As guest lodging in McCall was limited in the 1920s, overflow visitors were housed by residents who opened their homes for the Carnival. In addition, a train with sleeper cars was positioned at the train station, and reduced rates were offered as another form of accommodation for visitors. The first Sports Carnival was attended by approximately 2,000 people, including then Idaho Governor C. Moore.

The Payette Lakes Sports Carnival lasted several years. Still, it began to fade out as organized clubs and the development of permanent facilities—like the Little Ski Hill—made sporting competitions more formal, reducing the need for competition-based festivals. The Sports Carnival eventually evolved into an “Ice Break-Up Contest.” A person could purchase a ticket and enter a guess as to what day, hour, and minute the ice on Payette Lake would break up in the spring. The last contest was held in 1941 and ended when gambling became illegal.

Motivated by a desire to promote skiing in the area, the community rallied to bring back a winter festival to McCall. The first two-day official Winter Carnival was held that year on the same weekend as the University of Idaho Ski Invitational at Brundage Mountain Ski Resort. The Carnival drew regional visitors to the area and hosted slalom skiing, cross-country skiing, ski jumping, snowshoeing, and snowcat races.

Over time, McCall’s Winter Carnival has moved around the winter calendar several times. In the 1990’s, the event adopted an ongoing “Mardi Gras” theme for the parade and stretched from a single weekend event into a 10-day extravaganza. The goal at that time was to bring more people to the sleepy winter town and boost awareness about McCall’s unique blend of winter offerings.

100 years after the first Payette Lakes Sports Carnival, McCall’s signature event is being reimagined again. The goal of hosting Winter Carnival on a single weekend at the end of February is to strike a balance between the importance of honoring community traditions and the ability of the community to provide services to the visitors who flock here to enjoy what the McCall area has to offer.