Snowfest draws hundreds of people to downtown Muskegon with cornhole competitions, Bloody Mary contest, chili cook-off & more

A game of snow volleyball during the Greater Muskegon Jaycees’ annual Snowfest this past Saturday.

If you build a snow volleyball court, they will come.

And serve chili. And Bloody Marys.

Basically, if you’re hosting a winter festival on the first non bitterly cold day after a polar vortex prompts mass hibernation, you’re going to have a whole lot of happy people proclaiming the “balmy” 30-degree weather is perfect for an outdoors extravaganza. There will even be a guy in shorts.

Such was the scene this past Saturday, when hundreds of people poured into downtown Muskegon for the Greater Muskegon Jaycees’ annual Snowfestwhich featured one of the country’s largest winter cornhole competitions, snow volleyball tournaments, chili and Bloody Mary contests, a 1980s-themed dance party at Racquet’s, and more.

“It’s been so cold this week; this gives people something to do to get out and celebrate Muskegon in the winter,” Snowfest Chairperson Jamie Hekker said Saturday afternoon as she stood by a row of cornhole boards lining a portion of Western Avenue.

Volleyball players were all smiles during Snowfest.

For Hekker and Greater Muskegon Jaycees President Brennen Gorman, the purpose of the 34-year-old event is multi-tiered: it raises money for the Jaycees, also known as the Junior Chamber International Greater Muskegon, a nonprofit comprised of young active citizens, ages 21 to 40 years old, who are committed to creating impact in the community; it brings people downtown in the cold winter months; and it highlights both new and longstanding businesses, both in terms of event sponsorship and in the food and drink competitions.

For the festival’s “Battle of the Bowls” competition, held in the downtown Hilt Building, Third Street Grille, Hennessy’s Pub, The Boar’s Belly, Morat’s Bakery, Driftwood Cafe, Fatty Lumpkin’s Sandwich Shack, Nipote’s Italian Kitchen, Rootdown Yoga, Ryke’s Bakery, and Se4sons Gastropub served up their favorite soups and chilis. Meanwhile, for the “Battle of the Bloodies,” a challenge to find Muskegon’s favorite Bloody Mary, Rad Dads’ Tacos & Tequila, Skeetown Tavern, Brewt’s Bloody Mary, and Shoreline Communications poured elaborate concoctions for festival goers.

During the food and drink contests, Snowfest attendees bought passes to sample the offerings and cast their votes for their favorites. Skeetown Tavern landed the best Bloody Mary and Se4sons won both best soup and chili for their chicken Florentine soup and chipotle cheddar chicken chili.

Amanda Briggs competes in the cornhole competition.

As the crowd continued to swell throughout Saturday, the Jaycees’ leadership said they were thrilled to see people from throughout Muskegon, and beyond, throwing their support behind both the event and the nonprofit. With about 63 members, the Jaycees focus on leadership development for young adults living in Muskegon and along the Lakeshore. A large part of the organization’s focus revolves around community service; the Jaycees have, for example, helped to launch Parties in the Park, and they now take care of what’s called the Jaycees Launch Ramp, a boat launch on the west end of Muskegon Lake. Too, they work to fundraise for other area nonprofits; the Snowfest’s raffle proceeds this year went to the Child Abuse Council of Muskegon.

And, Hekker and Gorman noted, the nonprofit provides an important support structure for young professionals from a wide variety of backgrounds, including newcomers to the city and those who have spent their lives here.

“It builds a wide network in the community,” said Hekker, who grew up in Muskegon and now works as the community engagement coordinator for Muskegon County’s Public Health Department. She has been a member of the Jaycees since 2009.

Greater Muskegon Jaycees President Brennen Gorman, left, and Snowfest Chairperson Jamie Hekker.

For Gorman, the Jaycees was the first organization he joined after moving to Muskegon to work as a lawyer for Brower Vander Veen—where the South Lyon, Michigan native was first offered an internship as a legal assistant and studied under Pigeon Hill Brewing Company co-owner Michael Brower.

“I met a group of friends there; I met my fiance through a Jaycees member,” Gorman said, explaining the role the organization has played in his life. “Now, my fiance and I have bought a house by Hamburger Mikey.”

As the Jaycees continue to evolve, they’ll focus on community events like the Snowfest—which Hekker noted they’re planning to expand next year with additional activities for children and families.

“We’re really excited about this year, and next year,” Hekker said, her words dissolving into cheers emanating from cornhole competition victors.

See more photos of the Snowfest below.

Greater Muskegon Jaycees members.
A game of snow volleyball.
Twenty-five pairs of people signed up for the sold-out cornhole competition.
About 40 people signed up to play snow volleyball during the festival.
Cornhole boards line Western Avenue.
Skeetown Tavern won best Bloody Mary in the festival’s “Battle of the Bloodies.”
Se4sons Gastropub won both best soup and chili for their chicken Florentine soup and chipotle cheddar chicken chili.
A description of Se4ason’s award-winning chili.
Alison Updyke, left, and Nichole Gracik don their best winter hats at Snowfest.
Shawn Church, left, and Jeff Church, the wife-and-husband duo that is soon opening Nipote’s Italian Kitchen in downtown Muskegon, with their daughter, Savannah.
An intense game of snow volleyball.
Some of Snowfest’s youngest attendees.
Third Street Grille at Snowfest.
[Left to right] Derek Douthwaite, Edward Madison and Arrington LeCompte, of Third Street Grille.
Rootdown owner Kelly Seyferth.
Cornhole competitors.
A snow volleyball game.
A Bloody Mary being prepared at the Shoreline Communications table.
Cathryn Kitchka of Shoreline Communications.
[Left to right] Molly Johnson, Brian Mosley and Jeff Shalifoe of Driftwood Cafe. Operated by the nonprofit AgeWell Services and currently located at Tanglewood Park (560 Seminole Rd.), Driftwood Cafe is opening a second location at First Street and Clay Avenue in downtown Muskegon this summer.
Steven Rossi, left, and Brenden Zimonick, of Skeetown Tavern.
Part of the crowd at the “Battle of the Bowls” and “Battle of the Bloodies.”
[Left to right] Chris Baker, Cari Meekoff and Yvette Manning man Skeetown Tavern’s Bloody Mary table.
Jessica of Ryke’s Bakery pours a cup of their chicken pot pie soup.
Dan Castle, left, and Eric Clanton of Morat’s Bakery.
Jeff Swanson and Joshua Anderson of Country Dairy served cheese curds and chocolate milk.

[Left to right] David Gray and Willie Nelson of Hennessy’s Pub join Marty Bartlett and Anthony Miller of Boar’s Belly at Snowfest.
Story and photos by Anna Gustafson, the publisher and editor of Muskegon Times. Connect with Anna by emailing MuskegonTimes@gmail.com or on FacebookTwitter and Instagram.

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