It was hard to tell who was having more fun at the Mardi Gras/Snow Daze Wendy's Kids Fun Fair -- six-year-old Lucas Astorino or his dad Mike.
Lucas took great pride in sinking mini basketballs into the hoop, knowing he'd get a ticket he could redeem for a prize or food at the concession stand.
"I like everything about it, it's so awesome," said Lucas Astorino. "My favourite is basketball."
For Mike, it was just fun way to spend a afternoon Saturday. He was having a great time showing his young son some of the feats of carnival athleticism he learned to do back when he was a boy.
Each game activity cost 50 cents to play and no matter how good they were at snagging a bottle neck with ring toss, knocking Skittle bowling pins over, or popping balloons with darts, even if they didn't win the game, each kid was handed a ticket before they left the booth. For the grand sum of $1.50, Lucas was able to play three games, then exchange his tickets for a hot dog, chips and a pop.
"It's organized, it's advertised well so the turnout is good, and the price is right," said Mike Astorino. "It's just fun for the kids, and actually it's fun for me too, because I'm still a kid at heart."
Volunteers who staffed the game booths dressed up as superheroes and mascots roamed the gym floor and entrance of Connaught Youth Centre to greet the kids. It got the kids energized for the Mardi Gras/Snow Daze Winter Festival, a formula that's worked well for nearly four decades.
"We have families that are well off in town but there are also needier families and they have as much right to a fun day for their kids," said Mardi Gras/Snow Daze past-president Aileen Snow, a volunteer for 35 of the festival's 37-year history in Prince George.
"You see people coming in here with three or four kids and parents can give each of them $5 and they can play and have a good time and also have lunch for that."
The Mardi Gras festival began two years before that, in 1976 as an offshoot the snow golf tournament first organized by former CKPG radio announcer Don Prentice. Snow started out as an organizer of the now-defunct bed races.
"I just love Mardi Gras and the fun it creates in the city and I just want to see it keep going," said Snow. "People are stuck in doors in the winter and there are so many different events and different things for different people. We're always looking for new ideas and new people to get involved to help us out. The idea is you have kids' events, outdoor events, pub events, a talent show, and a big variety of things, so there's something for everybody."
Last year, executive director/secretary treasurer Marion Axelson told the 13-member board she was moving to Surrey and the Mardi Gras/Snow Daze committee issued a public plea that new blood was needed to keep the festival alive. The committee recruited several new members, including CEO Jana Phillips, and it appears Mardi Gras is on solid footing again.
"People burn out, and we were having a hard time getting directors who were willing to work, but now we have a fantastic board that seems to be committed, really giving their all," said Snow.
"With the volunteers we have, we'll be able to keep the office open on a part-time basis and have an events co-ordinator [the board's only paid position] for four to five months every year. Marion used to do that as a volunteer."
Snow's volunteerism runs in the family. Her three daughters and four of her seven grandchildren, as well as one of her great-grandchildren, have all helped organize Mardi Gras activities. She said she's hoping to work with the 2015 Canada Winter Games committee to combine budgets and plan fun activities during the two weeks of the Games, Feb. 15-March 1, 2015.
"If we could be exposed during the Winter Games, I think it would give everybody a pickup," said Snow.
n Snow Daze/Mardi Gras started Feb. 8 with the Mr. PG contest. Other activities included the Seniors Idol talent contest, Senior Fun Fair Days, Snowdaze Got Talent, a murder mystery dinner theatre, a crib party, and a crib tournament.
The festival continues this week with the waiter/waitress races at the College Heights Pub tonight at 7 p.m., a whist tournament at the Senior Activity Centre on Wednesday, a hot wing eating contest at Original Joe's Wednesday night, a curling funspiel Saturday at the Prince George Golf and Curing Club, and a country dance Saturday night at Hart Pioneer Centre. It wraps up Sunday afternoon with Family Fun Day events and the snowman-building contest at the Golf and Curling Club.
n Volunteers interested in joining the organizing committee should call 250-564-3737.