While it was technically the second annual Winter Carnival, this year’s event had a bit more of a key ingredient for wintertime fun.

“This is like Winter Carnival one-point-two. It’s our first year we’ve had snow,” said Meg Whicher, an outdoor recreation specialist with Missoula Parks and Recreation, which put on the event.

She said worrying about setting up a course and keeping it plowed and groomed was a much better problem to have than last year, when all organizers could do was pray for snow. Winter Carnival, which took place Saturday at Marshall Mountain east of Missoula, was put together to offer a way for families to get outside and be active.

Among the highlights of the day was a snowshoe race that wound its way through what used to be skiing runs at Marshall. In addition to a three-mile and 1.5-mile distance, Whicher said they had also set up a snowshoe “poker run” where contestants would receive a playing card as they passed by seven stations along the course. At the finish line, racers would enter the best poker hand they could make out of their cards, and the person with the best cards would win a prize.

Noel Emery, who had brought her daughter Claire and her son Ray to Winter Carnival, wasn’t quite ready to strap on the snowshoes and race, but said she wanted to try them out at some point.

“My friend is here with her kids, and I think I’ll see if she will watch mine for a bit as well. That looks like a lot of fun. I just worry I would get back in the woods and fall on my face,” she said.

Whicher said they had also set out a snow folfing course at the mountain, as well as sledding hills and other activities around the grounds of Marshall.

“It’s a great place to hold things like this. It’s only 15 minutes from town, but it feels like a whole different world out here,” she said.

Missoula Nordic Ski Club came to the Winter Carnival to provide cross-country skiing lessons for beginners.

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Earlier in the day, the Winter Carnival also had a different race for fat tire bikes. Chris Larson, owner of Missoula Bike Source, said the custom-built bikes that feature over-sized, 5-inch-wide tires, first started as sand bikes that were used by lifeguards and the military. Over the years, bicyclists also found they were great for riding through deep snow, and in the past few years their popularity has continued to broaden.

“I have customers that use them as commuter bikes to get around town, especially in the winter,” he said. “Since we were already going to have racers out here, we decided to bring a few so that people could demo them if they wanted to.”

Larson said the fat bikes use specially made frames to accommodate the oversize tires that are only inflated to four or five pounds per square inch of air.

“That increases the surface area and the contact they make with the ground and let them float on top of snow,” he said.

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