Skip to Content, Navigation, or Footer.
Logo of The Middlebury Campus
Monday, Sep 25, 2023

Winter Carnival: Then and Now

All great schools have great traditions. There’s the Bonfire on Dartmouth Night, the Doghead St. Patrick’s Day party at Colby and the festive parade floats at Faber College, but none can compare to Winter Carnival at Middlebury. This weekend students, faculty and members of the town community will celebrate this annual event for the 87th time, making it the longest-held student-run carnival in the nation. The carnival itself is comprised of Nordic and alpine ski competitions held at the Snow Bowl and the Rikert Ski Touring Center, but over the years the weekend has developed into much more than that, with traditions such as snow sculpting and the Winter Ball making this one of the most memorable times of the year.
The festivities heat up Thursday night with a bonfire on Ross lawn followed by a fireworks show that will surely catch the attention of even those foolish enough to miss out on the ground-based pyrotechnics. On Friday, the real fun begins when classes are cancelled so students can watch their friends on the ski team take on rivals like Dartmouth and UVM in the final Eastern Intercollegiate Ski Association (EISA) races of the season. This year’s carnival is themed “Go Gold,” due to the overlap with the Winter Olympics. This year, students can cheer on Midd-kids not only in Vermont, but also in Vancouver, as Simi Hamilton ’09 and Garrott Kuzzy ’06 represent America on the Nordic courses.

As the last carnival of the year, Middlebury’s home event serves as the Eastern Championships, further adding to its significance. Increased shuttle service means you can cheer on Middlebury’s racers even if you don’t have access to a car. Also, for those who are prepared to hit the slopes themselves, the first 20 shuttle riders on Friday and Saturday receive free day passes!

Student participation has been on the rise the past few years, but your presence is just as important as ever.  Responding to student outrage at the slated elimination of the Friday recess in 2009, the Board of Trustees set up a three-year probation period to gauge student enthusiasm for the events. Thanks to the hard work of Winter Carnival Committee members Catherine Collins ’10.5, Katie Hubbard ’10, Derek Sakamoto ’10 and Nicolas Sohl ’10, the events have recaptured some of  the excitement that had waned in the recent past. All students who want to preserve one of Middlebury’s most iconic traditions should make it their business to go to the events and have some fun!

The following spread includes some links to Winter Carnivals past, as well as perspectives from current participants and a schedule of events. Use this spread to stoke your excitement about the upcoming events and as a guide to plan your weekend. And you will want to plan ahead because, though it is free to watch the races, some MCAB events sell out fast, so you will need to buy tickets ahead of time. So go out there and experience one of the the greatest tradtions  at Middlebury!


The past few weeks have not seen much precipitation in the town of Middlebury and students who have not been to the mountains may be skeptical of the snow conditions at the Rikert Ski Touring Center and the Snow Bowl. Despite these fears, the Middlebury College staff and ski team have been working hard to ensure the courses are sufficiently covered. The snow makers have been running and the ski team has helped shovel snow out of the shady woods to give enough coverage for the mass starting area for the Nordic events.

Over the past 87 years, Winter Carnival has experienced a wide variety of snow conditions. According to Snow Bowl Manager Peter Mackey, there has been only a handful of years when the College has had to use a cross-country venue other than Rikert.

Skiers sound off on their season: Nordic

This season has been a pretty exciting one for the Middlebury Nordic team; with two former skiers in the Olympics and some fantastic results throughout the carnival season, regardless of what happens this weekend and at NCAAs, this season will certainly be counted as a success.

The men’s team has established itself as the team to beat on the Eastern Intercollegiate Ski Association (EISA) circuit. Along with perennial rival and powerhouse Dartmouth, it has split the season’s races, the Dartmouth men taking six victories and Middlebury taking four. Dylan Grald ’13 has put in several outstanding results and currently holds the lead in the EISA Rookie of the Year standings, which he will sew up this weekend if everything goes as planned. Pat Johnson ’11 has been dominant since returning from Germany, where he represented the U.S. at the World Junior Championships in January. This weekend is important for the men’s team not only because it is Middlebury’s home carnival and the Eastern Championship; this weekend’s races are also the final opportunities to qualify for the NCAA Championships in Steamboat Springs, Colo. Johnson has already locked up a spot, but both Grald and I are looking for big races this weekend to confirm their spots as well.

