TRAVERSE CITY — Winter is finally on track again — and so are several of the area's favorite snow-worshipping festivals.
The Cadillac Area Visitors Bureau expects to attract 1,500-2,500 people a day to the North American Snow Festival, said executive director Joy VanDrie. The 29th annual festival runs Jan. 31-Feb. 3 and features dozens of indoor and outdoor events.
"It's really bundling all the good things about winter into one festival," said VanDrie, noting that many events are held on Lakes Mitchell and Cadillac, known for reliable winter ice because of the region's higher elevation.
The festival kicks off Thursday with Family Night at the Cadillac Wexford Civic Arena, featuring music, the Silent Observer Great American Chili Cook-Off and the Miss Cadillac NASF Pageant. Weekend events include the popular snowmobile Lake Races, an antique snowmobile show, a polar dip, a snowman-building contest and the snowmobile-by-flashlight Parade of Lights.
"It's a really cool thing to watch — like a moving, lighted concert," VanDrie said of the Lake Cadillac spectacle.
Back for a second year is speed ice fishing, a quirky twist on the festival's traditional ice fishing tournament.
"If there are 15 who enter, officials poke 15 holes in the ice in a circle, and every 10 minutes the participants have to take their line out and move to the next hole," VanDrie said. "It's all natural fishing, they can't use any electronics. So it's pretty funny to watch them."
Fishing — and just plain fish — also loom large at Winterfest, Feb. 9 in downtown Beulah.
The day-long event begins with a pancake breakfast. It ends with a beach bonfire and fireworks, featuring a Frozen Fish Toss and a Frozen Shootout Ice Fishing Derby.
"It's really a lot of fun. It's really festive," said Steve Loveless, president of the Crystal Lake Community Business Association, which organizes the festival. "We're fully aware that our event falls on the same weekend the Vasa goes on, but we like to project the small-town atmosphere of our event. It's just kind of a nicer, smaller, more intimate thing to do."
Family favorites include the over-the-top outhouse sprint, a frozen turkey bowl, a parade and horse-drawn sleigh rides.
"A really popular event is the dog weight-pulling competition," said Loveless, adding that 30 or 40 dogs from all over the country are expected to vie for trophies and medals in this year's International Weight Pull Association-sanctioned event. "The dogs love it. They just live to do this."
Dogs also will "rein" supreme at the Traverse City Winter Comedy Festival's Monster Dog Pull, one of dozens of outdoor events during the festival, Feb. 14-17 in downtown Traverse City.
Participants can skate, ride a Ferris wheel, sled in a tube, or compete in games like the snowblower races and the Slip N Fall Olympics at the Front Street "Sports Arena" from Friday through Sunday. Sleigh rides, ice sculptures, laser light shows, a Soup'R'Bowl, a pancake breakfast and, of course, comedy, also will figure into the fun.
"I think this is going to be bigger than the Winter WowFest because with two huge festivals teaming up and working together, and having all the events downtown and being able to utilize Front Street, it's going to build excitement and in turn drive people downtown," said Jessica Schlimme, volunteer and corporate membership manager for the National Cherry Festival, which is putting on the event with the Traverse City Film Festival.
Not as big, but much older, is the Petoskey Winter Carnival. The family event — this year slated for Feb. 16 at the Petoskey Winter Sports Park — has been held annually since 1928.
Signature events include the Cardboard Classic sled contest, judged on a combination of speed and design creativity, and Petoskey's own bump jumping competition. That sport involves traversing a downhill course from a seat perched atop a ski. Riders hold onto the edge of the seat with their legs, keeping both legs and feet straight ahead.
The carnival also features ice skating and skating exhibitions, hockey and a hot dog cookout, with chili and hot chocolate available all day.
For more information, visit cadillacmichigan.com, visitbenzie.com, the Parks and Recreation Department at petoskey.us or wintercomedy.org.