The Willow State Winter Carnival kicks off this weekend and continues again next weekend, with a packed schedule of events. The carnival is now in its 57th year and is a highlight on the winter calendar.

The carnival kicks off with a literal bang on Friday night, as Gorilla Fireworks is putting on a display outside the Willow Community Center at 7:45 p.m. That follows the kickoff dinner at 6:30 p.m. The next day, Saturday, the highlight is the start of the Earl Norris Sled Dog Race, which starts at 10 a.m. on Willow Lake. It's a great opportunity to meet the mushers and the four-legged athletes. The two-day race concludes on Sunday, again with a 10 a.m. start.

On Saturday, Jan. 27, other event highlights include the Homesteader Event, which includes Alaska-centric activities like chainsawing, cross-cut sawing and wood chopping. The Homesteader Event continues on Sunday as well. There's also a ladies 5-mile, 5-dog twilight sled dog race, a 5K ski race and entertainment throughout the first weekend.

The second weekend of the carnival actually begins on Thursday, Feb. 1, with the start of the Willow 300 Sled Dog Race, featuring well-known mushers like Dee Dee Jonrowe and Ramey Smyth. The race gets started at noon on Willow Lake.

The day of the carnival, Saturday, Feb. 3, featured one of the more unique events you'll find - outhouse races. They are exactly what you'd think they would be - a race between teams pushing homemade outhouses down a course! Other events on the final day include a 25K tour (bike, ski or run) and a poker run from noon to 3 p.m.

Throughout the entire carnival, there will be a trade fair and food available at the Willow Community Center.

Bundle up and head north to Willow for the Willow State Winter Carnival! For a complete schedule of events, visit www.waco-ak.org.