BLOWING ROCK — A multitude of events, including the Polar Bear Plunge, WinterFeast, K9 Keg Pull and WinterPaws, are slated as part of Blowing Rock WinterFest from Jan. 23-26.
“There’s over 50 events on our calendar right now,” said Suzy Barker of the Blowing Rock Chamber of Commerce, who coordinates the festival. “There’s lots of events for the kids this year.”
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.
Taking part in the weekend for the first time is Mystery Hill, which is offering a wide variety of activities for the whole family at its “Chill at the Hill” events, including the WinterDuck Derby, the WinterHawk Tournament Tomahawk Throwing Competition and more.
The 2020 WinterFest will welcome the return of 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. Funds raised go toward future work at the auditorium, which is organized by the Blowing Rock School PTO.
Two events that debuted in 2019 return for a second installment: the K9 Keg Pull and the snow-making demonstration.
The first K9 Keg Pull was an instant hit in 2019. This year’s event will be located at a venue with greater crowd capacity to accommodate anticipated attendance from 11:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturday, Jan. 25. The family-friendly event will be set up along Park Avenue, which will be closed to traffic.
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.
K9 Keg Pull founder Lynn Smith noted that 35 participants have preregistered as of Jan. 19. Barker said Park Avenue will be closed from 6 a.m. to approximately 6 p.m. on Saturday, Jan. 25.
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 snow-making rig. Plus, he’s always happy to answer questions about weather.
A few staple events are getting refreshed 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 for the People’s Choice award.
“The Rotary Chili Challenge will have two winners this year — People’s Choice and Celebrity Judges pick,” Barker said. “This change is sure to heat up the challenge.”
Barker said the celebrity judges will be Blowing Rock Mayor Charlie Sellers, Appalachian State softball head coach Shelly Hoerner and WBTV’s John Carter.
The WinterPaws Dog Show on Sunday, Jan. 26, welcomes a new coordinating host, local Girl Scout Troop 02738, and a new benefiting charity in PARTNERS! Canines.
One of the big events is the Polar Bear Plunge, which starts at 10 a.m. on Saturday, Jan. 25, at Chetola Lake. Carter returns as emcee, and the participant costumes are sure to delight.
Barker said on Jan. 20 that close to 100 participants have registered for the Polar Plunge. Barker recommends that spectators arrive early due to the large crowds that gather on the shore.
Other events include the sold-out WinterFeast on Thursday, Jan. 23, the WinterFashion Show on Friday, Jan. 24, wine tastings and charity auctions, hayrides through Blowing Rock and ice carving demonstrations on Saturday, Jan. 25.
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.
WinterFest is organized by the Blowing Rock Chamber of Commerce.
Thomas Sherrill contributed reporting to this article.