It’s cold. It’s snowy. It’s slippery. Just like off-roaders like it.
The second annual Detroit Winterfest celebrates the elements Saturday at southeast Michigan’s premier off-road park, Holly Oaks ORV Park. The event is the winter edition of the wildly popular September Detroit 4fest that brings Bisons, ZR2s, Wranglers, Rubicons, Broncos, Raptors, RZRs, 4Runners, 4x4s and side-by-sides, and other four-wheel, off-road creatures to the sprawling, 185-acre off-road paradise.
“A lot of folks are headed south to the Daytona races this winter, but all the tough guys are staying here,” smiled Detroit Winterfest and off-road evangelist Tom Zielinski from his Holly headquarters. “We’re going to be doing snow fun. Last year, it didn’t snow for our winter event, but this year Mother Nature has completely cooperated. It’s beautiful, it’s snowy, let the adventure begin.”
In the inaugural, 2023 year, Zielinski’s team christened the event Detroit Snowfest sponsored by Jeep — but no snow fell. This year, they changed the name to Winterfest and Metro Detroit was promptly blanketed by four inches of snow and single-digit temperatures. With the freezing temps continuing into the weekend, Winterfest is sure to be a Snowfest. And a GM-Chevrolet-GMC truck-fest as the off-road-palooza welcomes the GM brands as a chief sponsor
“We’ll have campfires going, heated tents, heated buildings, food trucks with hot chocolate and D&W street food,” said Zielinski. “GM will be out here showing of a lot of their stuff. Chevy and AEV, two Detroit icons, will be showing off their super cool Bison and ZR2.”
Jeep didn’t renew sponsorship as part of its Q1 spending freeze that includes exiting the Chicago Auto Show, but Jeep nation will be out in force as always. In addition to GM’s truckload of off-road toys, sponsors include Dana Inc., Bilstein, Tyro Off-Road Lights, LaFontaine Automotive Group, Arturo Tire, AEV and more.
Open to the public since the fall of 2020, Holly Oaks (off Exit 101 on I-75, 50 miles north of Detroit) hit the sweet spot of pandemic wanderlust and America’s obsession with SUVs. As automakers have met that demand with dirt-kicking beasts like the Ford Bronco, Jeep Wrangler 392, Chevy ZR2 pickups, GMC AT4s, Toyota TRDs, Ford Tremors and more, Holly Oaks has become an enthusiast’s playground.
Terrain like Charlene’s Ridge, The Notch, and Holly Glen race loop are challenging on a summer’s day. Throw in snow, and Winterfest will be a wintry sandbox. With the crowds and weather, Winterfest is limiting this year’s event to four-wheelers.
“No ATVs, no dirt bikes,” said Zielinski. “Number one, it’s going to awfully cold for that activity, and number two, we always have safety in mind first. It’s a very busy event, so we make it safe. Saturday, it’s all about full-size, four-wheel, family fun.”
The event opens its arms to veteran off-roaders and rookies alike. Winterfest is keen to introduce drivers to the social culture of off-roading. Built out of the remains of a commercial gravel site, Holly Oaks provides 250-foot elevation changes that off-roaders would normally have to travel to remote parks like Drummond Island in the Upper Peninsula or Silver Lake on Lake Michigan to find. Winterfest offers Off-Road 101 lessons and guided tours to get to know the park’s extensive trials.
“One of the things we’ve taken pride in is welcoming people who have never done off-roading,” said Zielinski, one of the country’s most accomplished adventure developers and a former motocross competitor. “They have concerns like: am I going to wreck my vehicle? And we’ve got a great group that is going to do Off-Road 101 lessons, guided tours, and teach safety.”
Holly Oaks is even a place to discover some of the West’s most famous challenges — without having to travel all the way to the Utah outback to discover them.
Detroit Winterfest 2024 schedule
Holly Oaks ORV Park at 14551 Shields Rd, Holly, MI 48442
8 a.m. Parking opens at Shields Road entrance (vehicle flagging and installation)9 a.m. Gates open at Holly Oaks ORV Park (entrance on Shields Road)- Vendor Village opens- Vendor displays open- Coffee, hot chocolate, D&W Street Food
10 a.m. Off-Road 101 course by Discover 4×4 Adventures
11 a.m. Lunch service opens
Noon Guided Park Tour (4Fest events merchandise trailer)
2 p.m. Lunch service close
5 p.m. NightFest by TYRI Lighting
8:30 p.m. Trail sweeping begins
9 p.m. Gates close
Henry Payne is auto critic for The Detroit News. Find him at firstname.lastname@example.org or @HenryEPayne.