Montana Winter Fair: a celebration of agriculture, lifestyle and tenacity

News-Argus Managing Editor

The Ice Queen will make her annual trek from high in the Snowy Mountains to the Montana Winter Fair next Saturday, Jan. 27.

Photo courtesy of Karen Kuhlmann

Seventy-three years. If an event has a history like that, you can bet it’s doing something right, which is certainly the case for the Montana Winter Fair. Next Wednesday marks the opening of the 2018 fair, a celebration of agriculture, livestock and the Western way of life.

The first winter fair was held in Bozeman in 1946. Each January since then the fair has provided a place for friendly competition between agricultural producers during the time of year when farm work slows just a bit. It also serves to educate visitors about agriculture.

In 2003 the Winter Fair moved from Bozeman to Lewistown, and the scope of events broadened. However, the original two goals, competition and education, are still the primary drivers of the Winter Fair, according to Winter Fair Board Chairman Chris Cooler.

“The Winter Fair is an agricultural event,” Cooler said. “There are a lot of very diverse activities, for sure, but you can group them all, in some way, under the heading of agriculture.”

Cooler pointed to the competitions for youth and adults, including the popular youth beef show or the mouth-watering chili, cinnamon roll, Dutch oven and quick bread cook-offs.

Then there are the educational components. This year the Farm Forum, geared specifically for those in agriculture, features a presentation on using the accounting program Quick Books, as well as one titled “How to Advocate for Agriculture.” Other presentations include how to assist local fire departments and range management. Staff from the American Prairie Reserve will explain the organization’s mission and goals, and answer questions about their purchase of land in Central Montana.

The seriousness of competitions and seminars will be offset by the fun and the funny: rabbit agility, the arrival of the Ice Queen, Old MacDonald’s barn full of interesting critters, and arm wrestling.

“There are different parts for different people,” Cooler said. “Within the scope of an agricultural fair, we try to provide a good time for people of all ages.”

Board member Karen Kuhlmann agreed.

“We try to have something new every year,” she said. “For example, this year you can meet the Blue Goose, which is the official mascot of the National Wildlife Refuge system. We have one of the largest wildlife refuges, the CMR, here, so come and meet the goose.

“Local historian Jerry Hanley will be giving a talk on gold mine towns in Central Montana on Saturday,” she said, “and then there’s the famous Stick Horse Drill Team, performed by the Heartland Riders.”

“It’s a spoof, you know,” Kuhlmann added, referring to the drill team. “They are precision riders, but for this show, they will be ‘riding’ stick horses and performing for the kids at the Stick Horse Rodeo.”

Friday night’s performance by Cold Hard Cash, billed as “Montana’s premiere Johnny Cash tribute band,” will be one to note, Kuhlmann said, adding the band has performed across the country and on “The Late Show With David Letterman.”

Kuhlmann said many community organizations not only participate in creating the Winter Fair, but also benefit from it. Examples she mentioned include Thursday’s Relay for Life Light Up the Night walk, Saturday’s Tough Enough to Wear Pink breakfast, and the arm wrestling competition, the proceeds of which benefit TORCH.

The whole event, Kuhlmann said, from the fiddle contest to ranch sorting, quilting and the Pinewood Derby, represents the Montana lifestyle.

“You’re not going to see rabbit agility in New Jersey,” she pointed out. “We have an outdoor lifestyle here that includes animals. The Winter Fair makes us pause and say, ‘This is who we are.’ We are celebrating that.”

Even the timing of the fair is linked to the Montana lifestyle, organizers say.

While Cooler explained that many of the events are things farm and ranch families might engage in during the winter months, Kuhlmann said the January schedule itself reflects, in a way, Montana values.

“The very fact that we do it now, with all the uncertainty about the weather in January, speaks to our tenacity,” she said.

This year’s fair includes over 30 events, spread across the fairgrounds, the Eagles Hall and the Art Center.

“We want as many people to participate as possible,” Kuhlmann said. “If you don’t want to compete, then come spectate. It’s a lot of fun.”

For detailed information on the Winter Fair, visit the event website: or watch for the Jan. 24 issue of the News-Argus. For questions, call Chris Cooler: 535-2200.




How much time do you spend using a computer or smart phone during a typical day?