Our History

It has a Short, Yet Outstanding History

1987 Winterfest Poster

Humble Beginnings!

The first Winterfest was celebrated in 1985. It was the result of a small group of individuals from the Updowntowners of Syracuse, who committed months of time and energy to celebrate, rather than lament, winter in Syracuse and Onondaga County.

Community involvement and participation grew. It was the third year of celebration of Syracuse Winterfest Inc., and the Updowntowners of Syracuse, Inc. gained the full support of the City of Syracuse, Onondaga County, The Greater Syracuse Chamber of Commerce, WTVH-5, AM 570/WSYR, and Y94.

During the 1987-88 season, Syracuse Winterfest achieved New York State’s prestigious title of “Winter Festival Capital”. Due to public support and enthusiasm, Winterfest expanded from a weekend festival to its present two weeks.

 Local and national companies found that the celebrating Syracusans were an attractive target market. They started underwriting the costs of operating Winterfest as well as sponsoring many events. Downtown Syracuse merchants and restaurants became actively involved with the festivities. People found that there were lots of ways to participate in Winterfest.

More than 200,000 people attended Winterfest activities in 1989. The Syracuse Convention and Visitors Bureau reported that tourists joined with the residents of Onondaga County to celebrate winter. The list of corporate sponsors grew to a record level. The number of volunteers increased dramatically.

The history of Winterfest is checkered with warm days and no snow, as well as frigid weekends with snow and subzero temperatures. In 1990 the Winterfest Committee made the event “weather- proof” by creating winter sculptures without snow and more indoor activities. Although a two weekend event, sponsors, volunteers and the public enjoyed the biggest Winterfest to date.

Winterfest in 2000 was expanded to a ten day event. In 2002 it was increased to an eleven day event to include a semi- formal ball to welcome the newest Winterfest mascot “Snow Ball”. The “Snow Ball” proved to be an elegant combination of dancing and dining. This event was held in the grand ballroom of the Hotel Syracuse with entertainment provided by local musicians.

The New York Special Olympics joined the Syracuse Winterfest celebration in 2002 adding numerous events.

Winterfest 2003 had grown to over 100 events in 10 days. In 2004 ,Valentine’s Day was included into the events schedule allowing twelve days for the Winterfest celebration and over 150 events.

The theme for 2005 was “There’s SNOW Place Like Central New York”. Winterfest presented over 150 events with increased family and children’s activities added along with featuring a new designation to the Syracuse area called “Little Italy” in the first weekend. Winterfest also joined with North Syracuse Junior High School to break a Guinness World Record for the most snow angels . We needed 1,792+1 to break the record, but rounded up 666 citizens for the attempt.

Winterfest 2006 and 2007 was an 11-day event, with the addition of seven wine tasting evenings along with a weekend live music events called Winterfest Jam at five locations for five dollars.

Winterfest 2008 had events running for 14 days, with some pre-Winterfest events. The newest events were multi-age Wii competitions and a new food event called the “Burger Bounce”.

Winterfest 2010 we celebrated our 25 anniversary and included the outdoor hockey game at the State Fair grounds in our schedule along with many new ones.

Winterfest 2013 we will be having and Ice Castle Built in Clinton Square and several new events.

Winterfest, the celebration of snow, continues to be the grandest attraction in Central New York during the winter months. It’s been the largest event of its kind in the northeast United States. For further information, contact Bill Cooper at (315) 676-2496 (h) or (315) 243-2500 (c)or Email: wacooper@twcny.rr.com.