HANOVER — The 2020 theme —“Blizzard of Unbelievable Beasts” —hails from a long line of clever titles for Dartmouth College’s famed Winter Carnival.
The annual event, often dominated by ice sculpture contests, polar bear swims and human dog sled races, was dubbed “The Greatest Snow On Earth” in 1978, “It’s a Grimm Winter” in 1990 and “A Carnival Of Thrones” in 2014.
To honor this year’s creature theme, activities at this weekend’s 110th Winter Carnival also will include a Bigfoot race, a trivia contest on the history of mythical animals, and a craft project making cryptids (creatures whose existence is unproven or debated).
But according to Amy Olson, senior media relations officer in the Office of Communications at Dartmouth College, the carnival’s primary focus is on the fun of winter in New England.
“Dartmouth’s Winter Carnival celebrates the beauty of the winter season in the Upper Valley and the achievements of Dartmouth’s many winter sports teams,” said Olson.
The carnival will start today and run through Sunday throughout the campus, and it will offer up some good, scary fun along the way.
The Bigfoot race sounds like it’s on the tame side. Olson says it’s simply a snowshoe competition, but she leaves open the possibility that people might dress up as the mythical man of the woods for the event.
“This is a new event this year, so we don’t know what to expect,” Olson says.
During the Human Dog Sled races, you may see teams of people wearing brightly colored tutus and tank tops (as they have in past years), pulling another human on a sled across the snow in a frantic run to the finish line.
“The Human Dog Sled races were incorporated into Dartmouth’s Winter Carnival many years ago by the Winter Carnival Council as a fun winter activity that allows students to dress up in costumes/flare and participate in a friendly team competition. It is only open to Dartmouth students,” said Olson, but anyone can watch.
The ice sculpture contest, which will be held on The Green on Friday and Saturday, is another big draw. Each team is allowed a professional sculptor who will help them kick off their design, which must reflect the “Blizzard of Unbelievable Beasts” theme.
But for those who don’t believe in cryptids, filmmaker and cryptozoology researcher Aleksandar Petakov, who will co-host the S’more Lore Cryptid Campfire event at the Winter Carnival, says he’s not here to convince people that cryptids are real. He’s here to share his stories.
“I’m simply relaying the stories I’ve been told and heard and (trying) to evaluate them in a cultural and zoological context. The spectrum of cryptids is wide, with some on the more outlandish side and others being as seemingly mundane as mountain lions in New England, which proves to be a controversial topic,” he says in an email response to NHWeekend.
Petakov, of Nashua, has participated in several podcasts and radio shows to report his findings on cryptozoological animals like the Loch Ness Monster and Sasquatch, as sites at the center of strange activity, such as the Bridgewater Triangle in Massachusetts.
Petakov says there’s more to cryptid folklore than just wild stories.
“Cryptid stories revolve around the eyewitnesses and the regional folklore that helps shape those stories and how they’re perceived,” he said. “Cryptozoology revolves around human beings in many ways as much as it does around the cryptids in question. I’m a storyteller at heart.”
At the “S’more Lore” event, Petakov plans to share his accounts about Bigfoot sightings in New Hampshire in the 1970s, and discuss creatures including “Champ,” also known as “America’s Loch Ness Monster,” who he says lives in Lake Champlain.
“Over the past year I’ve been deeply involved in researching the topic of mountain lions in New Hampshire, and New England more broadly, for my upcoming documentary on the topic, ‘Lions of the East,’,’” he said in an email to the Union Leader. “This has included interviewing dozens of eyewitnesses, biologists, state officials and others even more deeply involved in the subject.”
“It has opened my eyes to the very real possibility that mountain lions have been or have moved through New Hampshire, and there could be a few lurking here and there,” he said.
If you’d rather read first-person accounts of otherworldly beasts, the Rauner Special Collection Library will have an interactive exhibit of these ancient reports from texts dating from as far back as 1400.
There also will be a cappella and jazz concerts, a chili cook-off, a Polar Bear Swim, a 99 Cent Ski Day, and sporting events against other Ivy League schools.
There is also a kids event called an Occom Pond Party, organized by Hanover Parks and Recreation, and movie screenings of the 1939 film “Winter Carnival, A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood” and “Frozen II.”
Or visitors can eat Dragon Scales and Adaro’s Delight during a themed dinner. (Adaros are mythological mermen, by the way).
On Friday between 9 p.m. and midnight, people can take part in a silent “Snow Glow Disco” at the Snow Dome, which will be curated by DJs from around campus. A bonfire will light up the night from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. at Dartmouth Organic Farm, known as the O-Farm.
The history of the Winter Carnival is dotted with history. According to Dartmouth College’s website, the carnival was conceived in 1910 by Fred Harris, founder of the Dartmouth Outing Club. The “first field day of the Outing Club” was held in 1911 by undergraduate students.
The oldest in the United States, the Winter Carnival has been held every year since 1911, except during World Wars I and II. According to the Dartmouth Review newspaper, National Geographic magazine called the Winter Carnival the “Mardi Gras of the North” in 1919. It was dubbed “one of the great cold-weather celebrations” by “National Geographic Traveler” in 2012.