Winterfest 2022 in review: Recapping this year’s ‘RE-BOOT’ theme, event highlights
Review: Syracuse Winterfest "Re-boots" for 2022
Returning this year following a pandemic hiatus in 2021, the 36th annual Syracuse Winterfest was held once again on Feb. 17-27.
For 10 days across the downtown Syracuse landscape, event attendees came out in droves to take part in this year’s return to the fun Winterfest is known for.
Among Winterfest’s multitude of activities, its array of ticketed food and drink competitions have become event classics. Signature staples include chili and chowder cookoffs, various cocktail mix-offs, and tasting tours of local restaurant samplings.
During the afternoon on Feb. 19, the popular “Culinary Cruise” event called foodies aboard its Winterfest Express shuttle services to take a tasty touring of all that’s delicious in downtown Syracuse.
In a battle between the two mac and cheese samplings comprising the Cruise’s entrées category this year, Orbis Lounge’s gouda and truffle mac and cheese ultimately beat out Clinton Street Pub’s classic version of the beloved comfort food dish as tasters’ choice pick.
Downtown bar Three Lives took first place in the appetizers category with their Loaded Tots, which reigned supreme among six other local eateries’ featured offerings also up for the vote. Meanwhile, the beignets from Across the Hall Café won the dessert category.
Craft beer enthusiasts enjoyed a beer tasting competition held Sunday, Feb. 20. Talking Cursive Brewing Company’s “You Had Me at Phantasm” Hazy IPA Sour came out on top, with Anything But Beer’s “Son of James” Irish Whiskey Apple Ale placing a close second.
Other downtown bars and pubs participated in various mix-off competitions sprinkled throughout the celebration’s two weekends. Several local establishments entered their cocktails, which were judged by event attendees on both presentation and taste, for a shot at claiming the best martini, sangria, margarita, cosmopolitan, and/or bloody mary in town.
The highlighted food and drink event of Winterfest, however, is undoubtedly its “Wing Walk”. A tradition that serves up dozens upon dozens of Syracuse’s sauciest in the course of a single afternoon, hundreds of patrons trek the town from stop to stop in search of the best wings in Syracuse.
This year’s “Wing Walk” was held on the final day of festivities on Feb. 27, wrapping up Winterfest 2022’s food competitions. Event-goers made sure to save some room- it is by far the most popular ticketed food event, according to Winterfest President Bill Cooper. For $10, participants score an all-access pass to taste the wings from several different participating downtown area restaurants and pubs.
First-time Wing Walker Adriana Walts says she was invited by family to come along for the fun and decided to join them.
Sporting a chicken costume for the event, Walts said, “We didn’t know who was going to wear it [in] the group, but I just figured, no one knows me out here, so why not,” she said. “There’s really no rhyme or reason, I just thought that it’d be a good thing for the Wing Walk… it’s eye-catching, and my crowd can see where I am.”
“I don’t like to live too seriously, you know what I mean?” she added.
After an afternoon of sampling the scene, Wing Walkers ultimately crowned Saltine Warrior Sports Pub as the winner in the world of wings on offer. Featuring two different flavor varieties, Hot Garlic and Carolina Fusion, Saltine Warrior’s wings won by a landslide.
The contest’s second-place finalist was Shaughnessy’s Irish Pub, with Eleven Waters restaurant taking third.
Of the non-food events, the human dogsled races are a Winterfest fan-favorite.
Teams of five, one rider and four pullers/pushers, construct their own sleds and compete head-to-head against one another in bracket heats two teams at a time. The racecourse is outdoors in an open field area, consisting of a roughly 30-meter dash downfield to reach the finish line. Prizes are awarded to the top three fastest teams, and to those who raise the most funds for the charitable cause chosen that year.
Held this year at the Syracuse Inner Harbor’s Iron Pier Apartments, the proceeds from team entrance fees benefited local charity Helping Hounds Dog Rescue.
Many of those in attendance, both spectators and team members alike, brought their own canine companions along to the event, not to lead any dogsleds themselves, but to help cheer on their fellow humans.
In a final match that saw sponsor team QPK Design competing against The Hellwig Family Speed Demons, a near-tie turned into a victory for the Hellwig family team at the last moment, just steps before the finish line after a neck-and-neck run down the field.
Luke Hellwig, the Hellwig team’s captain, built their sled. It was used once before: to compete in last Winterfest’s races back in 2020, which was the group’s very first time participating in the event.
In fact, the Hellwig Family Speed Demons – who, at the time, ran under the team name Syracuse Chargers Rugby Club – also won that race.
For this year’s Winterfest Reboot, the successful rookies were right back at it – they had a new name, but the same trusty sled that won them their first-ever race. Indeed, The Hellwigs took the first place title once again, solidifying their spot as reigning champs in the event for the second time in a row.
Winning both of the first two races they ever competed in, the team’s members seem to be novice naturals in the odd sport of human dogsledding. Their ties explain their talents- a group of rec team sports buddies who are also neighbors and/or related by family, the group is a light-hearted brotherhood with a knack for some friendly competition.
“We’re gym class heroes,” Hellwig said with a chuckle.
Hellwig says the most exciting and entertaining part of the day was, for him, “obviously” the race, but also lauded the food, beer, and all the others in attendance as the things that make Winterfest so special.
“It’s great to come out and have fun, and it was a good turn out this year,” he said. “To have a lot of people come out and enjoy the atmosphere – it was a good day for it, and a lot of people showed up.”
Bill Cooper, Winterfest’s president, offers an echo to this notion of community camaraderie. “It’s about getting people to get out of the humdrum of the winter blues, and get involved in the excitement of the community,” he says.
During this time of year, the temps are down, and sometimes overall spirits are, too. This has been especially true during the past couple of years, with the impact the COVID-19 pandemic has had on social gatherings.
Winterfest, with this year’s “reboot,” has pulled itself up by its bootstraps once more, and encouraged others to do the same.
A fresh start to a favorite tradition, 2022’s Winterfest picked right back up again where it left off: warming up and winning over the hearts of many who attended and helping bring back some collective cheer this season to Syracuse.