ice-fishing derby are spread throughout.
For information and event schedules call 315-779-8240 or visit www.visittughill.com.
Toronto will hosta hardcore celebrationfor 14 eye-catching days this winter with WinterCity, a new, expanded version of Toronto's annual WinterFest. This year everything is bigger, longer, and showier, and can make the first two weeks in February a great time to visit or revisit Toronto. WinterCity's indoor and outdoor performances, discounts to cultural institutions, restaurants, hotels, and tourist attractions, cooking demonstrations from top chefs, and family activities make the entire city too much fun to ignore.
Some amazing outdoor shows are a part of WinterCity's Wild on Winter (WOW!) series. January 30 through February 1, France's Les Commandos Perçus will put on a wild, percussive show set to fireworks. From February 5 to 7, France's Transe Express Company will arrange itself in a human mobile ("Mobile Homme") suspended above the city.
A string of performances just for kids, The Cool Kids Series, will bring live stage appearances from the Kratt Brothers (hosts of the TV show "Zoboomafoo"), Sesame Street characters, Babar the Elephant, and Strawberry Shortcake. There will also be nightly family skating parties in Nathan Phillips Square's community skating rink, with live music.
To provide a break from the chilly outdoor activities, Toronto Eaton Centre will present performances by Las Vegas' Inversion, a troupe that specializes in gravity-defying performances with poles and silk, and various culinary demonstrations by Canadian chefs.
Most WinterCity events take place in Nathan Phillips Square, Yonge-Dundas Square, or Mel Lastman Square. All are accessible by public transportation. Maps, schedules and other information can be found at 416-338-0338 or www.toronto.ca/special_events.
For a good, local winterfest, look no further than Mendon Ponds Park. The ninth annual Mendon Ponds Winterfest will take place this year on Sunday, January 25. Highlights of this one-day festival include horse-drawn wagon rides, curling, ice fishing, skiing, and birding.
"You can feed the chickadees," says Lisa Nicolay, recreation and education director for the Monroe County Parks Department. "They eat birdseed right out of your hand. It's really cool."
The Mendon Ponds Winterfest has seen varied attendance its nine years --- anywhere from 600 to 6,000 people have shown up, depending on the weather. "The best we can hope for is lots of snow and sunshine," Nicolay says.
For more information on Mendon Ponds Winterfest, visit http://www.rochesternordic.org/~winterfest/.
Attending Rochester's annual Lakeside Winter Celebration is another local way to embrace the cold. The festival, which has taken over Ontario Beach Park for the past 20 years, features family activities, a Polar Bear Club dip in the Lake Ontario waters, and the Chilly Chili Challenge --- a cook-off that local chili masters have been gearing up for all year. There are categories for both amateurs and professionals --- the latter typically attracts contestants from area restaurants and caterers, so taste-testers are in for a treat. Vote for the "Best Chili in Rochester" and the "People's Choice Award."
This festival is a short one --- the afternoon of Sunday, February 8 --- but fun and food won't be in short supply.
Find information on the Lakeside Winter Celebration at 865-3320 or at www.cityofrochester.gov.