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#133 Winter Carnival Lit Up Norwich for More Than 80 Years

Jeff Dobbin 200 Things about Norwich, This Week in History

Photo of two couples standing holding a trophy during the 1938 winter carinval at Norwich University

Winter Carnival – 1938

A brief notice in the November 11, 1916 Norwich Record first floated the idea of a winter carnival at NU:

“The ground is white with our first snow. The long winter’s grind is almost upon us. But after all, there are a lot of things to do in the winter time. Why not have a winter carnival? We certainly have the location and the men interested in winter sports.”

Winter carnivals were a popular collegiate tradition at the time. They were designed to facilitate friendly competition in winter sports and spread cheer through social events at an otherwise dull time of the year between the football and baseball seasons (varsity hockey, though popular, was limited by the reliance on natural outdoor ice).

The creators of the NU Winter Carnival were primarily inspired by a similar event at nearby Dartmouth College. Plans quickly came together for a “winter tournament” in 1917 to include skating, snowshoeing, skiing, hockey, tobogganing, a baked bean supper, and a dance. “This tournament…should fill a big gap in life at Norwich,” notes the Record. “Outdoor life is needed to keep mind and heart active and contented.”

Unfortunately, a national coal shortage that winter stymied the plans for a 1917 carnival (University records show that Norwich’s fuel costs had increased 85% compared to the previous year). It took a few years for momentum to rebuild, but the first Winter Carnival finally unfolded with great success in February of 1920.

Winter Carnival remained a staple of the long, dark winter season at Norwich for the next 80 years. The popular snow sculpture contest—initially held between fraternities, later between Corps units—was introduced in 1936.

Declining participation coupled with less reliable snowfall led to the end of Winter Carnival in the early 2000s, with a brief revival from 2008 to 2014. The spirit is alive and well in the new Rail Jam snowboarding competition, one of the most popular annual campus events. Hosted by the Ski & Snowboard Club and Campus Activities Board, it drew a crowd of over 500 students last year, though like the old Winter Carnival, it is dependent on sufficient snowfall. The 2018 Rail Jam is scheduled for February 16.