Bryce Canyon City • By all accounts Jennifer Crosby should be an excellent archer and kayaker. The mother of three young girls has, after all, been participating in both sports for years.
Crosby says her ability to place a group of arrows on a target and to roll in a kayak has progressed, but she laughs out loud when someone hints she must be good at either.
“This is the only time I do them,” said Crosby, a native of Orem currently living in Portland, Ore. “I’ve learned a lot of different things through the years here.”
You could say, in fact, that Crosby grew up alongside the Bryce Canyon Winter Festival. The festival, held annually on President’s Day weekend and based out of Ruby’s Inn just outside of Bryce Canyon National Park, was held for the 28th time this year.
Crosby, 32, attended her first winter festival as a 6- or 7-year-old and has missed maybe a handful of the events in 26 years. The tradition started as a natural meeting place for the family. With an aunt in Las Vegas and family in Orem, Bryce Canyon made a good midway meeting point. The tradition continues and has expanded to family friends. Crosby said her mom booked 20 rooms for the 2013 Bryce Canyon Winter Festival. Among the invited guests was a friend Crosby invited on the family trip while she was a teenager. That friend showed up at the festival this year with her own family.
“We met here every year during the festival while I was growing up. I really want my girls to experience this because it was what I grew up doing,” Crosby said after paddling around the indoor pool at Ruby’s Inn in a kayak with nine other participants. “This festival means a lot to me. My mom flew to Portland to make the three-day drive for us to get here.”
The festival combines outdoor winter activities with indoor classes and clinics that help people get more out of their outdoor adventures. Cross-country skiing is a main theme, with classical and skate ski clinics. There are also archery clinics to help people train for the skiing/archery biathlon. Cross-country ski races (a 2K for kids and a 10K free-technique for adults) close out the holiday weekend on a groomed track that runs along the scenic canyon rim outside the park. Snow was a little sparse this year, but volunteers shoveled some onto the trail in areas where the sun had created bare spots.
But skiing on the rim is also possible within the park. National Park Service officials point out trails — which are not groomed, but usually set by other skiers — that can be skied when conditions allow.
Other activities in the park offered in conjunction with the Bryce Canyon Winter Festival include: geology talks, snowshoe hikes with a ranger and the extremely popular astronomy presentations presented by the parks Dark Rangers.
The Sibul family from Salt Lake City had heard about the festival from friends and decided to check it out this year. Matt and Amy, along with daughters Ruby and Annie, signed up for one of the hourlong archery classes provided by Eric Quilter.
“I last shot when I was 19 and a camp counselor. I’d forgotten most everything,” Amy Sibul said. “I appreciated all the little tips and emphasis on safety.”
Annie Sibul, 9, was reluctant to do the clinic, but was glad afterwards that she had been talked into participating.
The Sibuls were impressed with the wide range of family-friendly activities at the festival and liked the holiday weekend escape from life in Salt Lake City and the fresh air at Bryce.
Indoor activities include beginning watercolor classes, taught by Crosby’s father Brian Thayne, digital photography classes, craft classes and yoga.
Families are not the only ones who talk about reunions playing a role in their desire to return to Ruby’s Inn.
Charlie Butler has been hauling kayaks from his Wasatch Touring store in Salt Lake for more than a decade. He spends more than five hours of the weekend in the pool leading the kayaking demonstrations, one of the most popular activities at the festival.
“We really love the skiing when we aren’t in the pool,” Butler said. “But we have also come to really get to know the other volunteers and the regulars at the festival. It’s been fun to see kids grow up from year to year.”
And some of those kids who took their first spin in a kayak at Ruby’s Inn have shown up a few years later at Wasatch Touring to get one of their own.
Organizers of the festival say they created it nearly three decades ago to let people know Bryce Canyon is more than a summer destination. It seems to have worked, drawing more than 1,000 people annually with a higher than average participation in 2013.