December 4, 2021

‘Chilling’ at Homer Winterfest

Crowds try to stay warm in frigid temperatures at annual event

Cortland Standard file photo

Tommy Barnes, 10, of Homer pulls his sister Mackenzie, 7, during the human dogsled race at the Homer Winterfest in this January 2019 file photo.

As the five-man dogsled team rounded the last cone, the four men pulling the sled picked up their feet, as they dashed through the snow to the finish line.

“It’s harder to run this year because the snow is deeper,” said Tyler Burhans, one of the team members.

Last year, there was no snow at all.

The team, named One Night in Altoona, took home first place Saturday in the human dogsled races for the fourth year in a row at Homer Winterfest.

“There’s a technique to it,” teammate Jaymie Reese said. He joked that once the race was over and they celebrated their win, they would head back out to practice for next year’s Winterfest.

In the age zero to 12 category, Lillyanna Scovell, 7, her brother Brayden Scovell, 8, and Onaka Kile, 10, took first.

However, once they finished their turn for the race, they didn’t stick round to see if they won. Instead, they ran off to play in the snow and at the ice rink.

“They love the snow,” said Dan Kile, Onaka’s father. “They were outside for an hour and a half last night and it was freezing.”

And they had plenty of snow left to play in after a storm during the Jan. 19 weekend dropped more than a foot of it in some parts of Cortland County.

The snow wasn’t the only sign of winter at the festival, as freezing weather had everyone bundled up, hopping in and out of buildings and keeping active to stay warm.

Friends Lizzie Allen and Abigail Williams, both 13, decided to escape the cold by participating in the gingerbread decorating contest at Sinfully Sweet Café on Main Street.

“I’m doing a Gucci design,” Allen said.

Others gathered at the store, where the aroma of coffee, baked goods and other food warmed the chilly air.

Just down Main Street, Drew and Michelle Hammond stopped to admire and take photos with one of the many ice sculptures that lined the sidewalks.

The couple has been going to the festival for at least five years, they said.

“This is probably one of the coldest,” Drew Hammond said.

But they weren’t letting it get to them, as they drank hot coffee while continuing to walk down the street, deciding where they wanted to go to next.

“We keep active and that usually helps us stay warm,” Michelle Hammond said.

She said they would eventually make their way to the Homer Elks Lodge for some chicken wings, but they weren’t planning to try the hottest wings there — they like the more mild ones.

Michelle Reynolds bundled her three kids in several layers. However, her daughter Olivia, 5, said she didn’t mind the cold or the snow. Winter is her favorite season. And for Reynolds, seeing her kids smiling from being part of the parade and getting to play in the snow is what made her happy. She noted how a couple years ago there was no snow for the festival.

“It was like Christmas without snow — it was weird,” she said.