Sunday, December 7, 2008

Winter Festival Double Whammy in TC

Cherry Winterfest Logo
a news release of Michigan Ski News

Even during an ordinary season, February is a busy time in this northern Michigan resort community of skiers, snowmobilers and snowboarders. But thanks to a rare conjunction of events, the 2009 President's Day weekend (Feb. 13-16) promises to take things to an entirely new level.

For the first time, Traverse City's annual February winter carnival -- the Cherry Capital Winter WonderFest -- coincides with the North American Vasa Festival of Races, which draws hundreds of cross-country skiers and fans to the area each year. Winter WonderFest has grown rapidly in size and scope since its 2007 startup, with more than 50 indoor and outdoor events scheduled between Friday evening and Monday afternoon. And the North American Vasa is a perfect complement to its atmosphere of casual merrymaking.

Now in its 33rd year, the Vasa is a hugely popular event among Midwestern ski racers - thanks largely to the beauty of the course, which snakes through the pines and hardwoods of the Pere Marquette State Forest. The main competition, which features 12K, 27K and 50K races in both freestyle and classic modes, will take place on Saturday, Feb. 14, while its companion event - the Gran Travers Classic (6K and 16K) is scheduled for Sunday. This winter, those skiers and their supporters won't have to look far for opportunities to entertain themselves between races. The Third Annual Cherry Capital Winter WonderFest encompass a rich menu of concerts, competitions, films, fireworks, food tastings and children's activities -- most of them concentrated on the scenic 900-acre grounds of the Grand Traverse Resort & Spa, just a snowball's throw from the Vasa racecourse.

"The Winter WonderFest has grown into a community-wide celebration in just a couple of years, and we see it continuing to grow thanks to the multiple venues we've created," said Resort general manager Grant Channing. "They provide variety for the weekend's activities and show a strong commitment from our partners." The centerpiece of the festival is a "Winter Fun Zone" with ice skating, pony rides, inflatable play structures, rides on ponies, dogsleds, snowmobiles and horse-drawn sleighs, sledding, cross-country skiing and snowshoeing and a selection of competitive events that range from the familiar (the Running Fit Frosty 5K foot race and a kid's snowshoe race) to the unlikely (a "frozen fish toss" and a "Polar Plunge" event where daring swimmers jump into an icy pond to raise money for charity). There are bonfires, films, live music, fireworks, and lots of festive food and beverages. But the festival has spread to other venues, including the nearby Mt. Holiday Ski Area - where there'll be such offbeat competitions as a snowboarding "rail jam" event, a mountain bike race down the ski hill and a "Cardboard Bobsled-o-Rama" in which competitors must use sleds made only with cardboard, tape and paint.

"How could we not get involved?" asked Mt. Holiday general manager Rick Van Tongeren. "Everybody who's heard about this thing is just extremely excited. I went into the bank the other day and the clerks all came running up asking me how many sleds they could enter."

A full schedule is also in place in Traverse City's charming 19th century downtown shopping district, where there'll be a "Save the Bees" dessert reception (with local honey and live entertainment by Grammy Award winning vocal troupe Sweet Honey in the Rock) in the elegantly-restored City Opera House , ice carving and snow sculpture displays, a "frozen bed race" through the streets and the popular "Soup r' Bowl" competition in which participants slurp up soups created by local chefs and cast ballots for their favorites. "Winter WonderFest truly demonstrates the four-season nature of our destination," said Brad Van Dommelen, president of the Traverse City Convention & Visitors Bureau. "Traverse City is much more than just the great beach town many people think of, and this event is a great way for visitors to be introduced to a different side of our community." A portion of the Winter WonderFest proceeds support the programs of Special Olympics Michigan.

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