Beat the Bitter winter festival
North Liberty — Sunday, Jan. 28 – Saturday, Feb. 3
Pre-registration for paid events begins Monday, Nov. 20
If there’s anything that can incite an Iowan’s rage, it’s cold weather. Dipping temperatures, frosted wind shields, gray skies, snow, ice — apart from holiday travel, the winter seemingly offers few reasons to go outside.
Unless you’re in North Liberty.
“It started as just an idea, a conversation between a few residents back in the fall of 2015,” Jillian Miller, North Liberty’s community engagement coordinator, said of the city’s Beat the Bitter winter festival. “Iowans are just bad at winter and we need to be better. We need to be more like Minnesota, who celebrate the winter fun that can be had and the sports that can be played instead of just hibernating, like we tend to.”
This conversation led to the first-annual Beat the Bitter festival in 2016. Sold-out events and glowing reviews put wind in the festival’s sails, and the 2017 Beat the Bitter was expanded from one day to a full week of free and ticketed events.
These include horse-drawn carriage rides; an ice carving demonstration; an introduction to curling workshop with the Cedar Rapids Curling Club; a community bonfire; the 5K-ish Obstacle Run; broomball, kickball, tug of war, snow volleyball and other competitive games; group painting and winter spirits tasting; a “nearly impossible” photo scavenger hunt; a polar plunge in the Centennial Park Pond, which will raise money to feed and vaccinate the North Liberty Police Department’s new K-9, Falco; a Snuggie bar crawl and more.
While most events embrace the wintry outdoors, others, like the Cozy Social Hour and Wii Winter Sports tournament, will take place inside.
“We know we’re fighting with Mother Nature on this, and that’s why a lot of our activities can happen with or without snow. But we wanted to put the winter twist because Beat the Bitter’s tagline is ‘winter games and good cheer,'” Miller said.
New this year and opening well before the Beat the Bitter festival is a temporary ice skating rink at Penn Meadows Park. Beat the Bitter teamed up with the North Liberty Parks and Recreation Department to prepare for the rink, which will be open from Dec. 11 through March 31.
Installed over the park’s tennis courts, the 100-by-115-foot ice rink will feature real ice. When the weather isn’t friendly, officials will close the rink and keep the public updated on both the Beat the Bitter and City of North Liberty Facebook pages.
“There’s a privacy fence around it that will provide some wind coverage, but it also allows us to lock the gates which we’ll do if the ice isn’t safe,” Miller said.
The ice rink will be open to from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. After the sun goes down, visitors can feed the onsight light meters to keep the area lit. Organizers have also obtained about 50 pairs of ice skates that will be available for free rental (with an ID and $5 refundable deposit) at the North Liberty Recreation Center. Since the stock of skates is limited, it’s first come, first served.
Enthusiastic skaters may just want to purchase their own pair (Scheels is giving 20 percent off skating and hockey equipment from Nov. 27-Dec. 15 when you mention “North Liberty ice rink”) since the rink is here to stay. Though only open temporarily, the materials that form the ice rink are reusable, and the city plans to reinstall it year after year.
Registration for paid programs begins Monday, Nov. 20, and one of the first events expected to sell out is the Snuggie Crawl on Feb. 3. The second iteration of last year’s sold-out bar crawl will fill six North Liberty restaurants and bars with 350 Snuggie-clad socialites.
The Snuggie Crawl is not your mother’s bar crawl. For one, the traditional T-shirt has been traded in favor of the winter-friendly, as-seen-on-TV sensation Snuggie, embroidered with the Beat the Bitter logo (this year’s sleeved blankets are red).
“It’s a really nice quality Snuggie,” Miller said. “There has been talk about those who maybe don’t want to take the Snuggie home after the crawl, having a place to donate them. Our committee’s currently exploring that option for a give-back at the end of the event.”
Another unique feature of the crawl is the freedom it affords its participants. Guests can start at any location — BeerBurger, Rocky O’Brien’s, J&A Tap, Reds Alehouse, Adelitas Mexican Grill or Tin Roost — and choose their own adventure with the help of three antique trolleys and two party buses provided by Black Diamond Limousine. The vehicles will be on a continuous, clockwise loop between the locations until midnight, giving crawlers the option to change bars about every 10 minutes. Drink specials, games and prizes are promised along the way.
Passes cost $39 until Jan. 1, when they increase to $50.
A relative blizzard of information on events and registration can be found on the Beat the Bitter website.
“Good cheer is really just getting people together, out of hibernation,” Miller said. “We’re just trying put something on people’s calendar to have something to look forward to when holidays have passed and we look forward to spring. There are still things to do and people to meet.”