Fresh, crisp air. You can see the shimmering, fluffy snow on the lakefront, rolling hills and vineyards. The 300 days of sunshine in Eastern Washington extend into winter. When the sun sets behind the western hills, charming towns are lit up by sparkling lights, fireworks, and wine flights.
Seattle's 'Westsiders' are well aware of the Lake Chelan Valley’s small-town charm in summer, but few know about its acclaimed winter magic. The 50.5-mile-long Lake Chelan is a place of art, culture and shopping. It also offers outdoor recreation in the midst of bright, snowy beauty.
Winterfest is a great opportunity to get to know the region's winter charm. The festival is held over two weekends in January. One weekend takes place in Chelan and the other in Manson, a historic community. Enjoy ice sculptures and kid-friendly events. Also, enjoy fireworks, new wine releases, and two very, very cold swimming sessions.
Winterfest weekend one: Chelan, Jan. 13-15
Many Winterfest events and attractions take place on both weekends. Each weekend offers its own unique attractions. The streets of downtown Chelan are close to the cars and create wide pedestrian-only thoroughfares. Outside shops and restaurants, small bonfires and warming stations are set up. Live music is played down the streets. Chelan's downtown is warm and welcoming, no matter what the weather outside.
Vendor Market is a place where nonprofits can sell hot dogs, mini-doughnuts, and other festival favourites to raise money for good causes. Children can board wooden apple crates that measure 4x4 inches for rides on the apple bin train. As with other attractions, most Winterfest-related activities are free when you purchase a $10 Winterfest button. This button is an all-access pass. You can also get BOGO deals, discounts, and freebies from outdoor stores and restaurants.
Winterfest's main draws are carved ice sculptures like the Ice Slide. These sculptures can be made from as many as 20 blocks of ice, and large enough to allow adults to slide down. A two-person carved ice sleigh is also available for winter photo-op purposes.
To transform 40 tons of ice into trees, logos and other designs, skilled ice artisans use hand chisels, chainsaws and small power tools. Some ice sculptures can be made ahead of time, while others are created by skilled carvers right before festivalgoers. Past surprises include a flying pig and snowflakes, as well as characters from the movie "Frozen."
Bartenders can serve drinks in the 21+ area at the Ice Bar. This bar is a waist-high bar made of ice and decorated with LEDs. The Ice Bar is small enough to hold a small group of people, but it's still cozy. Order the "New Vintage", a flight that showcases the Lake Chelan Valley’s most recent wine releases, and settle in. The Winterfest Wine Walk is the best way to experience winter wine. As you shop and sip, stroll through downtown Lake Chelan. You'll be able to taste new wines as well as old favorites. This event will be held on Saturday, January 14th from noon to 6 pm. Tickets can be purchased in advance.
Residents bring hundreds of Christmas trees to the Don Morse Memorial Park on Saturday, the first weekend. This creates an incredible bonfire at sunset. Sparks fly hundreds ft high, mixing with light snow from the top before the sky lights up to create a spectacular fireworks display that ends the night.
Weekend two: Manson, Jan. 20-22
Manson is the location of the second weekend's celebrations, located 7 miles north of Chelan on the lake. It is home to more wineries in the region than any other part.
The weekend's highlight is the 7-foot Ice Tower, which is constructed by ice sculptors. Visitors and locals leave handwritten resolutions and wishes inside the tower that resembles an ice chimney. The paper is lit as the sun sets to create a spectacle made of fire and ice.
Don't worry if you missed the fireworks display on the first weekend. On both evening weekends fireworks will explode, sparkle, and fountain shortly after sunset. Lady of the Lake charter boats offer a Winterfest fireworks cruise for an extra special occasion. Advance purchase required. Enjoy a boat tour through the lower Lake Chelan basin. After purchasing a snack or drink, enjoy a 10-minute firework display near the shore.
Winterfest's Bubble Brunch offers three catered, seated brunches on both weekends. Advance reservations are required. The event's star, the Valley's sparkling wine producers, is dressed to impress.
Tsilly, Lake Chelan's resident lake monster, can be found at local businesses on both weekends. You might even spot it at the Polar Bear Plunge. It takes place in Chelan at sunset on Saturday, and in Manson on Sunday morning. Winterfest ends with the Polar Bear Plunge on Sunday. Donations provide free lessons in swimming for Lake Chelan Valley youth.
Logistical: How to make the most of your Lake Chelan winter vacation
A few Lake Chelan residents make a weekend vacation into a 10-day adventure. This is a treat: two weekends of entertainment, which bookends quieter weekday exploration.
Weekday visitors use 25 miles of snowshoeing and cross-country at Echo Ridge Nordic Ski Area to traverse blankets of snow covering mountains and valleys. It's a peaceful experience with blue skies and stunning ridgeline views, as you look down at the lake over the inversion zone. You'll find less-crowded restaurants during the evenings, and you can shop and taste at family-owned businesses during daytime.
Drivers who want to avoid the route that passes through two mountain passes may take I-90 to Vantage and then WA-28 W. and US 97 N. However, all drivers should have chains and a keen anticipation of winter landscapes. There are no guarantees, but Winterfest has been blessed with fresh snow in the past.
Check the Winterfest calendar for details on how to purchase your button and brunch tickets so you don't miss any of the fireworks, sparkling winter lights or brunch.
Enjoy a winter wonderland at Lake Chelan Winterfest, Washington's premier winter festival. You can glide over the snow on a horse-drawn carriage or enjoy local wines while you sip and watch the kids race down the ice slide.