There’s Snowplace Like Syracuse Winterfest

by James P. Hughes

As the old song goes, “Oh, it’s a long, long while from May to December…” but those lines can easily be paraphrased for upstate winters – “Oh, it’s a long, long while from autumn ‘til spring!” Joy fills the holiday season, but deep in January our harsh winters inevitably begin to drag. Seasonal cheer fades and yet the blossoms of spring are still far, far away. So, what to do – skating, skiing, watching Syracuse University basketball, curling up with a good book by the fireplace?

Determined that wasn’t enough, in 1985 some Syracusans decided not to just survive winter but to celebrate it, and at the same time promote their city and what it had to offer.

Backed by the Updowntowners of Syracuse, Inc., and driven by spirited volunteers and a small staff finding their way, a lively weekend event was created. The first Syracuse Winterfest was born!

From those modest beginnings, Winterfest quickly gained support – city, county, community organizations, local TV and radio. Year after year, the size, scope, and excitement of the celebration has grown to an 11-day festival encompassing two full weekends. Now with an annual draw in excess of 100,000 visitors, many from out of state and Canada, Syracuse Winterfest is considered the largest event of its kind in the Northeast.

The Show (and the Snow) Must Go On

Festivities continue in 2020 as Syracuse Winterfest welcomes the public to its 35th anniversary from February 13th – 23rd. This year’s slogan, “Syracuse’s Coolest Tradition,” captures the inspiration of both the fest and the winter weather itself. Dedicated organizers forge a sweeping schedule, one that appeals to all age levels and interests. Traditional “crowd favorites” have survived the decades while fresh ideas surface with each new year. Any description of activities barely scratches the surface:

Music and Theater?

“Ice Breaker” and “Chill Out” dance parties. Vocal and live concerts from R & B to classical. Performances from comedy to serious drama.

Fun and Games?

Follow clues to a $2,000 prize medallion in the
Post-Standard Treasure Hunt, enter a team in the addictive Cornhole Tournament, or test your knowledge at multiple Team Trivia sites leading to a grand championship.

Ice and Snow?

Ice carving and snow sculpture. Ice skating on the Clinton Square rink at city center where long, long ago skaters glided on a frozen Erie Canal. Guided walks, snowshoeing, sledding, and sleigh rides in area parks.

Food and drink sampling are in a category by themselves. Always crowd favorites, local restaurants offer friendly competitions – comfort food at its best: Chili and Chowder Cook-offs, Sandwich Stroll, Culinary Cruise, and Wing Walk. A modestly priced ticket entitles the holder to a walking (or shuttle bus) tour of multiple establishments to sample and savor each event’s specialty. Votes are cast and tallied for the best of the bunch with plaques and “bragging rights” going to the victorious establishments.

The other side of “eat, drink and be merry” is satisfied with a series of “Mix-Offs” and beer tastings. Once again, patrons travel about to sample the clever cocktail creations of an ever-growing series of downtown taverns. From martinis to margaritas, stellar taste and presentation will win the day when the final votes are counted. The unique Downtown Dining Week coordinates with the festival. Many of Syracuse’s finest restaurants and bistros showcase their culinary expertise presenting multi-course meals at special prices.

While traditionally the focus of Syracuse Winterfest is the downtown area, sites across the rest of the city and county come alive with activity during the fest’s run. Local museums, libraries, parks, and even the Rosamond Gifford Zoo chime in with ongoing projects and ventures – vacation camps, art classes, exhibitions, and speakers to name a few.
Interested? Take a break, create a schedule of favorites, and see you in February!

Syracuse Winterfest
February 13 through 23, 2020

Complete event and site information is available on the festival’s website. A printed Syracuse Winterfest guide also details the widespread schedule of activities.

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