By Joe Johnson
The first Blowing Rock WinterFest was presented in 1998, created to bring celebration to a sleepy season. More than two decades later, the festival continues with a refresh of past events and a reprise of the newest ones. At the 2020 edition of Blowing Rock WinterFest on Thursday, January 23 through Sunday, January 26, everyone is again encouraged: don’t hibernate; celebrate!
This year’s WinterFest events include old favorites and new traditions alike such as the chili challenge, the Polar Bear Plunge, the K-9 Keg Pull, the winter fashion show, a benefit concert for the Blowing Rock School auditorium, a wine tasting and auction at Green Park Inn, Cork and Canvas hosted by BRAHM, and more events being hosted throughout the weekend in Memorial Park.
Volunteers are needed for this year’s WinterFest events and interested members of the community are encouraged to sign up at blowingrockwinterfest.com or by calling 828-295-7851. Volunteers are especially needed to help in the beer garden on Saturday during the setup and registration processes.
A few staple events are getting a refresh for the new decade. Saturday’s Chili Challenge will see the return of a judges panel, which will decide who gets the coveted trophy. Attendees are still invited to try all the chilis and pick their favorite. During the chili challenge, nonprofit organizations partner with local restaurants, who provide the chili that will be judged during the challenge. The nonprofit works side-by-side with the restaurant talking with attendees about the chili, what the nonprofit’s mission is, and topics related to both the nonprofit and restaurant. “The Rotary Chili Challenge will have two winners this year, People’s Choice and Celebrity Judges pick. This change is sure to heat up the challenge,” said Suzy Barker, Festival Coordinator, “If you’re a nonprofit organization and you’d like to participate in the challenge, we encourage you to sign up!”
Take a chilly dip at the Polar Bear Plunge at Chetola Lake, or watch the jumpers from beside the firepit if that’s more your speed. John Carter of WBTV Charlotte returns as emcee, and the participant costumes are sure to delight. Registration will be open for the Polar Bear Plunge will be open until the day of the event but you will not receive a shirt; registration is $40 the day of the event and $35 for preregistration. “We do a costume contest and give an award, the golden plunger, to the top three costumes and the winners get to jump first,” said Barker, “The Polar Bear Plunge is a really big spectator event and spectators can attend for no charge. Chetola’s restaurant will also be open and serving breakfast as well as hot chocolate.”
The 2020 Winterfest will welcome the return of an older event, as well: the Friday Night Concert. Four local acts will take the stage: Handlebar Betty, Ben Parker, The Stewarts, and Roscoe Rose. The concert also marks the Grand Re-opening of the auditorium at Blowing Rock School, which has seen significant renovations. The proceeds from the concert will go toward the auditorium’s renovations; tickets are $5 for kids 12 and under and $15 for adults.
The newest events include the K9 Keg Pull and the Snow Making Demonstration, which both debuted in 2019. The first K9 Keg Pull was an instant hit, and this year’s event will be relocated to a venue with greater crowd capacity to accommodate anticipated attendance. Exciting and whimsical, the family-friendly event will be set up along Park Avenue on Saturday, January 25. The street will be closed to traffic for the Pull. Dogs of all sizes and ages will be fitted with appropriately sized beer kegs and will race across the (hopefully snow-covered!) course with their owners to the finish line. There will be different size categories, each with prizes for participating dogs & their people. There will also be a prize for oldest dog to race, youngest dog, slowest dog, and overall fastest time. You can pre-register your dog at www.highcountryk9kegpull.weebly.com or register the day of the races 11:30am-12:30pm at the Keg Pull. All racing dogs need to wear a harness to connect the keg to. Races begin at 1pm. “You can also participate in the Sunday morning winter paws dog show, which is also going to benefit the PARTNERS! Canine Group that puts on the keg pull,” said Barker, “This year, that event is being organized by the local Girl Scout troop, but all the proceeds will go to the canine organization. They also have beer cans for the little dogs; not just big dogs can participate!”
The WinterFest Beer Garden will move to be adjacent to the relocated K9 Keg Pull, hosting local breweries on the lawn at the Blowing Rock Chamber of Commerce. This brings one more event even closer to downtown shopping & dining. The Winter Paws Dog Show welcomes a new coordinating host, local Girl Scout Troop 02738, and new benefitting charity, Partners Canines. Bring your pet to compete or enjoy the fun from the audience.
The Snow Making Demonstration returns on Saturday as well, hosted by Brad Panovich, Chief Meteorologist at WCNC Charlotte, in Memorial Park on Main Street. He will explain the science of snow with the assistance of a simple snowmaking rig. Plus, he’s always happy to answer questions about weather, so stop by to watch the snow and say hello!
You can also buy tickets now for the WinterFashion Show; this year, WinterFest is partnering with Women’s Fund of the Blue Ridge for the show. “We’re really excited about that relationship,” said Barker, “If there’s anyone in town interested in supporting that organization, they can do so by coming to the fashion show and getting lunch along with it!”
Many other events will be available for all ages to participate in throughout the weekend of WinterFest including hayrides and ice carving demonstrations in the park, which are free to attend and observe. Blowing Rock Art and History Museum will be hosting the Cork and Canvas event, where participants drink wine and paint along with a demonstration. Saturday afternoon includes the wine tasting and auction events at the Green Park Inn; you can buy tickets for that event the day-of, but as with the rest of the events, preregistration is encouraged. Whether you are looking to pique your artistic inclinations, experience delicious food and beverages, learn about the wintertime, or just enjoy a lovely day in the wonderful High Country, Blowing Rock WinterFest has you covered from Jan. 23-26.
Lots of festival activities are free, some are ticketed. For a full and expandable schedule of events, tickets, lodging packages, and participation information, go to blowingrockwinterfest.com. Tickets and info are also available by calling 828-295-7851.
Blowing Rock is accessible from anywhere in the region, less than two hours from Charlotte and Greensboro, three hours from Knoxville and Raleigh, and five hours from Atlanta and Charleston. A wide range of accommodations is available; visit blowingrock.com/accommodations for details.
WinterFest, which has been named a AAA “Top Pick” and a Top 20 Event by Southeastern Tourism Society, is organized by the Blowing Rock Chamber of Commerce and presented by Hendrick Luxury Group.