By January 1st, everyone is usually ready for a break from the holiday festivities that kick off in November. For those who want the celebration to continue on just a little longer, however, the McCall Winter Carnival is just the event to keep the party going. The City of McCall that the area has the highest snowfall average of any major city in the state, so what better place to host a festival that celebrates the winter season? Every year, for 10 days in late January, the city welcomes visitors from near and far to join them in a multitude of activities designed to entertain and make the most of the frosty wonderland that is McCall, Idaho.

An Idyllic Setting 

The McCall Winter Carnival has been a tradition in the scenic mountain town for over 50 years, although the city's fun-loving reputation dates back to the 1920s. Over the decades, McCall has become known as an outdoorsman's dream-destination all year round. If you are in town for the McCall Winter Carnival, though, it's the wintertime activities that will keep you busy. The area typically gets over 300 inches of snowfall on the average, according to the McCall Chamber of Commerce, creating ideal conditions for nearby Brundage Mountain Resort as well as the 500 miles of snowmobile trails (all groomed, of course), the 60 km of Nordic ski trails, and plentiful wide-open spaces for snowshoeing, sledding, and other winter sports.

McCall Winter Carnival Events

The McCall Winter Carnival usually opens on the last Friday in January and continues through the following weekend. The central event of the festival is the snow sculpture contest. With the main material in abundant supply, craftsmen have turned sculpting snow into an art form and they come from near and far to show off their skills and imagination. Though professionals and amateurs alike enter the contest, the snow sculpture display during the carnival takes snowman and snow castle-building to an entirely new level. You'll see everything from a basic Frosty the Snowman to elaborate figures and carvings of castles, teepees, and almost lifelike snowpeople. The sculptures are scattered throughout the town, so taking a tour to view the Arctic artwork also takes you on a tour of McCall, but you have the duration of the carnival to see it all.

Snow sculpting might be the focal point of the McCall Winter Carnival, but there are tons of other activities scheduled throughout the 10 days of the festival. There is a craft fair on the first Friday, as well as a court with vendors selling everything from apparel to souvenirs and, of course, food. There are all types of live performances including stand-up comedy and music,  and a lobster feed, too. In addition to all of that, there are a number of other events and activities that carnival veterans will tell you should not be missed.

An enduring part of the festival is the Children's Torchlight Parade that takes place after sundown on the first night of the McCall Winter Carnival. Any child 11 years or older can participate, marching in a shining procession from the Congregational Church on 1st Street to Depot Park, where a bonfire signals the official beginning of the festival and sparks the opening ceremonies. Yet, all that radiant, glowing goings-on aren't enough. Immediately following the carnival kick-off, a brilliant fireworks display is presented over beautiful Payette Lake. 

A beer garden is open on the weekends during the carnival, but a new tradition has been started in the last few years that is kind of a festival-within-a-festival, according to the Idaho Press-Tribune. The Barley Brothers Winter Ale Festival takes place on the second Friday and Saturday of the McCall Winter Carnival and features a selection of around 100 different varieties of beers. The Winter Ale Festival also includes food, live bands, games, and contests such as the charity snowball fight that signals the start of the Winter Ale Festival.

The Manchester Ice Center stays busy during carnival days, providing a place for visitors and residents to skate but also hosting a few of the carnival events. Everyone looks forward to the Black and Blue Rivalry Hockey Game, where the University of Idaho Hockey Team battles the Boise State Hockey Club, usually on opening night of the McCall Winter Carnival. Then, later during the 10-day festival, the Ice Center hosts McCall Starz on Ice Extravaganza, featuring competitive ice skaters performing in a holiday-themed show.

Ice skating isn't the only winter sport you'll enjoy during the carnival. The Flash Point Snowbike Race is an exciting event in which professional snowbike racers compete using modified motorcycles on a specialized track covered in snow. If you'd rather participate than watch, you can sign up for the Nordic and Alpine events that make up the Hometown Races. And even the furry members of your family can get in on the wintertime sports fun when you sign them up for the MCPAWS Regional Animal Shelter's Monster Dog Pull. Dogs of any size can enter to show-off their sledding skills, pulling a weighted sled along a short track. Naturally, proceeds from this event benefit the shelter.

On top of all of those exciting events are others that take place throughout the 10 days of the carnival, such as live music on the stage at the Depot. There are at least two bingo nights at different venues and a Monte Carlo Casino Night at the Northfork Lodge. Plus, the McCall Winter Carnival winds things up the same way it starts: with another glorious fireworks display over Payette Lake. If there is one thing you can count on, it's that by the end of the McCall Winter Carnival, you are certain to have your fill of winter and holiday fun.

Making the Move to McCall

There's just one problem with attending the McCall Winter Carnival and that is that the hotels tend to fill up months in advance. As the years pass, more and more people from around the country have put the festival on their annual calendars so, if you don't book your accommodations far enough in advance, you may have to find a place to stay in one of the surrounding towns such as Cascade, Donnelly, New Meadows, or Riggins. On the other hand, people have been known to start seriously perusing the MLS listings for McCall Real Estate after attending the Winter Carnival. The surroundings are beautiful and, although the town is considered small by population standards, it has ample amenities including shopping, restaurants, schools, entertainment and more, earning McCall, Idaho an A+ from AreaVibes. Plus, having a home or cabin in McCall means not having to worry about finding a place to stay during the festival or any time of the year as summer activities are just as abundant.

You might want to make the move permanent, or consider buying a cabin for vacation stays. Imagine spending time at your McCall cabin during Christmas and New Years, then extending your stay so you can be there for the carnival. Buying a cabin would mean you wouldn't have to find a place to stay if you wanted to take a ski vacation to Brundage, Little Ski Hill, or Tamarack, and you would also have a place to call home during the summer if you wanted to come to McCall for the boating, fishing, hiking, biking, or any of the numerous other warm-weather activities McCall is known for.

Some people aren't the vacation home types, and there's nothing wrong with that. If you want to have just one home and have it in McCall, buying a cabin is still a terrific idea. Cabin living is cozy, no matter what the square footage is. Plus, the National Association of Home Builders Log and Timber Homes Council numerous other reasons why you should opt for a log home, such as their natural energy efficiency, longevity, and the fact that log and timber homes weather well and are great at standing up to anything Idaho weather dishes out.

Buying a cabin isn't a prerequisite for living in McCall, however. The MLS listings in McCall have just as many other architectural styles alternative to cabins and lodges. Plus, with Payette Lake as a significant feature in McCall, you could buy a home on the lake if you've always dreamed of lakeside living. What's more, if you prefer building a home from the ground-up rather than buying a cabin or any style of existing home, McCall MLS listings also have a selection of lots and acreage available so you can build to suit.

If you can't get to the McCall Winter Carnival this year, be sure to put it on your calendar for next year. It's truly an event that shouldn't be missed. In the meantime, if you want to start looking for a home to buy, Jeff Stewart and the team at Stewart Realty can help. They're the real estate specialists when it comes the Cascade, Donnelly and McCall areas. To find out more about the MLS listings in McCall or the rest of Southwestern Idaho, give Jeff Stewart at Stewart Realty a call for a personal tour of the area and some great homes that fit your style and budget. Jeff Stewart, Broker/Owner 208-602-1993 or jeff@stewartrealtyllc.com