Winter in BC can be cold and dark, especially after the lights and magic of the Christmas season. If you’re looking to escape the winter doldrums, but the tropics aren’t your thing, then Vernon and the Winter Carnival are calling your name.

Vernon Winter Carnival ice sculpture signage
Photo: Tourism Vernon

Vernon is home to noteworthy outdoor adventure opportunities, and winter is no exception. Combined with a relaxed and authentic community vibe, and of course a great craft brewery, it’s the ideal destination for anyone looking to find a bit of magic, fun and charm. “Vernon Winter Carnival is a community-wide celebration of all these things. It is a quintessential Canadian experience that’s unique to Vernon, BC,” explains Torrie Silverthorn, Manager of Tourism for the City of Vernon.

Home to Okanagan Spring Brewery which opened in 1985, Vernon was an early hub for microbrewing in BC. Following the huge growth and subsequent sale of OK Spring to Sleeman Breweries and later to Sapporo, there was an obvious vacancy in the craft beer scene — one that Stefan and Pearl Marten were happy to fill.

“We felt that Vernon really wanted [a craft brewery],” says Stefan, “And when we opened Marten Brewing Co, we were so well supported by the community.”

Part of what drew the Martens to Vernon was the locals’ willingness to embrace the winter season, and that is best expressed by Vernon Winter Carnival.

“Everybody is so adventurous here; everybody is so willing to get out and experience the winter for what it is. Vernon keeps it fun too, it kind of just keeps the spirit alive during the wintertime.” – Pearl Marten 

“Vernon has such a history with the winter carnival — it’s been around for so long that it’s really cool to be a part of that, and continue that tradition on “ – Stefan Marten

The Carnival kicks off February 3rd this year, running until February 12th. One of the first events of the Carnival is Sip & Savour — a sold-out evening featuring 25 craft (and domestic) breweries, cideries and wineries, alongside a mouth-water food bar. This is the Okanagan’s longest-running beverage showcase and sells out quickly every year for good reason. Participating craft breweries this year include Crannóg Ales, Fernie Brewing Co., Highway 97 Brewery, Marten Brewing Co, Smugglers Trail Caskworks and Vice & Virtue Brewing.

The first Winter Carnival, as it is currently known, kicked off in 1961. Many of the iconic events are long-running traditions making up the Carnival’s history and continuing its legacy today. For example: in 2019 the Vernon Pigeon and Poultry Club celebrated their 50th annual Feather Fanciers Show. The same year, the Chili Cook-off and Blues Festival both celebrated their 10th anniversaries.

Silverstar Mountain
Silver Star Mountain: home to the snow sculpture competition, ‘Over the Hill Downhill’ race, and many more Carnival events and experiences

Notably, the ‘Over the Hill Downhill’ ski race is celebrating its 40th Anniversary this year. Held at Silver Star Mountain Resort the race welcomes skiers from 10 years and up, and of all levels. It takes place on the namesake ‘Over the Hill’ blue and green run. Grab your long skis, dig out that vintage attire, and join your team for a day of downhill fun.

Another longstanding event that has become a crowd favourite is the Hot Air Balloon Glow, and it’s easy to see why.

Hot Air balloons at the Vernon Winter Carnival
Hot air balloons prepare to take off at Vernon Winter Carnival. Photo: Tourism Vernon

“The Hot Air Balloon Glow is a personal favourite of mine,” says Torrie Silverthorp. “It’s fascinating to watch these giant balloons light up the night sky and hover above crowds of onlookers in their parkas and mittens.  My kids, on the other hand, live for the parade. Fire trucks, marching bands and handmade floats all cavalcade through Vernon’s downtown core — in the middle of a Canadian winter — past thousands and thousands of spectators. It’s truly something to see.”

Along with these events, the 10-day festival hosts a plethora of family-friendly, adult-only, inclusive, adventurous, and varied events. The many Carnival-long contests encourage locals and visitors to get involved and show their community spirit. From decorating their businesses to scavenger hunts, and poster contests for kids, it’s a time for the community to come together and celebrate. Those who go above and beyond for their community and the Carnival celebrations may even be awarded the Order of Jopo — the highest honour that the Carnival Society can bestow.

No matter how you choose to explore the Carnival, from food-focused events to outdoor adventures, to simply enjoying the glittering lights and snow sculptures, there are daily activities sure to appeal to everyone. Finished off with a flight of Marten Brewing’s latest releases, it just might be the perfect way to spend a winter day.

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