SnoFlinga: ‘Celebrate Winter’ Outdoors at Annual Butte Festival | Local

Snow and ice can stretch nerves like a bungee cord pulled beyond its capacity. That, at least, is a reaction among motorists who encounter freeway driving conditions where shoulders try to suck them in and passing 18-wheelers throw whiteouts.

Parents stuck with snowy kids can also feel a little stretched.

Homestake Lodge co-owner Lauren Thieszen is pictured near one of the main ski runs at the ski lodge.

Meagan Thompson, The Montana Standard

Think of the snow as a canopy of opportunity. Think of ice as a surface to glide with grace or speed. Embrace snow and ice for their recreational opportunities and the ability of winter activities to generate smiles and memories.

Watching someone you love do a face plant in deep, powdery snow can be at least a little funny.

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SnoFlinga, Butte’s annual winter festival, returns January 21, featuring three days of snow or ice-related activities. The community-sponsored event takes place in and around Butte and near Homestake Pass.

SnoFlinga 2022 Events Calendar

Last year’s festival included several virtual events due to concerns over COVID-19.

This year, pandemic concerns remain, but organizers believe events, all but one scheduled outdoors, may be in-person rather than virtual.

There is Nordic skiing, ice skating, snowshoeing, ice hockey and curling. There’s a fat bike race, a fun 5k run/walk, a polar dip and more.

In short, there are 18 activities spread over eight locations. Most events are free.

Cassandra Sunell is a key organizer for SnoFlinga. In her day job, she works as the Director of Recruitment and Business Outreach for Butte Local Development Corp.

Bjorn the SnoFlinga Bear at Butte's Annual Winter Festival (copy)

Bjorn, the SnoFlinga Bear, fights his way through the Stodden Park Obstacle Course during the fifth annual Winter Festival in Butte.

Meagan Thompson The Montana Standard

She said the goal of SnoFlinga is to get families out of the community and introduce them to all the winter activities available.

“Obviously winter takes a long time in Montana,” Sunell said. “It’s a different attitude to celebrate winter.”

And given that almost all of the events take place outside in the open air, with social distancing built in, the festival should be safer than most, Sunell said.

Volunteers run SnoFlinga, which emerged from a brainstorming session in November 2015 by a group of Butte winter enthusiasts – the types who tend to have red cheeks and low body fat. They hoped to encourage recreation during the winter months.

Butte Curling Club prepares for SnöFlinga

Shane Martin drops the curling stone for a game point during a recent tournament at the Butte Community Ice Rink.

Meagan Thompson, The Montana Standard

On January 22, The Homestake Lodge will host Nordic or cross-country skiing on groomed trails, with free Nordic skiing lessons that require a refundable $5 registration fee. Coaching provided by the Mile High Nordic Ski Education Foundation.

One lesson will focus on Nordic skate skiing.

Course participants who require skis will not have to pay for rentals that day.

A snowshoe excursion is already full, but people with their own snowshoes can inquire about taking part.

Family lodge in Butte

Lauren Thieszen, right, co-owner of Homestake Lodge, is pictured with ski coach Allie Moodry, outside the ski lodge on East Butte. The lodge offers cross-country skiing during the SnoFlinga weekend.

Meagan Thompson, The Montana Standard

Mark and Lauren Thieszen have owned Homestake Lodge since April, but have lived in Butte for about 12 years. They have been active in SnoFlinga before.

The Homestake Lodge is located in a high valley on the Continental Divide east of Butte and is no stranger to snow.

“It’s great right now,” Mark Thieszen said on January 10.

The Homestake Lodge has over 35 kilometers of groomed trails. Of these, about 15 kilometers accept dogs. Those arriving on January 22 with their own cross-country skis will not be required to purchase a day pass.

On January 23, Homestake Lodge will host a class that will offer basic information on detecting avalanche threats and using safety equipment. Registration limited.


Curling stones rest on the ice during a recent competition with the Butte Curling Club at the community rink.

Meagan Thompson, The Montana Standard

“SnoFlinga is a really great event,” said Mark Thieszen.

The Butte High Altitude Skating Center, formerly the US High Altitude Sports Center, will be the site of the opening ceremonies on January 21, beginning at 5 p.m. An ice sculpting demonstration will begin at noon.

On January 22, the High Altitude Skating Center will host Olympic-style skating races and marathon races of three separate distances. Registration closed on January 18.

There will be a Kids Day at Stodden Park on Saturday, from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.

Bjorn the SnoFlinga Bear at Butte's Annual Winter Festival (copy)

Bjorn, the SnoFlinga Bear, fights his way through the Stodden Park Obstacle Course during the fifth annual Winter Festival in Butte.

Meagan Thompson The Montana Standard

Sunell said SnoFlinga is family-friendly and healthy and provides an introduction for many residents to winter outdoor sites they might drive to every day without knowing their availability for public use.

But what about skijoring, a popular SnoFlinga event in 2019?

A lack of snow prevented skijoring in 2020 and COVID-19 halted activity in 2019.

FROSÉ ALL DAY at the polar dive of the Butte

Anthony Fields reacts after jumping into the frigid pool at the base of the original headframe as he and fellow FROSÉ ALL DAY team members compete in the annual Polar Dive event at Butte’s fifth annual SnöFlinga. The team raised $1,400 for Special Olympics Montana.

Meagan Thompson, The Montana Standard

In ski joëring, a horse-drawn skier clings to a rope and steers through a course strewn with obstacles, jumps and gates. The fastest time wins.

Sunell said organizers have discovered that organizing a skijoring event takes a remarkable amount of manpower.

Sunell said skijoring may return one day, but likely as a standalone event and not under the SnoFlinga umbrella.

Another popular spectator event is the annual Southwestern Polar Plunge, a fundraiser for Special Olympics Montana and its athletes and teams in the Butte, Anaconda, Dillon and Deer Lodge areas.

This year’s dive will take place on Saturday, January 22 at the Original, starting at 2 p.m.

SnoFlinga returns to Butte

A mother and daughter participate in an outdoor Oula session at a past SnoFlinga event at Butte’s annual winter festival.

Meagan Thompson, The Montana Standard

SnoFlinga’s website promises “Fun for Everyone”, which seems a little optimistic considering that some people would rather be at home in an armchair than face off against Jack Frost.

But one key is to dress warmly, in layers.

SnoFlinga urges: get out. To be active. Celebrate the community. Enjoy the winter.

If nothing else, there’s the potential for a smile at a friend’s expense.

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