After a two-year hiatus, Amherst’s Winter Festival returned on Sunday night, Feb. 17, with a blizzard of events and treats. Coolidge Cage, lit up in purple and blue, was transformed into a snow-filled carnival for some 800 students, faculty and staff. Students could climb a giant bouncy castle mountain with twin slides, try their hands at curling or clamber inside a giant inflatable snow globe for a photo. There were food stations along every wall, including a hot chocolate bar with lots of toppings. The festivities continued down at Orr Rink, where students could grab rental skates and hop on the ice or head outside to make s’mores. Even the Mammoth was in the spirit, wearing an 8-foot-long scarf in purple tartan.
Sponsored by the Office of the President, the event was a collaboration between the staff of Dining Services, Facilities and Conferences and Special Events.
“Seeing people come together is the best part of Winter Fest,” said Chief Student Affairs Officer Hikaru “Karu” Kozuma. Kozuma was manning the slap shot contest and, as he jokingly put it, “making sure no one loses a set of teeth.”
Among the food options, Kozuma was most intrigued about the “pork sundae” offering, musing that it was going to be either “amazing or a bad idea. There’s nothing in the middle.” He joked, “Experiments happen, even outside the Science Center. This is proof of that.”
Alondra Saucedo Espinno ’22 and Getrude Ndungu ’19, who were working at Orr Rink for the night, were among the first to try the enormous bouncy castle in the shape of a ski mountain. The mountain, called Everest, was 30 feet tall and nearly 50 feet wide. “I really liked it. It’s like the sledding I never did as a kid,” Espinno said after trying the slide. “I’m from Oklahoma. We never get that much snow.”
“It’s waffles! We gotta get in!” students exclaimed as they walked through the door to the event. A long line quickly formed for the Belgian waffle station, where Waffle Cabin staff were cranking out hot waffles with chocolate sauce as quickly as they could.
Even the a cappella group Ball in the House, who had come from Boston to sing at Winter Fest, got in on the action, with singer Wallace Thomas shouting, “Yo, waffle people! We’re going to come over later. Hook us up!” before launching into “This Is How We Do It.”
Jessica Yu, Libertad Aguilar and Maya Ledesma, all first-year students (not pictured), laughed as they stood together in the long waffle line. Ledesma said she was drawn to the event by the waffles on the Winter Fest poster. “Fall Fest is so fun, we knew this would be fun, too,” she said. Aguilar noted that it was nice to see the larger community come together for an event: “We never see this many people in one place, usually.”
Bridget Carmichael ’21 and Josie Underwood ’21 were taking a souvenir photo at the ski lift photo booth when President Biddy Martin happened by and photobombed their shot, to everyone’s delight. “Oh my gosh, I love this!” Underwood said. “We’ve never had a Winter Fest before,” agreed Carmichael, adding, “Now I’m wondering if we’re going to have a Spring Fest.” (City Streets, the spring festival, will take place on Sunday, April 14.)
Hockey players Mitchell Shults ’22, Noah Gilreath ’20, Steven Mallory ’19 and Stephen Rex ’22, along with their friend Jack Dufton ’20, were ribbing each other after winning hats at the slap shot contest. Asked why they came to Winter Fest, they laughed: the food, of course. Half the group peeled off to try the bouncy castle, while the other half left to study. (The group is not pictured in order above.)
At the food tents, Executive Chef Stefania Patinella was carefully watching to see what offerings were popular. In addition to pulled-pork sundaes with cherry tomatoes on top, the Valentine Dining staff had spent two weeks preparing 30 gallons of hot chocolate, 300 cups of chocolate mousse and some 500 pieces of mousse cake—enough chocolate, in other words, to fill several hot tubs. There were also 25 gallons of hot cider, apple crisp, two kinds of soup, maple candies and some 1,600 empanadas, both sweet potato and black bean and smoked chicken. It took four people three days to make the empanadas. “Empanadas are a lot quicker to eat than make,” Patinella said later.
“It’s over the top, but in a good way,” said Gail Holt, dean of financial aid, with a grin. Holt was on the bleachers at the skating rink, watching her daughter and a friend laughing and grabbing each other as they circled the ice.
Melody Dodoo ’21 (not pictured) was nervously tying on a pair of skates at Orr Rink, where a large crowd was waiting for their turn at the ice. Dodoo had never skated before, but was excited to try a turn about the rink. She said she had particularly liked the apple crisp and the Belgian waffles. “I also liked the a cappella. They were killing it,” she said. The only downside? “I wish it went on for longer.”
“It’s a good study break,” said Obi Ezeogu ’19 as he took off his rentals, having just tried skating for his third time. Making her way back up to the gym, Tejia Pavao ’21 (not pictured) joked that the best part of the rink action was watching her friends fall over.
“I needed a break from homework,” students were overheard saying as they gathered around a small fire outside of Orr Rink, where a table had been set up for s’mores. Language Assistant Lucas Ambrosio came across the station as he was wandering through, having just won a hat at the slap shot contest in the gym. “It’s very cool,” he said. “I love exploring this beautiful campus.”