Not unlike the women’s alpine team, the women’s Nordic team has suffered more than its fair share of illness and injury, but also like the alpine women, they have risen to the occasion and held their own against teams at full strength. This year’s team has been paced by Lauren Fritz ’10 and Corinne Prevot ’13, in addition to the rock-solid performances of Keely Levins ’13. The Panther women have tough competition in the Big Green of Dartmouth who are certainly one of the strongest women’s Nordic programs in the country. Both Prevot and Fritz are on the edge of NCAA qualification (the top 13 athletes as determined by their best four races, two in each technique), so be sure to give them a big cheer as they go by.

We are looking forward to home course advantage this weekend and hope that Middlebury will once again come out in force to support both the Nordic teams. Saturday’s races, starting at 10:00 and 11:30, will be the most exciting to watch as they are “mass start” format, where all 70 competitors race head-to-head over 15 kilometers for the women and 20 kilometers for the men. The ski races on both the Nordic and the Alpine side at Middlebury Carnival, believe it or not, are some of the most well-attended ski races in the country, and every year students tell me that they represent the most exciting spectating that Middlebury Athletics has to offer. Division I competition only comes to Middlebury once a year; don’t miss out.
—Graham Egan ’10, member of the Nordic team

Skiers sound off on their season: alpine

The season thus far has provided the team with some great results. This year our men’s team has shown a lot of promise and great results, especially from first-years Bryan Shpall ’13 and Andrew McNealus ’13. It's really tough to jump right into Division I skiing and those guys have definitely shown that they can compete with anyone. Our men’s side has consistently been one of the top point-scorers of any of the men’s alpine teams.  Therefore, we really hope to use our home hill to our advantage, since it is one of the most unusual hills on the circuit, which definitely gives us an edge.
On the girls side, we have struggled with injuries throughout the season, forcing us to compete with five girls at some of the races instead of the usual six. Even with this obstacle, the girls have really stepped it up with the added pressure and have provided some very valuable points to the team.
The team as a whole is really pumped for this coming weekend.  Middlebury Carnival is always the most watched Carnival of any on the circuit.  It is really great to see everyone out on the hill and it allows us to step it up to another level, knowing everyone is cheering for us.  It would be great to uphold this tradition by having as many people up at the Bowl as possible, so we can continue to make the Middlebury Carnival the most anticipated race of the year.
Dartmouth has consecutively won the last 14 carnivals over the past two years. The last team to stop that winning streak was the Middlebury Ski Team and we hope to end their reign of terror by winning this weekend on our home hill. There is no better atmosphere than the Middlebury Carnival, which should help us put their win streak to an end.
—Jon Hunter ’10,  member of the alpine team

Looking back,
moving forward

Winter Carnival is one of the College’s longest standing traditions and one of the oldest college carnivals in the country, second only to Dartmouth College’s. It is an event that, for many on the campus, is eagerly anticipated and enjoyed, remembered in snapshots, formal wear, concert tickets and memories as one of the markers of the Middlebury College experience. However, the line-up of events, attitudes and general atmosphere of the Winter Carnival weekend have certainly evolved and transformed over the years.

When asked what has changed about Winter Carnival from his years as a student at the College, Karl Lindholm ’67, dean of Cook Commons and assistant professor of American Studies, replied simply: “Everything.”

“Winter Carnival was a big deal — a really big deal,” said Lindholm. “You have to remember that men and women lived on separate sides of the campus, which changed in 1968-9. You had to have a date for Winter Carnival.”

In an article from the 1974 edition of The Middlebury Campus, Carol Miller wrote: “Some went to the Carnival Ball, girls dressed in gowns found especially for the occasion, and boyfriends coming from various New England colleges to escort their Middlebury girlfriends.”

