Winter heats up the last weekend of January and the first weekend of February in Willow, where the Willow Winter Carnival features events for everyone in the family. For more than 50 years, the carnival has been a highlight on the calendar.

The carnival begins with a bang as fireworks light up the night sky on Friday night at 7:30 p.m., right after the King and Queen of the carnival is announced.

On Saturday, the schedule is packed. The Earl Norris Sled Dog Race is the first major event. The two-day race continues on Sunday morning, starting at 10 a.m. both days. Even the littlest mushers get in the action during the carnival, as the kids sled dog races - begin at 1:30 p.m. Saturday. Other highlights from the first day include the Frostbite 5K, kids' games and the ever-popular Outhouse Race, which is exactly what you'd imagine it is - teams racing a mobile outhouse on runners, creating an "Only in Alaska" moment if ever there was one. That begins at 1 p.m.

On Sunday, there are ski races, live music,dog sled rides, snow and ice bowling and a snowshoe softball tournament that take place on Willow Lake.

The carnival takes a breather during the week, but gets fired back up on Feb. 4-5, with more kids games, homesteader events, a snowmachine poker run, and a 25-kilometer Tour for bikers, skiers and runners.

Throughout the entire carnival, there will be midway-style rides and games, a craft fair at the Willow Community Center, live music and the Willow Community Center's kitchen will be open.

All of the events take place on or around Willow Lake (where the community center is located) and are organized by the Willow Area Community Organization. For a complete schedule of events, click here.

Photo above courtesy of Around Alaska.