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Stowe's 'world's coldest' carnival is quite a show

Email|Print| Text size + By Judy Kugel
Globe Correspondent / December 6, 2006

STOWE, Vt. -- In 1921, the story goes, Craig O. Burt decided to do something about the town's epidemic of winter blahs (not to mention its bad economic times). And so the Stowe Winter Carnival was born. That year, with events limited to ski-jumping and tobogganing behind the public school, 2,000 people showed up.

During World War II, Carnival was dropped, and it wasn't revived until 1974 . Since then it has flourished, and the 33d carnival, "The Stowe Must Go On," has more than 10 big activities packed into the Jan. 19-21 weekend.

Although the c arnival has been more than a winter picker-upper for years, it still fills that role, according to Patti Clark of the Green Mountain Inn . Guests return to the inn year after year , requesting the same rooms -- those that allow them to come in from the Village Night Celebration Saturday to warm up a bit and still keep an eye on the Main Street doings from their windows.

With temperatures often hovering around 10 degrees or lower, the Village Night parade lives up to its reputation as the "world's coldest." One year when the temperature fell to minus 10 degrees, those in charge considered canceling, but firefighters warmed the four-block parade route with barrels of fire, and the show went on.

Village Night is a big focus of the c arnival, and Leslie Anderson has been its chief organizer for years. She describes her task as "putting a huge puzzle together to make an unbelievable night." Anderson is responsible for the 70 fairy tale and comic strip characters who appear on the temporary stage in front of Town Hall each year. The cast ranges in age from 5 to 80. Youngsters whose first appearance might have been as one of the Seven Dwarfs often return annually until they are old enough to play Snow White.

Anderson will go to some lengths to get the right-size people for the costumes, which do not change. Once when she didn't have volunteers for Batman and Robin, two female tourists heard about her plight and volunteered their husbands who, when asked, said "no way." They finally gave in, and since then have returned annually to play the roles.

The show consists of about 30 minutes of acts, pairing odd characters . In one scene, Alf (of TV fame) chases Tweetie around the stage while master of ceremonies Chris Francis, owner of Ye Olde England Inne, keeps the crowd entertained with his commentary. The official program ends with a fireworks display, but the party goes on at the local night spots.

Next to Village Night, one of the most popular activities is ice-carving. On Friday, demonstrations are given in front of sponsoring shops on Main Street and Mountain Road. On Saturday, the contest begins. Stoweflake Mountain Resort and Spa holds the National Ice Carving Association competition in its courtyard every year. More than a dozen professional carvers, US and international, participate. So do amateurs, though they get only one block of ice to the experts' two. According to Huntly Armbruster , a competition booster, a well-done "fusion" of the two blocks is one of the judges' key criteria.

As the traditional host, Stoweflake provides a huge bonfire and lots of food. It's quite a spectacle, according to Scot Baraw, whose family has run the resort for 43 years. When Mother Nature cooperates, he says, the sculptures can last as long as six weeks.

Other highlights include Friday's Super-G Schuss (a more moderate than true downhill race, but helmets are required) for 100 skiers and snowboarders 10 and older held at the Stowe Mountain Resort. Many old-timers and former racers participate. On Saturday there's an all-day snow volleyball tournament on six "snow" courts with players diving into deep snowbanks (bring your own six-person team), and an afternoon Kids Karnival Kaos that includes costumes, a DJ, games, and prizes for the younger set. Saturday night's traditional chicken pie church supper is served family style in the Stowe Community Church .

Most people are still recovering from their own holiday extravaganzas as the c arnival approaches, but somehow the volunteers, aided by some generous sponsors, pull it off each year. The c arnival is part of what Stowe is all about.

Judy Kugel, a writer in Cam-bridge, can be reached at peterandjudyk@yahoo.com.

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