The St. Paul Winter Carnival's biggest challenge is usually the thing it embraces: winter.
Unpredictable weather — temperatures that are too high or low, or rain — can dissuade folks from showing up at the King Boreas Grande Day Parade or Frozen Family Fun Night.
This year, the pandemic added another, bigger challenge.
Still, the Winter Carnival will go on — as it has for 135 years — with some cancellations and live events going virtual. But there also will be a handful of new, COVID-friendly events, including cross-country ski races, a scavenger hunt and a drink passport program featuring local breweries, distilleries and coffee shops.
"It is a great mix of events," said Amy Mauzy, chair of the board of directors of the festival, which runs from Jan. 28 to Feb. 7. "We're taking every precaution for people to get out outside, in their car or virtual. We are here to celebrate winter."
Drive on through
Cancellations include the Grande Day and Torchlight parades, family night, the coronation of the Winter Carnival royalty, the Klondike Kate contest and the orchid show at the Como Park Zoo & Conservatory. Another event in the works for this year, a softball tournament, also has been shelved.
The popular Ice & Snow Sculpture Park will take place on the Minnesota State Fairgrounds, but it will be a drive-through event. Guests who purchase timed tickets will stay in their cars and drive past the more than 30 ice and snow sculptures.
Even though the carnival's finale, the Torchlight Parade, had to be axed, there will be a "reverse parade" at the Ice & Snow Sculpture Park on the evening of Feb. 6, where you can drive by the parade floats, torch-wielding Vulcans, carnival court and costumed characters. (Special tickets required.)
The annual puzzle competition on Jan. 30 will allow for only a limited number of in-person players. But on Jan. 31, you can take part a virtual puzzle bout.
The Saintly City Cat Show will take the year off, but the virtual Doggie Depot will include the crowning of the Canine King and Queen, as well as a dog-related marketplace, giveaways and interviews with pet experts.
Family Days will also go online with performances, arts and crafts lessons and storytelling. And the boisterous Klondike Kate will take her cabaret show to the internet, as well.
Old favorites, new fun
The Securian Financial Winter Run 5K will limit the number of entries and stagger start times for the in-person run. There also will be a virtual 5K, 10K and half-marathon.
For skiers, new this year are the King Boreas Tour de Phalen and the Endurance United Nordic Prologue at Battle Creek.
The ice fishing tournament is already underway. Anglers can cast lines in any public waters in Minnesota, then submit a digital photo of their eligible fish to a mobile app.
Other new events include three St. Paul Scavenger Hunts, which encourage you to explore the parks, history or attractions of the city, plus Crafted, a Craft Drink Experience, with special drinks, discounts and prizes.
No new royals will be selected this year.
Because the 2020 carnival court wasn't able to perform many of their duties (which include appearances at parades, schools, senior centers and charity events), they will continue to wear their crowns through 2021.
That means that one of the most popular indoor events, the coronation, won't take place.
"Clearly, we couldn't have 1,200 people in a ballroom," said Mauzy. The court, she hopes, will have "the full year of parades — cross fingers."
For more information about the annual carnival, go to wintercarnival.com.