Traverse City's Winter Wow!fest adds new venues and events for 2011

Traverse City’s February winter festival is adding a large new riverfront venue to accommodate several sprawling new events – including an artificial snow-tubing hill and a day-long snow acrobatics tournament that will require construction of a 30-foot ramp.

The Cherry Capital Winter Wow!fest is now in its fifth year, and takes place over the President’s Day weekend, Feb. 18-21. The newest venue, called “Celebration Central,” will be along the city’s riverfront between Cass and Union streets, an area that hosts the local farmer’s market during the summer and fall months.

The new venue is just north of the city’s main retail area and will be used for many festival events that were held downtown. Festival organizers say the move will allow them to add new events without forcing attendees to give up the convenience of nearby shops and restaurants. The downtown district, centered on Front Street, will continue to host several favorite attractions, including its “Sweetheart of a Sale” promotion and the wildly popular avenue of ice sculptures.

“Winter Wow!fest is all about getting out and enjoying some winter fun with friends in our beautiful area,” says Brad Van Dommelen, president of the Traverse City Convention & Visitors Bureau, one of the festival’s several organizing entities. “We’ve added many new activities this year, and brought back lots of favorites from last winter.”

The new events at Celebration Central include:

- A Friday evening food & drink reception called “Winter, Wine & Wow” that will feature local foods, wines, craft brews, spirits, food and art – plus live entertainment -- in a large heated tent.

- The “Downtown Throwdown Rail Jam” -- a day-long Saturday acrobatic competition for snowboarders and skiers that will take place in a huge arena (including a 30-foot snow-covered ramp) built for the purpose.

- A “Bunny Slope” tubing hill created by Shanty Creek Resorts to introduce families to the fun of snow-tubing.

“The ski and snowboard community will come together for a full day of competition and socializing,” said athletic promoter Matt Hodges, who is organizing the Downtown Throwdown event. “This draws amateur and professional riders from all parts of the Midwest to compete for cash and prizes.”

A number of already-popular Wow!fest events will also be moving to the new venue, including the Monster Dog Pull (where canine Olympians can compete for the title of “monster dog” by pulling weighted sleds) and winter versions of popular Cherry Festival competitions like the Frozen Pit Spit contest and the Brain Freeze ice cream eating contest.

The new venue will also host the uproarious Frozen Bed Race, and the “Soup r’ Bowl” competition where participants slurp up soups created by local chefs and cast ballots for their favorites.

The Cherry Capital Winter Wow!fest started out in 2007 at the Grand Traverse Resort & Spa as a way to encourage winter tourism, but as other sponsors and venues have joined the celebration each year, it has become increasingly popular with local residents and visitors alike.

The Resort’s “Winter Fun Zone” is still a popular venue for festival-goers it features ice skating, sledding, cross-country skiing and snowshoeing, rides on ponies, dogsleds, snowmobiles and horse-drawn sleighs, plus bonfires, live music, and after-dark fireworks over the snow.

The Winter Fun Zone is also home to a selection of competitive events that range from the familiar (Sunday’s Frosty 5K foot race and a kid’s snowshoe race) to the unlikely (a “frozen fish toss” and a “Polar Plunge” event where daring swimmers jump into an icy pond to raise money for Special Olympics of Michigan). There’s even a nine-hole Snow Golf Tournament on the resort’s famed golf terrain.

Other events are scheduled at the Mt. Holiday Ski Area, including such offbeat competitions as the Friday “Downhill Dash,” a no-holds-barred mountain bike/ski/snowboard race down the ski hill, the “Cardboard Bobsled-o-Rama” in which competitors must use sleds made only with cardboard, tape and paint, and Sunday’s “Big Air Championship.” And at the Grand Traverse County Civic Center, it’s the second year for the coed Snowball Softball Tournament where as many as 20 teams will compete on four neighboring diamonds all day Saturday.

For a complete listing of events, log on to the festival web site at or visit the Traverse City Convention & Visitors Bureau at or call (800) 940-1120.