2017 Winter Carnival: March 4-5
White Pass Ski Area, 12 miles southeast of Mt. Rainier National Park and 22 miles from Packwood, celebrates the winter season with a family-friendly Winter Carnival. Held the first weekend of every March, the carnival is jam-packed with activities for the whole family, including an interactive snow castle, outdoor games, snow sport competitions, a torchlight parade, and colorful fireworks.
Once you arrive, you’ll want to head to the chalet-style day lodge, located at the base area, elevation 4,500 ft. During the winter, the ski area is open daily from 8:45 a.m. to 4 p.m.
You and the kids will find the main carnival festivities at the base area, including the snow castle, snow sculptures, and carnival games. This is also where the torchlight parade and fireworks take place on Saturday night. The parade, fireworks, and snow castle are free and open to the public.
When my husband Erik, our two-year-old son Finn, and I arrive on a clear Saturday afternoon the carnival is in full-swing. Walking from the parking area, we catch our first glimpse of the carnival’s centerpiece, the 2,500 sq. ft. interactive snow castle. Designed by both an architect and an engineer, the castle is sculpted from some 60 tons of snow and stands 30 feet high. Inside you and the kids will find tunnels, slides, and a 120-foot tubing hill that the youngsters can safely play on. The castle is very popular, so expect some wait time.
After exploring the castle, we walk around the base area admiring the decorative snow sculptures that encircle the impressive structure. These frozen works of art are created by a group of northwest artists who join the castle’s construction crew each year. The sculptures change every year, depending on the artists and theme, and range anywhere from snarling dragons to crash-landed aliens.
Want to make a day or weekend of it on the slopes while supporting a good cause? Then be sure to sign up for one of the carnival’s games, clinics, or snow sport competitions. These events benefit the Children’s Miracle Network as well as the White Pass Volunteer Ski Patrol.
When you and the kids are finished on the slopes or romping in the snow, warm up with hot beverages and hearty fare in one of White Pass’s two cafés. The Day Lodge Café, located in the base lodge, is open from 7:30 a.m. until the lifts stop running. Or try the new High Camp Lodge, located near the Paradise Basin ski runs, where you and the kids can enjoy stunning views of Mt. Rainier. High Camp Lodge Café is open 9:30 a.m. to 3 p.m., depending on the lift operation.
It’s early evening by the time Erik, Finn, and I return to the base lodge for the carnival’s Saturday night festivities: a prime rib or spaghetti dinner at the lodge café followed by the torchlight parade and fireworks. After dinner, bundle up and find a good spot to watch the torchlight parade and fireworks. Keep your eyes on the ridge above the base lodge, where the parade’s bright lights will soon glow. Dozens of skiers dance gracefully down the slope into the base area, each holding a glittering torchlight. Then the colorful fireworks begin, popping brightly as they illuminate the stunning snow castle and its sculptures.
The fireworks are winding down when Erik and I tuck a sleepy Finn into his car seat. We pause for a few more minutes to watch the bright lights before heading back to our lodgings in Packwood.
When you go:
Accommodations: White Pass Ski Area is located next to on-mountain lodging at the White Pass Village Inn. These condos include kitchens and private baths and are just steps away from the slopes. Need a break from the slopes? Another great option is the lovely and tranquil Cowlitz River Cabins , located on the outskirts of nearby Packwood.
Dining on the Mountain? The After Dark Café (the evening name of the Day Lodge Café) is open most Saturday nights from 4:30pm to 8pm and offers a delicious prime rib dinner. Or, if you’re 21 years or older, enjoy tasty bistro fare at White Pass’s Sitzmark Bistro, located mezzanine level in the day lodge.