Festivals to combat cabin fever

Old-fashioned carousel provides fun for young and old alike during Lowell Winterfest. Photo by Tory Germann courtesy City of Lowell.
Tory Germann/courtesy City of Lowell
Old-fashioned carousel provides fun for young and old alike during Lowell Winterfest.

Winter’s short days can get awfully long for those of us who don’t spend all our waking hours on skis or snowboards. But it’s pretty amazing what kinds of activities folks dream up to keep from going stir-crazy. New Englanders have a long history of gathering to laugh in winter’s icy face. Here are some winter festivals to keep your smile frozen in place. “Weather permitting” is the caveat for all outdoor events.

Stowe Winter Carnival - Jan. 13-27

Stowe, Vt.

Stowe Winter Carnival
An ice carver works on a sculpture to be displayed at the Stowe Winter Carnival.

In the spirit of the upcoming February games at PyeongChang, organizers of the 44th annual Stowe Winter Carnival have dubbed this year’s celebration the “StowOlympics!” Never mind that snowgolf and snowvolleyball aren’t exactly IOC-sanctioned sports. Other highlights include a moonlight snowshoe trek to a woodsy sugarhouse (adults $59, children $39) led by Umiak Outfitters, and the nationally recognized professional ice-carving competition at the Alchemist Brewery. Most events are free for spectators. 802-253-7321,

Newport Winter Festival – Feb. 3

Newport, Vt.

When you live on the edge of a lake as big and beautiful as Memphremagog, you take full advantage of that vast expanse of ice. Newport Parks & Rec clears a skating path and a hockey rink for starters. Global warming permitting, 2-foot-thick blocks of ice harvested from the lake are stacked about four high to create each year’s version of an ice castle. Moreover, a 1,000-foot track is plowed on the lake for the Fire & Ice Snowmobile Radar Runs. (Top speeds sometimes exceed 130 miles per hour.) Newport also preserves the north country tradition of broomball, a skate-free, stick-free, puck-free version of ice hockey played with brooms and a ball. Register in advance for broomball ($10). Most events are free. 802-334-6345,

Greenfield Winter Carnival - Feb. 2-4



The carnival gets off to a rousing start on Friday with ice-carvers downtown, an evening Parade of Lights (minimum of 500 lights per vehicle), and fireworks launched from the Poet’s Seat Tower. The first 75 registrants for the Sleigh Bell Run on Saturday get a T-shirt and a sleigh bell bracelet. Sunday’s snow-centric activities include horsedrawn sleigh and wagon rides and the K9 Keg Pull. Big dogs haul kegs from Lefty’s Brewing, while Yorkies or Chihuahuas pull a beer can. Expect some wild creations in the cardboard sled contest. Builders race them, with a special prize for “Best Crash.” Most events free, otherwise $2-$25. 413-772-1553,

Newport Winter Carnival - Feb. 8-11

Newport, N.H.

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The oldest continuous town winter festival celebrates its 102nd edition this year. The “Life is Sweet” theme extends to a life-sized Candy Land game inside the high school gym—each person attending becomes a playing piece. The Axmen woodsplitting challenge is always a highlight, as is the “Frozen Open” snow golf event. (One club, one ball . . . ) Other events include midnight ice skating, horse-drawn wagon rides, ice hockey, and a pancake breakfast. Many events free with $1 Carnival button, otherwise $3-$25. 603-863-1510,

Dartmouth Winter Carnival Feb. 8-11

Hanover, N.H.

Just 30 miles north of Newport on Route 120, Dartmouth’s winter festival started in 1911, making this year’s the 108th. What began as a snow sporting weekend, has grown to a three-day campus-wide festival, including ice sculptures on the Dartmouth Green. The public is welcome to many events and spectating is free. The alpine ski competitions at the Dartmouth Skiway are always a highlight, but many goings-on are well-suited to those who don’t harbor Olympic ambitions. Students tend to dress with flair for the “human dogsled” competition and undress with flair for the polar bear plunge. This year’s theme is “Snow Wars – May the Frost Be With You.” As one student explained, “there are a lot of correlations. We like things like that.”

Newport Winter FestivalFeb. 16-25

Newport, R.I.

Ever since the first yacht sailed into Newport harbor, this venerable city has followed the mantra to go big or go home. With more than 150 events, the winter festival is a snow season blowout. Parrotheads don flip-flops and shorts to dance to a Jimmy Buffett tribute band and many gourmands hail the Chili Cookoff as the festival’s gastronomic highlight. Don’t miss the winter beach polo competition, a Newport original created for the festival. Festival admission bracelets ($10) provide stylish entrée to most events and discounts to the rest. Most prices range $3-$25. 401-847-7666,

Beach polo is one of the highlights of the Newport, R.I., Winter Festival.
Brittany Rosenberg
Beach polo is one of the highlights of the Newport, R.I., Winter Festival.

North Adams Winterfest Feb. 17-18

North Adams

The operative word at the North Adams celebration is “free.” Folks gather downtown on Saturday for horsedrawn carriage rides, a street firepit with sticks and makings for s’mores, ice sculptures, and a big winter farmers’ market and artisans’ fair. There’s also free skating — and free skate rentals — at the veterans memorial rink. On Sunday, the venue shifts to Windsor Lake for sledding, tubing, hiking, and cross country skiing. A big bonfire and cocoa (free, of course) wrap up the festival. 413-664-6180,

Brattleboro Winter Carnival Feb. 17-25

Brattleboro, Vt.


Brattleboro keeps a symbolic torch burning throughout the nine days of Winter Carnival and even features Junior Olympics alpine ski and skating races. A sugar-on-snow event, pancake breakfast, sleigh and hay rides, and visits to animals in their barns conjure up old-timey New England. Family day activities (for ages 3 and up), a teen dance, and an adults-only country western jamboree give all ages a break from winter’s routine. Some events free, most $1-$8.

Lowell Winterfest Feb. 23-24


Lowell holds one of the least snow-dependent festivals, providing free rink skating and two separate slides for sled-free fun. Street performers keep the celebrations lively, while bands perform in a nice warm music tent. Local vendors sell arts and crafts, specialty foods, and fashion at the winter market, and food trucks augment the brews at the beer garden. An old-fashioned carousel swirls through the day and evening. Special illuminations spotlight the canals and City Hall. Most events free. 978-674-4260,

The Axmen woodsplitting competition at the Newport, N.H., Winter Carnival.
Beth Rexford
The Axmen woodsplitting competition at the Newport, N.H., Winter Carnival.

Contact Patricia Harris and David Lyon at