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Shorter & later: McCall Winter Carnival to make big changes due to ‘unmanageable’ crowds

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The McCall Winter Carnival is making one of the biggest changes in its 58-year history. In the last almost six decades, the carnival has grown to be a major Idaho event – bringing more than 60,000 visitors to the small town of just 3,500 people.

More people visiting McCall in the winter, combined with a housing and labor shortage, prompted the McCall Chamber of Commerce to make some significant changes, starting in 2024:

  • Instead of spanning two weeks, the carnival will be held over three days on a single weekend. 
  • The start date is moving from the last weekend of January to the last weekend of February.

These changes won’t impact next year’s event taking place from January 27 to February 5, 2023.

However, in 2024, the carnival’s new three-day event is scheduled for the weekend of February 23-25. 

“Having a year with no carnival gave us tremendous insights into the role carnival plays in our winter
economy,” Chamber spokesperson McKenzie Kraemer said. “It became clear that while carnival is, for some, a treasured tradition, our local winter economy no longer relies on it, and it may actually be a detriment to our local businesses to have it occupy two weekends during the peak of snow season.”

Survey says…

Sharlie McCall, Idaho
Sharlie, celebrated at the McCall Winter Carnival on the streets of McCall in 2015. Photo: Don Day/BoiseDev file

Feedback from a 2021 survey sparked the city to make some changes. The results showed that 82.5% of business owners expressed that when the carnival was canceled during the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, their businesses were not negatively impacted, but they were actually doing better. In the same survey, business owners supported the idea of shortening the carnival.

“Because the crowds have swelled to such unmanageable numbers, many business owners, including myself have expressed concern over whether Winter Carnival has outlived its usefulness,” Owner of the Christmas House and Silver Linings retail store Cori Rice said. “Additionally, with staffing shortages that all businesses are experiencing, recruiting staff to commit to a ten-day stretch of chaos has been problematic, if not impossible.”

Because of the staffing shortage during the ten-day stretch, some businesses even decided to close their doors.

“For the last couple of years, as a business, we decided to close down during Winter Carnival,” My Father’s Place restaurant owner Cosette Martineau said. “We did not have the staffing to adequately service the influx of people.”

In addition to getting feedback from businesses, the chamber uses lodging tax collections to measure tourist visitation levels. In January and February of 2021, when the carnival was canceled, collections increased 22.66%. However, in 2022 when there was a carnival, tax collections increased just 3.7% from the previous year.

While the event will be shorter, the Children’s Torchlight Parade, Mardi Gras Parade, snow sculpture contest, live music on the main stage, and evening fireworks show will all still take place during the three-day event.

To learn more about the 2023 upcoming winter carnival and the changes and dates for future years, head to the Visit McCall website.

Anna Daly - BoiseDev Reporter
Anna Daly - BoiseDev Reporterhttps://boisedev.com/author/annadaly/
Anna Daly is a reporter for BoiseDev. She's an Emmy-winning journalist, and a professor at the College of Western Idaho. Contact her at [email protected].

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