Northern Michigan Winter Festivals: The Superguide

The snowy season has arrived. Let’s celebrate! Hit one, some or all of these spirited Northern Michigan Festivals.

Traverse City: “You’re Snow Funny!”

The laughs are coming back to Northern Michigan this winter with the return of a comedy fest, only this time the multiday event also will present a daytime slate of outdoor family activities.

The Great Lakes Winter Comedy Festival—a collaboration between Traverse City’s two largest summer events, the National Cherry Festival and Traverse City Film Festival—is slated for Presidents’ Day weekend, February 14 thru 17.

“We’re trying to bring together some of the best elements of what was the Winter WOW!Fest and at the same time bring back the greatly missed comedy festival attributes for one big, high-impact weekend,” says Trevor Tkach, executive director of the Cherry Festival.

Festival evenings will serve up comedy performances and films—mostly comedy films—at the State Theatre, City Opera House and Old Town Playhouse. Festival days will host activities and entertainment downtown on Front Street (organizers plan to close the city street to traffic). Expect a synthetic ice-skating rink, sledding hill, sled-dog pulls, soup tasting, and possibly a Ferris wheel, bonfire, 3D imaging show and fireworks. Events formerly held in the public parking lot just north of downtown will move to the heart of the city. Evening events will be mostly ticketed, but daytime events will be mostly free or low cost.

“We want to do something that is really, really cool,” says Tkach, who worked with Deb Lake, executive director of the Traverse City Film Festival, on the new festival concept. “We’re working together for the good of the region.”

Organizers hope the festival is a shot in the arm for area businesses that may struggle during the colder months. “We’re trying to put together an event that’s not only enjoyable because it’s great fun, but because it’s an economic driver. We’ve got high hopes,” Tkach says.

Manistee: Victorian Sleighbell Parade & Old Christmas Weekend

This event, celebrating its 24th year, brings as many as 10,000 visitors to Manistee to experience Christmas past. Festivities this year are slated for December 6–9. Weekend activities include: soup cook-off; cookies for everyone event; horse-drawn carriage rides; sleighbell chocolate shop; craft show and bazaar; gingerbread house contest; festival of trees; concerts; guided tours of historical buildings, Lumberjack Lunch; visit from Santa; and a Jingle Bell Jog. Enjoy dinner at one of Manistee’s downtown restaurants, then stay for the carolers decked out in period dresses, coats and top hats. 877.626.4783,

Petoskey: Winter Blues Festival

Chase the winter blahs away Petoskey-style February 18–23, when the city’s annual winter blues fest kicks off with several family-friendly events. The festival, marking its fifth year, offers events, including the popular Petoskey’s Got Talent show, Whine and Dine progressive dinner, Chocoholic Frolic, Chase the Blues 5K Fun Run/Walk and Mad Hatter’s Tea Party.  231.622.8501,

Munising: Michigan Ice Fest

Ice is king at this annual U.P. festival, slated for February 1–3. The 30th annual celebration draws world-class ice climbers and complete beginners to climb frozen waterfalls along Lake Superior cliffs. (A man-made ice-climbing wall in Munising’s Bayshore Park offers a training ground and place to show off.) A snowman-making contest, snowshoe demos, food, games, sledding and evening bonfire round out the weekend’s offerings.,

Cadillac: North American Snow Festival

The Lake Cadillac shore becomes the stage for the North American Snow Festival February 1–2. A chili cook-off launches the weekend Thursday night, with a poker fun run, sleigh rides, grilling contest and entertainment set for Friday. Saturday and Sunday activities include ice fishing, motorcycle and snowmobile races on Lake Cadillac, polar bear dip, four-wheel slush cup and snow sculptures. 800.22.LAKES, 231.775.0657,

Michigan Tech: Winter Carnival

A wintry tradition now in its 92nd year, the 2013 version of commemorating the northernmost U.P.’s character-building climate is set for February 6–10. More than 200 inches of snow falls on Houghton each winter, so Michigan Tech students are pros at not letting “this abundant natural resource go to waste,” as they say. The snow fun happens in myriad ways: ice bowling, gigantic snow sculptures, human dog sled races, broomball, and skits (with songs) celebrating facial hair growth (the contest starts in December and culminates at Winter Carnival). Events take place on campus and at various locations in Houghton and the adjoining town of Hancock. Blue Key National Honor Fraternity for details, 906.487.2818,

