NEWPORT, N.H. (AP) — Residents of the small New Hampshire town of Newport are launching their 100th annual winter carnival with a tribute to its roots and a grudging acceptance that climate change can wreak havoc with the schedule of events.
Organizers believe it’s the oldest continuously run town winter carnival in the country.
This year’s winter carnival kicked off with a torch run Friday from the Hanover headquarters of the Dartmouth Outing Club, where carnival founder and Dartmouth student John McCrillis a century ago to the day strapped on cross-country skis to make the 30-mile trek from campus to the Newport town common.
His grandson David McCrillis and great grandson, Cooper McCrillis, began the torch run on roller skis and hoped to switch to cross-country skis at some point during the trip.
“It’s part of the whole tradition of Newport Winter Carnival — to be able to recreate something 100 years to the day,” said David McCrillis, before setting out from Hanover. He said it was also a “really special” recognition of his grandfather, who was inducted into the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Hall of Fame in 1966.
While Newport got a dusting of snow Friday, it was not enough to salvage some of the snow and ice dependent activities that were packed into this year’s record-long, 10-day centennial carnival. Ski jumping and skijoring were scratched. The Dartmouth figures skaters were cancelled and there’ll be none of the traditional skating on the common, at least during the opening days, because it’s covered with grass rather than ice.
“Over the last 20 years we’ve morphed it into a community event that’s not totally winter-motivated, out of necessity,” said P.J. Lovely, Newport’s recreation director for more than two decades. “Over the years we’ve learned Mother Nature’s not cooperative.”
To commemorate the centennial, organizers brought back the grand ball that used to be a highlight of early winter carnivals, as well as horse-drawn wagon rides and the ax man competition. Basketball was featured during the first winter carnival in 1916 and has remained a fixture throughout the years.
A hundred years ago, people flocked to winter carnival from Boston aboard the Boston and Maine Railroad, which proclaimed in it ads as “the biggest event of its kind ever held in the East.”
This year, organizer Steve Smith is again spearheading a moustache and beard contest to try to break the Guinness Book of World Records title for the most gathered in one place — a record Newport set during winter carnival five years ago at 462.
Now the carnival doubles as a homecoming, when college students and former residents return and reunite with family and friends and Main Street is thronged with people heading from one event to another.
This year the carnival runs a record-long 10 days, ending on Valentine’s Day and encompassing the Superbowl and the first in the nation primary. Lovely says commemorative t-shirts “are selling like hotcakes.”
“People are really excited about this carnival,” he said, despite Wednesday’s downpour and the dearth of snow. “The spirit’s alive and you can’t dampen that.”