If you could describe Red Lodge in one word, it would be festive. Red Lodge loves to celebrate - and why not? With so many merriments happening during the winter season, it seems only right to create one giant festival.

The Red Lodge Winterfest blends the Winter Carnival and the National Skijoring Finals for a 10 day festival of events for the entire family. From March 1-10, there is an event every day or evening to attend.

Winter Carnival

The winter carnival is a giant party to celebrate everything Red Lodge. More so, it highlights the beautiful landscape, community togetherness and vibrant love of the arts. The celebration includes live music, costumes, cardboard sledding races, Torchlight Parade, fireworks, and independent films playing at the Roman Theater.

The carnival customarily has a theme and this year, participants are invited into the world of wizardry. From Middle Earth to Hogwarts, all genre of wizard (or witch) costume is encouraged. Bring your wand and be prepared for a magical time.

Festivities kick off at 5:30 p.m. on Friday, March 1, with a parade in Downtown Red Lodge. Participants in the Cardboard Classic at Red Lodge Mountain are encouraged to join the parade with costumes, cardboard crafts. 

Cardboard Classic

Bring your sledding skills – the Cardboard Classic will shred some serious snow March 2, at Red Lodge Mountain. Contestants race down part of the mountain in their own workmanship. Design it any way you want that matches the theme: the Hogwarts express, a dragon, an owl, or The Wizard of Oz’s hot air balloon – there is only one rule, the vehicle can only be made with cardboard, glue, and tape. Age divisions vary.

On Sunday, March 3, The Yellowstone Wildlife Sanctuary has invited children 10 and under to reuse their cardboard sleds in a The Critter Classic, a kids sledding race, that will take place at 2 p.m. on Sunday, March 3, the sanctuary. Young contestants will be served hot chocolate and snacks; partake in animal-related activities; and enjoy a safe time on some mini-slopes.

“It’s not an intense competition,” said Gary Robson, executive director for the Yellowstone Wildlife Sanctuary, “but there will prizes for most creative and fastest sleds.”

Contests are judged on creativity of craft and costume, as well as speed. Divisions are separated by age. For more information or to register go to redlodgemountain.com/winter-carnival.

Torchlight Parade and fireworks show

After the sun sets on March 2, crowds gather around the bottom of the mountain. In the silent, black distance, lights begin to appear. Small at first – just a glimpse here and there. Then, like a swarm of fireflies, approximately 80 skiers with flares on the ends of long bamboo sticks pour down the summit of Red Lodge Mountain. Followed by the cheers and tears of joy from the crowd, a beautiful collage of fireworks ignite the sky from the base area. Bring hot drinks, warm blankets and the entire family to this magical event.

You must be age 13+ and an advanced skier or snowboarder to participate in the Torchlight Parade. A limited number of spaces are available. Spots will open to the general public at 3:30 pm on the day of the event, Saturday March 2, 2019. Sign-ups at this time will be on a first-come, first-serve basis at the Ticket Office. 

Attendees may purchase hot drinks at the Bierstube or Main Lodge. Per Montana liquor laws, not outside alcohol is permitted on the premises.

Ski-Joring National Finals

Skijoring, a skier pulled by a horse, dog or recreational vehicle, took root in Red Lodge circa 1964 as part of a Cutter Races event hosted by the Beartooth Roping and Riding Club. While animals have been pulling sleds, skiers and carriages throughout history, the sport is believed to originate from Scandinavia. The Montana spin on Skijoring brings extreme skier and cowboy together for an incredible competition.

Kristen Beck had no idea she would someday be the event coordinator for the Red Lodge Skijoring Association. Three years ago, it looked like the event was losing steam and volunteers.

“I asked how I could help keep it going and the reins were handed to me. I was finishing the final year of my doctorate as a nurse practitioner and wasn’t sure I could do it, but the event was too awesome to let it just fade away,” said Beck.

The association had been hosting the National Finals Skijoring Races since 1980 and became a celebrated event in the community. Beck knew it was worth fighting for and began asking for help.

“I called my friend Monica Plecker to help me and she has been there every step of the way,” said Beck.

Along with Plecker, many volunteers and supporters have worked vigilantly with Beck to maintain the races while adding new elements to make it a family-friendly event.

“We are going to have kid’s activities this year like a s’more station, a climbing wall and bouncy horse games,” said Beck.

The event also features a pee-wee race division for children 12 and under; a junior division for 13-17; and a century division for experienced skiers.

There will also be races for novice, sport, and open (for top competitors), as well as a snowboarding competition.

“People asked for a snowboarding component, so we are providing that for them,” she said.

The event is held at the Home of Champion Rodeo grounds. The 700 foot, U-shaped track takes the rider and skier through 20 slalom gates and four jumps.

“They are hitting speeds up to 25 miles per hour. That doesn’t sound very fast, but on a horse – or being pulled by a horse- that is very fast,” said Beck.

There is also a separate long jump competition in which the rider and horse pull their skier over one jump for the longest distance each day. Distances have exceeded 60 feet.

Festivities kick off Friday, March 8 with a registration party at the Silver Strike Sports bar. Races are from noon to 3 p.m., Saturday, March 9, at the Home of Champion Rodeo grounds.

Keep the party going Saturday night at the Red Lodge Venue at Bone Daddy’s for a Calcutta of the Open, Sport, Century, Snowboard, and Long Jump divisions, where proceeds benefit two local charities. Winter Festival Concert to follow featuring Matt Strachan & the Hoot Owls and Lee Calvin and the Coal Cars. Tickets can be purchased in advance. Combination skijoring and music festival tickets available too.

The races continue on Sunday, March 10, from noon to 3 p.m., with a chili cook off and climbing wall.

“We will also have little fire pits everywhere and a heating tent,” said Beck.

Attendees can enjoy the many onsite vendors, beer and food trucks as well as wagon rides from parking lot to racing grounds.

Sunday evening closes the events with an awards ceremony at Foster and Logans Pub & Grill with cash prizes and buckles for the top four racers.

Like the undeniable sense of unity in Red Lodge, there is something for everyone at the National Finals Skijoring Races.

Red Lodge Tour and Taxi will be donating their time for shuttle services Saturday and Sunday from 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., and 3-4:30 p.m., with pick-up in front of the Blue Ribbon Bar.

“Red Lodge is an amazing town. We couldn’t do this with the community involvement, said Beck.

For more information call Kristen Beck at (808)-283-2201 or visit redlodgeskijoring.com.

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Special Sections managing editor

Special Sections Asst. Editor at The Billings Gazette.