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SnoFlinga 2021 festival celebrates outdoor winter activities — safely
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SnoFlinga 2021 festival celebrates outdoor winter activities — safely

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While some of SnoFlinga is virtual this year, Butte’s beloved winter festival still revolves around getting outside and getting active.

Ironically COVID-19, which has prevented staging some of SnoFlinga’s traditional group events, has caused winter recreation itself to spike, as people have more flexible schedules and a great desire to get outside for COVID-safe pursuits.

“Butte has four to six months of winter and we often overlook those months, paying more attention to summer,” says Cassandra Sunell, marketing director of the Butte Local Development Corp. and a key Snoflinga organizer. “It’s easy to forget just how great it is, and how much there is to do outdoors in the winter.”

That’s the idea behind SnoFlinga in any year — to celebrate the outdoor opportunities of our winters. And the festival organizers are absolutely determined to do that again this year, despite the pandemic.

In fact, the stresses people have been under this year make it all the more important, organizers feel, to get them outside and having fun this winter.

“It’s good for anyone to get out,” Sunell said — “to get out and exercise, enjoy the winter and stay active. And this year, we know it’s really needed, to make sure we’re in a mentally okay place.”

She said that festival organizers love the event’s ability to help people learn about new activities.

“We are a platform to provide avenues to share and educate that there are opportunities out there,” she said. “Whether it’s learning how to curl or play hockey or ski or snowshoe. There are lots of COVID-safe activities that can still happen, just a little altered, with limited groups.”

Sunell said that just as it was last summer, it’s clear from license plates at places like Discovery or at trailheads that COVID-weary people are visiting from far and near to experience southwest Montana this winter.

Before the virus hit, the region was experiencing steady growth in winter popularity, and Sunell expects the pandemic will only accelerate that.

“Once people make the commitment to get outside, and buy their gear, their snowshoes or skates or whatever, they’ll keep coming for years,” she said.

“This year we’re definitely having to go a little bit more virtual” with the festival, Sunell said. “But that doesn’t mean that any of us have to diminish our opportunity to go out and enjoy the winter.”

One thing that is super-important for the festival to maintain, she said, is the ability to raise money for good causes.

Like Special Olympics.

The Polar Plunge has annually raised around $20,000 to support Special Olympics. And the Montana organization, so important to so many, is hurting this year. It was unable to hold either its annual track meet or its basketball tournament, both of which help the organization raise money.

So when Snoflinga organizers realized they couldn’t do the plunge in the usual way this year, they decided to take the event — and its fundraising mission — and have some fun with it.

Plungers are urged to send videos of their interpretation of the Plunge this year — whether it’s ice in the bathtub, jumping in the snow, an ice-bucket challenge, or whatever, the idea is to use those individual events to raise the funds needed for Special Olympics. People can register for the event and submit videos of their personal Plunges.

“There’s a whole host of ways to do it,” Sunell said. “We’re counting on the community to come through with fun ideas to get the funds raised.”

After all, SnoFlinga is, at its core, about community.

“Usually, we’re gathered together, drinking cocoa and watching kids skate at the ice rink, or getting together to socialize at Homestake Lodge,” Sunell said. “It’s a challenge to experience that community in a more virtual way.

“But if there’s one thing Butte people are good at it’s being resilient.”

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