The busy holidays are done, it’s freezing cold outside, and summer’s still half a year a way. Why not throw a big outdoor party?

That’s what’s happening this weekend when Portland will host its inaugural winter carnival, dubbed Carnaval ME, on Friday and Saturday. Activities will include family entertainment, ice carving, a hillside course for rail jam ski and snowboard competitions, an area where beginners can try out skis or snowshoes, a light display, mascots, music, food and drink.

Carnaval ME organizer Brian Corcoran hopes the event, modeled after Quebec City’s world-famous winter carnival, will help boost tourism during the state’s slowest seasons and give Mainers something to celebrate.

“The hope is that this will provide a unique experience for Mainers and tourists alike,” said Corcoran, chief executive officer of Shamrock Sports & Entertainment, a Maine marketing firm. “We want to showcase Maine in the winter.”

An artist’s rendering of the inside of the giant igloo at Carnaval ME in Portland. Image created by Julia Durgee

The carnival area will be set up mostly in a parking lot off Cutter Street, which leads from the Eastern Promenade to the East End Beach. The steep Prom hill will be used for the rail jam competitions, while a a giant inflatable igloo will host family entertainment and Bites and Brews sessions featuring local food and drink. A shipping container outfitted with beer taps called The Maine Beer Box will serve local brews. About 100 yards of trees bordering the festival area will be illuminated at night. Ice-carving demonstrations will happen on both days, and food trucks will be on hand.

The main festival area will be fenced in, and there’s a $20 admission fee, which is good for both days. However, the ski and snowboard tryout area, put on by Sunday River ski resort, will be free and outside the fence.

The festival opens at 11 a.m. each day, with music provided all day long by live acts and deejays from Townsquare Media, which owns WBLM and WJBQ, among other Portland stations. From 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. each day, there will be family entertainment in the giant igloo, featuring local mascots like Slugger the Sea Dog, circus performers from The Way We Move, face painting, a juggling workshop and a caricature artist.

During the middle of the day on both days there will be ice-carving demonstrations by Sub Zero Ice Carvings, based in Topsham. The ice sculptures on site will include the Carnaval ME logo, a 10-foot-long ice bar, and a graffiti wall of ice honoring the state’s 200th anniversary this year. People can write their names on the ice wall, said Jason Bluck, owner and lead designer for the company.

When the sun sets on both days, the light displays will be turned on. On Friday, there’ll be a rail jam practice session beginning at 4:45 p.m. followed by competition heats organized by the United States of America Snowboard and Freeski Association at 6:10 p.m. Snowboarders and skiers will compete doing tricks on rails, bars and other obstacles set up on the hill. Sunday River will also hold a rail jam competition on Saturday afternoon.

Also during each day of the festival, there will be two Brews and Bites sessions in the igloo, which includes small plates from six local restaurants paired with six local brews or other beverages. The cost is $65, which includes a general admission pass. Participating restaurants include Luke’s Lobster, Highroller Lobster Co., Central Provisions, Union Restaurant, The Holy Donut and Noble Barbecue. Brewers or distillers include Allagash, Bissell Brothers, Rising Tide, Maine Beer Company, Shipyard and Urban Farm Fermentory.

The igloo will be heated to about 65 or 70 degrees, said Corcoran. There will also be a tent on site for people seeking shelter.

Ice-carving demonstrations will be part of Carnaval ME in Portland Friday and Saturday. Photo courtesy of SubZero Ice Carvings

On Thursday, the night before Carnaval ME gets under way, there will be a fundraising event called the Maine Bicentennial Snow Ball. The 21-and-over event will feature craft beers and food from local chefs. Tickets are $100 and some proceeds will go to WinterKids, the Maine nonprofit that promotes healthy outdoor activities for youngsters, Corcoran said.

Tickets to the festival will be sold on site or can be purchased in advance at carnavalme.com. Ticket prices include parking, at the Ocean Gateway parking area about a mile away. For $5, people can ride the Maine Narrow Gauge Railroad from Ocean Gateway to the event.

Corcoran, who grew up in Old Orchard Beach, said Carnaval ME has been in the planning stages for a couple years, and his company partnered with the Maine Office of Tourism and Norway Savings Bank, among others. Corcoran’s company also organized Portland’s July 4 celebration last year, also on the Eastern Prom. The annual event, featuring fireworks and the Portland Symphony Orchestra, had been run by a nonprofit group since 2010.


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