Beulah: Winterfest

Always held the second weekend of February, Winterfest in Beulah has loads of family outdoor fun—frozen fish toss, anyone?—plus a wow-factor fireworks display over Crystal Lake. Other activities: snowmobile poker run, co-ed softball tournament, frozen turkey bowling, chili cook-off and parade. This year’s event is slated for February 9. 800.882.5801,

Boyne City: Winterfest

Boyne City’s annual Winterfest is set for January 26 in downtown. Cross-country ski events for children in Veterans Park, ski tours on city trails, games, sidewalk sales, ice sculptures and snowman-making are among the activities. Also visit downtown February 9–10 for Chocolate-Covered Boyne, a celebration of sweet treats and romance. The fifth annual event offers chocolate tastings, entertainment and special discounts at local businesses. 231.582.6222,

Women’s Winter Tour

Grab your girlfriends for this wintry event in February that combines outdoor exhilaration (snowshoeing and cross-country skiing) with indoor relaxation (wine tasting and delicious food). New for its 15th year: the event starts in Traverse City and ends at Black Star Farms in Suttons Bay in Leelanau County. The Tour remains a female tradition held the same weekend as the Super Bowl. Proceeds benefit several nonprofits.

Bay Harbor Ice and Spice Cook-Off

Ice carving and chili tastings are anchors of this celebration at Petoskey’s Village at Bay Harbor that organizers say now attracts thousands. Set for January 18–19, the event offers carving competitions for professionals and amateurs alike (Bay Harbor is one of 14 stops on the 2013 National Tour of Champions and is sanctioned by the National Ice Carving Association). After taking in the impressive sculptures, check out the chili cook-off. The 12th annual event also presents family outdoor activities.

Boyne USA’s Brew-Ski Festival

The fourth installment of this suds and snow event is set for March 9 at Boyne Highlands Resort in Harbor Springs and features 100+ craft brews, brats and entertainment under a tent pitched at the base of the slopes. Michigan breweries represented include Bell’s Brewery, Short’s Brewing Co., Arcadia Ales and Founders Brewing Co., among others, as well as a selection of specialty beers from outside the state. The event itself is free, with tickets available for beer purchases. Check with hotel staff for special weekend lodging deals and lift ticket prices. 800-GO-BOYNE,

Ski Resort Blowouts

Nub’s Nob’s Mardi Gras, The resort’s annual spring fling, held March 23, boasts challenge races like the Soaker Cup, costume contest, crazy couples, face painting, the Fat Tire Boogie, Dorie Sarns Open races and live entertainment featuring the Petoskey Steel Drum Band on the deck. All ages welcome.

Suds and Snow, Timber Ridge Snowshoeing and Michigan craft beer converge in this annual event that has quickly become a Northern Michigan winter stalwart. Slated for March 2, Suds and Snow takes place at Traverse City’s Timber Ridge RV & Recreation Resort—home to some of the region’s best trails, including a 5K link to the Vasa Pathway. After last year’s event fell on the same weekend as the region’s worst snowstorm in years, organizers say there’s not a doubt this festival tradition will continue—the 2012 event had a decent turnout despite the storm, because people without power opted to come to Suds and Snow. Follow up your snowshoe romp with food and drink in heated tents and around bonfires. The event also presents live music, and snowshoes are available to rent.  231.947.2770,

Caberfae Peaks 75th Anniversary, Caberfae marks a big milestone this season: 75 years as a destination ski resort (just two other such operations in the United States had an earlier start). To commemorate the anniversary, Caberfae is hosting a celebration on January 16—the day of the grand opening in 1938. Expect lift ticket specials and other resort deals as part of the shindig. With improved snowmaking and grooming—the resort added 32 snow guns this year alone—Caberfae stands ready to lay on the white stuff. A new bar and grill offer fresh gathering spots.  231.862.3000,

This article and additional photos are also available in the December issue of Traverse, Northern Michigan’s Magazine. Subscribe now!

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