PORTLAND – The Portland WinteRush festival, which kicks off Friday night, is the annual event that city officials hope will help change the widely held dislike of winter.

“Some events are unique to Portland, like the Downtown Showdown and the neighborhood snowman contest. But it all came from the discussion, ‘How do we get kids outdoors in the winter?’” said Portland’s spokeswoman Nicole Clegg.

Three years ago, the city rolled out its WinteRush in grand style, with a weeklong celebration at parks around the city.

Last year’s one-day festival was canceled for lack of snow, although the Downtown Showdown that kicks it off was held, on snow that was trucked into Monument Square.

This year, the festival and the showdown are on schedule.

The showdown will begin at 5 p.m. Friday in Monument Square; the festival will start at 11 a.m. Saturday in Deering Oaks.

The festival will include a snowman-building contest, snow forts, snow painting, snowball games and snowshoe lessons.

This year Tri-Maine, Portland Trails, Maine Audubon, Winter Kids and Camp Sunshine will bring kid-oriented snow sports to Deering Oaks.

The one-day event will last only four hours, but the lessons could last into next year, said Rachael Weyand, Portland Trails’ outreach manager.

“Just having it gets it on people’s radar, that they can do fun things in the winter,” Weyand said. “A lot of people don’t like snow, or it’s a bother. Even with a four-hour festival, they’ll realize this is something special.”

Portland Trails has rented out snowshoes and led winter hikes this year for the first time, and the activities have been a hit, Weyand said.

She expects lots of kids to turn out for the snowshoe lessons that the nonprofit will offer at WinteRush.

“One of the big goals is to get people to realize the trails can be used year-round,” Weyand said.

Staff Writer Deirdre Fleming can be contacted at 791-6452 or at:

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