MCCALL, Idaho — Big changes are coming to the annual McCall Winter Carnival starting in 2024.
The city's annual winter celebration will proceed as usual this year, then transition to a single-weekend, three-day event in 2024, much like how the festival began back in the 60s.
For decades now, the event has spanned two weekends, typically from the end of January through the beginning of February. The carnival draws thousands of visitors to the picturesque mountain town to enjoy the outdoors as well as snow sculptures, parades, and live music.
The 2024 changes will also push the date back a few weeks to the end of February.
Chamber of Commerce spokesperson McKenzie Kramer says the carnival started in 1964 when the newly built Brundage Ski Resort wanted to draw guests to the area, but so much has changed since then.
"Carnival's original purpose was to attract people to McCall in the depth of winter when no one was coming," Kramer explained. "That's been the purpose of Carnival and that's still the purpose of Carnival; it's just that currently what we're seeing is really significantly higher visitation rates throughout those peak winter months, so January and February are busy whether we have Carnival or not."
The city says winter visitation in McCall has jumped more than 200% over the last decade. The town is home to roughly 3,500 people but welcomes up to 60,000 guests each winter for Carnival events. As you can imagine, when things are already busy, it gets difficult for local businesses to meet the growing demands.
"So to bring in those people on a weekend that would already be busy is sort of counterintuitive," Kramer said. "So we needed to look for some solutions that better worked for our businesses, and that solution is to reduce the length of the event and move it to a later date in the winter when we're starting to go into more of a shoulder season and we're out of that peak skiing, snowmobiling, kind of weather."
Data during the pandemic helped inform the change. Even though the carnival was temporarily canceled, many business owners saw no negative impacts on their businesses, and many said business was actually better.
Kramer says many people book travel reservations a year in advance for Carnival events, so the city isn't making any changes for this winter's festival, set to begin January 27. The theme is "Fairy Tales, Folk Tales, and Tall Tales."