History: An Outdoor Sports Carnival

The Saint Paul Winter Carnival was once known as an “Outdoor Sports Carnival.” Along with traditional events such as parades and royalty, carnivals during these years had a heavy emphasis on winter sports! Saint Paul was home to local and national sports championships and welcomed visitors from around the world! In recent years some events have been brought back because of their popularity or historical significance. As new activities emerged, the Winter Carnival added them to the lineup of the Carnival’s festivities. 


Did You Know?! 

  • The 1962 Winter Carnival featured the 1st ever hot air balloon race in the WORLD! Many local hot air balloonists including world record holder Don Piccard who took off from White Bear Lake and attempted to travel to a designated spot – the closest balloon to that spot won the prize.
  • Many of these events received national TV coverage on programs such as ABC’s Wide World of Sports. 
  • In 1939 the Winter Carnival welcomed ski jumpers to compete in the National Ski Jumping Tournament. See the video below…

  • The 1966 Winter Carnival featured the 1st official snowmobile race from Winnipeg, Manitoba to St Paul – a distance of over 500 miles.
  • In 1970, Ms. Della Montreuil from Euclid, MN became the 1st woman to finish the snowmobile race.

  • Blanket tossing was considered a “sporting event” and goes all the way back to the 1st winter carnival.  And the bouncers have been “throwing up” ever since!
  • Toboggan racing was one of the most popular sport events since the beginning of the Winter Carnival. One of the largest and longest slides was on “Ramsey Hill” – located at the top of Summit Avenue and traveled all the way down to 7th Street. It was reported that speeds reached 80 MPH!
  • Ice fishing was a huge event for Winter Carnivals usually taking place on White Bear Lake. In many years, special artistic designs were laid out for visual and photographic purposes.

  • World famous Pro Stock drag racer, Warren Johnson, got his start racing cars on ice.
  • World famous hot air balloon pilot, Don Piccard helped launch the very 1st hot air balloon race in the world! Mr. Piccard went on to set many records in ballooning and was a pioneer in the design and safety of ballooning. (picture of Don Piccard in 1961 and in 2011 marking the 50th anniversary of the first balloon race. )
(Don Piccard in red hat)
  • One of the more unique events in the history of the Winter Carnival was called “push ball” where the goal is to push a huge ball across the opponents (goal) line..
  • Snowmobile and dog races from Winnipeg to St Paul pretty much followed the “Great Northern Railway” route.
  • Curling is another event that has taken place in nearly every Winter Carnival. The St Paul Curling Club is one of the oldest in the nation!
  • Speed Skating competitions usually took place on Lake Como while car racing took place on Lake Phalen. Horse racing originally took place on the Mississippi River – not anymore!

A Glimpse into Many Sporting Activities: (click-thru)


More Great Resources

Looking for more great history about the Saint Paul Winter Carnival? Visit the Minnesota Historical Society’s online database and the Ramsey County Historical Society’s online database and search, “Winter Carnival.”

Thank you and credit to the Minnesota Historical Society; the Ramsey County Historical Society; archives of the Pioneer Press and “Fire and Ice” by Moira Harris for helping contribute to this collection of history! Also, thank you to Winter Carnival’s own, Tom Barrett, for helping us digitize all this history!