“Winter Carnival was enormous, and it was not exclusive to Middlebury College,”said Lindholm. “People came from all over [to Middlebury College and Dartmouth College during their respective carnivals] for skiing and parties. All 11 fraternities hosted parties, and with one Public Safety officer for a student body of 1,250, you could wander around with open containers, walk from one frat to another with a beer. F. Scott Fitzgerald went to Dartmouth’s Winter Carnival one year!”

Skiing was also, traditionally, a huge attraction.

“At the entrance to the Bowl, there was a long line of school buses, bringing students up,” said Lindholm. “Everyone was there; it was like you see on television. Fans lined the landing area.”
That particular tradition began in 1932, when skiers at the College decided to host their own competition, in conjunction with Alumni Winter Weekend. In the earliest years, there were also toboggan races, speed skating and snowshoeing competitions. Though the athletic department ran the competitions initially, the Mountain Club took over, and in the early 1940s, the races moved to what is now the beloved Snow Bowl.

“The entire student body participated in these events which were the beginnings of Northern Lights,” wrote John Owen in “Carnival Reviewed and Previewed,” from a 1983 issue of The Campus.
The ice show was also a tremendous event, though it started to dissipate in the ’70s and ’80s.

“Everyone went to the ice show, and all of the acts were students,” said Lindholm. “Now, it is mostly local kids.”

In an article titled “ice show incites the heart’s desire,” Carol McAfee wrote, “about 936 woolen caps tossed in willy-nilly display of free-falling gratitude to the 1975 Winter Carnival Ice Show,” proving how well-attended the event was in that era.

One event that has always been highly atttended has been the Saturday night concert and dance, which used to be called “Klondike Rush,” featuring two acts, some of which, in Lindholm’s memory have included: Dizzy Gillespie, one of the revolutionary jazz musicians and founders of behop; the Shirelles; the Simon Sisters; the Kingsmen; and even B.B. King in 1974.

In a 1974 edition of The Middlebury Campus, Seth Steinzor, in his article “The wait was worth it,” described the scene outside of the venue for King’s concert: “Time passed like Nixon, slowly and painfully. The drizzle did what drizzles do. The crowd grew steadily more crowded. Several people began chanting rhythmically, ‘Let us in! Let us in!’”

The wait was “worth it,” and attracted most students, some of whom spent time “getting psyched” as one staff writer explained it.

Students and visiting guests, during the Winter Carnival of the ’60s and ’70s, spent some time “getting psyched in general,” mostly at the 11 campus frats, in the days when Munford House, the Centeno House, Fletcher, KDR and the Mill all housed fraternities.

In Carol Miller’s ’74 article, focusing on parties at Slug and Sig Ep, she wrote, “One girl paid her dollar, tried to navigate through the masses for about five minutes, then left because she ‘just couldn’t handle it.’ Many, however, withstood the early onslaught to stay and dance as long as the bands would play.”

The frats that housed such populated parties eventually declined until they were outright eliminated in 1991, and that, along with the raised of the drinking age in the early ’70s and the Vietnam era ethos that opposed institutionalized events and organizations, helped lead to the comparatively anemic involvement that is more common to Winter Carnival, at least in Lindolm’s view.

“The College is just a different place,” said Lindholm. “American student culture 40 years ago was entirely different. Men aren’t bringing dates to the Carnival; women don’t have a midnight curfew; not everyone is wearing school colors, cheering at games.”

With a larger, more heterogeneous campus, “not everyone will go to hockey games, and not everyone is a skier,” Lindholm said.

“I wouldn’t make qualitative judgements about which is better,” said Lindholm. “That was then, and it isn’t coming back. Some might talk about ‘the good old days,’ but I like Middlebury College now.”

Though history and culture have altered the extent to which students are involved with events during Carnival weekend, the student body has also shaped and invented new rituals. The Carnival is a tradition morphing with the times, while prevailing as one of the traditional staples of life at the College.
— Rachael Jennings. Features Editor