Image credit: Emilie Holba
Once winter starts running unhindered, sprinkling its soft powder on everything from endless flat fields to frigid mountains, and stars begin their showers of silvery glitter on the arms of trees worldwide, lovers of all things cool and frosty know it’s time to pack their bags and put on their best snow boots so they can delve into a bona-fide rolling-in-the-snow extravaganza.
Warding off brisk temperatures may seem a daunting task in itself, but thanks to some folks’ lavish enthusiasm to turn the height of winter into a magical momentum, it’s easy to forget the cold and disrupt the long slumber with a series of exciting festivals.
From seeing reindeers and camels getting frantic in the snow to spine-tingling concerts pulsating in a crisp, energetic and often haunting voice of ice, Quotient fires up a roaring heath of invigorating fetes with an icy twist.
Cultural vortex in the Far North
In Sweden’s Jokkmokk, a small village located about three hours south of Kiruna and just north of the Arctic Circle, the surrounding dense pine forests, mountains and river valleys welcome winter with a thick layer of snow and a sky ablaze with surreal colours. Here and there you can spot traditional wooden cabins, with icicles hanging off the eaves. You are in the Swedish Lapland and there’s no question about it — the silence of wilderness is deafening. Adding to this fantasy-like charm is the village’s tight indigenous Sámi community who has been inhabiting in the area for centuries, since a time when their forefathers were hunters and fishermen and they had to traverse the forests to look for berries and other fruit.
For hundreds of years, Jokkmokk has been celebrating Sámi culture through ancestral traditions, local fare, folk dances, art and crafts exhibitions, husky-sledding, joiking (one of the longest and most soulful living music traditions in Europe) and reindeer caravan processions. Even today, Sámi people continue to perpetuate their lifestyle through a comprehensive festival cum market which celebrates more than 400 years. Spanning three days, from 5th to 7th February 2015, Jokkmokk Sámi Market teems with quaint stalls offering reindeer specialties, cheese, honey, intricate crafts and clothing made from reindeer skin and fur. So if you are a self-proclaimed festival buff, attend for the constant merrymaking, admire locals’ traditional attire as you see the snow sleighs swooshing in the background, or take a husky sledge tour of the surrounding area.
Ice, ice baby
Imagine lying on the ground in the snow-dusted landscape of central Norway. There is a crisp wind blowing on your face and above you, the constellations are so clear, as if they are painted on canvas. If you are lucky, at any moment, the Northern Lights might make their glorious apparition and add a touch of mystery to your trip. But there is something much more about this town. Unlike its Norwegian counterparts, Geilo’s connection to nature has an even deeper meaning. With its quiet slopes and views of the frozen Ustedalsfjorden Lake, this idyllic village is the annual backdrop for the Ice Music Festival which in 2015 returns for a trailblazing 10th edition. Through the IceMusic Festival, held 5th to 8th February 2015, at precisely the first full moon of the year, the town brings an ovation to music and nature through a series of concerts performed by some of the most experimental musicians in the world. By using a collection of soul-stirring handcrafted ice instruments — meticulously carved out of local ice and snow and then perfected by professionals — the performers manage to create an eerie yet beautiful aural experience. Listen to alternative ‘glacial’ tunes and be convinced on your own that these bone-chilling sounds transcend any type of musical genre.
Land of the freeze
To break the long winter, the inventive and humorous residents of Anchorage in Alaska religiously come up with a zany series of events for the Fur Rendezvous Festival. The 80th edition of Fur Rondy (as locals call it) is slated for 27th February to 8th March 2015 and puts the festival on the wacky and wild festivals radar once again. The centrepiece of the festival is dog-sledding, with an iconic race that spans three days and features dog teams and their mushers crazily speeding for victory. With its roots staked in a faraway past, the race could be proudly considered the grandfather of all Alaska races, and highly anticipated by festival-goers. Fan favourites also include the Outhouse Races and Running of the Reindeer, a mad dash down the streets of Anchorage with caribou. For those with a milder wild side, entertainment also includes snowshoe softball, snow sculpting, and rides at Rondy Carnival.
‘Steppe’ by ‘steppe’ in the Gobi
Mongolia is a country of visual contrasts, dotted with golden deserts, mountains, steppes and centuries-old unbroken traditions. It is the country of gers (yurts) — circular canvas structures that dot the never-ending plains and in which nomadic people reside from before the time of Genghis Khan. With an indescribable fortitude, these nomads have been herding horses, goats, yaks, sheep and camels for as long as they can remember. But it may be in their nomads’ genes to constantly connect with animals and nature, and they do so with so much love and dedication, that it’s impossible not to get drawn into this pastoral wandering. To get a slice of what Mongolia means today, head to The Thousand Camel Festival, held in the Gobi Desert between February and March, where you will see for yourself how nomads celebrate the endangered Bactrian camel and what role it plays in the lives of the desert people. Expect to see these gentle creatures decked out in fluffy winter coats showcase their flair in races and polo competitions, against a background of local music and dance.
Engulfed in flames
In this remote and rugged part of Britain, a regular stroll on the streets of Lerwick, Shetland’s capital, is easy to bring anyone the tranquillity they’ve always been searching for. However, in January, the quaint port town, with its lovely trails along the clear blue Bressay Sound, gets its silence broken by the ominous yet exciting Viking-themed Up-helly-aa, Europe’s largest fire festival. Come the last Tuesday of January (in 2015 it takes place on the 27th), winter’s bleak side is cast away and replaced by the cheer of hundreds of fierce-looking “guizers” or vikings donned in eccentric costumes. The festival has been taking place since 1881, and still aims to recreate the wild celebration that the first Vikings to settle the Shetland Islands used to indulge in at the end of the Christmas season. Get your dose of blood-stirring Norse vibes with the festivals’ spectacular procession, where hundreds of men take over the streets with torch lights and chants celebrating the “the noble, the hardy, northern men who ruled the stormy wave” and culminate the night with the dramatic spectacle of burning a galley ship.