WinterFest promises ‘eight days of fun’ in Amherst beginning Saturday

Julia Wald and her son Thanh Tran of Amherst get a thrill on the sledding hill during the 2019 Amherst WinterFest grand finale at Cherry Hill Golf Course.

Julia Wald and her son Thanh Tran of Amherst get a thrill on the sledding hill during the 2019 Amherst WinterFest grand finale at Cherry Hill Golf Course. STAFF FILE PHOTO


Staff Writer

Published: 01-25-2024 10:57 AM

Hands-on activities and exhibits at the Hitchcock Center for the Environment showing off the wonders of winter, such as properties of frozen water and the shape of snowflakes, kicks off WinterFest 2024 on Saturday morning.

A week later, on the afternoon of Feb. 3 on the Amherst Town Common, the Fire & Ice Festival, with hot chocolate, s’mores and fire pits and the creation of ice sculptures, followed by a Luminaria, will close out WinterFest.

In between, numerous events, many of them free and most for all ages, will be on the calendar for what Amherst Recreation Department is dubbing “eight days of fun throughout Amherst.”

Recreation Director Reynaud Harp told the Recreation Commission at a recent meeting that the hope is to elevate organizations, programs and sports teams, putting them together on the same page and presenting them as a common theme of activities.

“I feel like this is a huge step toward making WinterFest again a large cultural event that Recreation can steer and play a large role in,” Harp said.

When first started in 2008, WinterFest was a daylong event held at Cherry Hill Golf Course in North Amherst, with admission charged to watch and participate in various contests, including a cardboard box sled race and a chili-tasting competition, as well as a fireworks show to cap off the day. As the years went on, WinterFest incorporated other events over a one- or two-week period, with the Cherry Hill event serving as the finale.

Becky Demling, the Recreation Department’s outreach director, contacted a number of community partners to find events that could be branded as part of WinterFest 2024.

“It’s going to be a very busy eight days,” Demling said, observing that a Google document will continue to be added to and updated with a schedule of events.

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Even before WinterFest begins, a skating rink has been put on Kendrick Park at the north end of downtown, taking advantage of the sub- freezing temperatures of recent days.

Opening at 10 a.m. Saturday at the Hitchcock Center is Winter Wonderland Family Science. The WinterFest Games will kick off later on Saturday, from 1 to 4 p.m., at Mill River Recreation Area in North Amherst.

The WinterFest Craft Fair starts Sunday at 10 a.m. in the middle school cafeteria, and a presentation on the history of ice harvesting, sponsored by the Amherst Historical Society, will be at Munson Memorial Library Hall at 4 p.m.

Throughout the week, there will also be college and high school basketball and ice hockey games for people to attend, many of which are free, and some admission-charged events, like public ice skating at the Mullins Center ice rink and the “Polar Bear Splash” at the middle school pool.

Other events include an Ancestral Bridges presentation at Amherst College’s Frost Library on Jan. 30 at 4 p.m., “Life During the Ice Age” at Amherst College’s Beneski Museum on Jan. 31 at 4 p.m., and the Snow Ball Intergenerational Dance at the Bangs Community Center on Feb. 1 at 3:30 p.m.

One of the concluding events will be National Girls and Women in Sports Day on Feb. 3 from 10 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. at the Alumni Gym at Amherst College. This event will provide girls in grades 4-6 with an opportunity to explore various sports, play and have fun together. Activities will be led by women’s sports teams, including squash, basketball, softball, volleyball, soccer, tennis, field hockey, lacrosse, golf, cross country and track and field.

The Fire & Ice event, being organized by the Amherst Business Improvement District, provides hot chocolate, s’mores and fire pits, from 2 to 7 p.m., along with winter magical ice sculpture. An Amherst firetruck, Sparky the WinterFest mascot and winter tie-dye crafting will happen from from 2 to 4 p.m., metal sculptures by Kamil Peters takes place from 2 to 5 p.m., a fire performance by Matica Circus happens at 5:30 p.m., and the Luminaria begins at 6 p.m.

For more information and an updated list of activities, along with times and locations, visit