Serving Northern St. Louis County, Minnesota

Winter Festival turns 25

Keith Vandervort
Posted 2/1/18

ELY – The community at the end of the road pops the cork on its 25th annual Winter Festival beginning on Thursday, Feb. 1, and running through Sunday, Feb. 11.

“We’re adding new events …

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Winter Festival turns 25


ELY – The community at the end of the road pops the cork on its 25th annual Winter Festival beginning on Thursday, Feb. 1, and running through Sunday, Feb. 11.

“We’re adding new events almost daily, so be sure to check our website,, regularly, said Lynn Evenson, one of many organizers for the annual event. “More goodies appear on our Facebook page. You can’t go wrong.”

One’s inner outdoor enthusiast will have ample opportunity to be tickled pink. Just in Whiteside Park, event goers find public ice skating, Ely’s fourth annual Kubb tournament, the exciting opening ceremonies, demonstrations of figure skating and hockey, fat-tire bicycle rides, sled dogs to meet, and of course ,all those snow sculptures.

Snow Sculpting Symposium

“This year’s International Snow Sculpting Symposium will welcome teams from Canada, Argentina and Italy,” Evenson said. “Wonder if their work will have an accent? Guess we’ll have to listen and find out, won’t we?”

The Ely Winter Festival Snow Sculpting Symposium is an opportunity for artists to create snow sculptures from 8’x8’x8’ or 12’x12’x10’ blocks of snow in a public and interactive setting.

Artists will complete their sculptures between Thursday, Feb. 1 and Sunday, Feb 3.

Registration is now open for the Northern Lakes Arts Association Snow Carving Contest. The event is part of the 2018 Ely Winter Festival, Jan. 29 – Feb. 3 in Whiteside Park.

​​Judging will be held on Sunday, Feb. 4. 

Participants need to enter to reserve one of 20 4-foot x 4-foot snow blocks available for carving in the park over the week. The contest is for amateur carvers and is judged according to the following three categories:  You must indicate who and how many are carving, to determine your category.

‰ Individuals, adult or student 

‰Adult groups 

‰Student groups

E mail names, number of team members and indicate child or adult, Title of Block and contact information to After you provide your information you will be registered; just make your payment and no further action is needed.

Starting Monday, Jan. 29, show up, claim your block, and carve. There will be stakes with your team name and title of your piece on the north/east corner of Whiteside Park.

You will need to provide your own tools…all non-motorized tools are allowed, no colorants may be used.  Contestants may carve Monday, Jan. 29 through Saturday, Feb. 3.

Good to know: (Judge’s Tip: The judges find carvings that have a cleverness to them more attractive. They also look for ways the basic block shape is changed, carved away, etc.)

The cost is $10 per block:  for Paypal or checks accepted: Northern Lakes Arts Association, 1900 East Camp St., Ely, MN 55731.

The Sebastian Project

Music and art will be presented by Joey Kenig and poetry by Tim Stouffer on Sunday, Feb. 4 at Vermilion Community College from 2-4 p.m. “This is a unique spoken word event with improvisational music,” Evenson said, “and includes a chance for the audience to participate in the creation of an On Demand Poem. One hundred percent complete original works will be created in collaboration just for this one-night only show. Come and get your plate filled with brain food before the evening’s Super Bowl events.” The event is free with a Winter Fest Button of $6 at the door.

This activity is made possible in part by the voters of Minnesota through a grant from the Arrowhead Regional Arts Council, thanks to appropriations from the Minnesota State Legislature’s general and arts and cultural heritage funds. This activity is also made possible in part by a grant from the Donald G. Gardner Humanities Trust. Sponsored by Vermilion Community College with special thanks to Megan Heiman

Other events

Outside the park, outdoor lovers can look forward to ice fishing, guided snowshoe hikes to the Hegman Lake pictographs and Listening Point, a broomball tournament, informative “whirlwinds” at the Dorothy Molter Museum, even an ice bar in front of the Winton Roadhouse. “That’s in addition to whatever spontaneous adventures present themselves,” Evenson said.

The Ely Art Walk deftly combines indoor and outdoor sensibilities. “Our local merchants and artists get together to fill store windows with hundreds of artworks,” Evenson said. “Bundle up, stroll our citywide art gallery, and take home an original piece.”

If you really want a Warm Feet Day, there is lots to do indoors: Ely Dark Sky events are new this year, presentations at the International Wolf Center, a craft fair, an orchestra concert, the Great Northern Beard Fest complete with ladies’ division, a fish fry, a spaghetti dinner, an open-mic event, a poetry-and-music presentation at VCC. The fun continues through Sunday, Feb. 11, with different events happening every day.

How it all began

In 1984, the Ely Ski Club (now known as the Ely Nordic Ski Club) started a cross-country ski race running from Tower to Ely called the Wilderness Trek. Local businesses and craftspeople set up booths at the finish line. Food and live music added to the festivities.

Starting in 1988, Bill and Gloria Miller volunteered numerous hours to create and direct more activities at the finish line of the Wilderness Trek. Their focus was on expanding to a three-day weekend promoting outdoor activities and education about the history of the Ely area.

In 1995, the Millers and their army of volunteers called on Bob Maidl to organize a Snow Sculpting Symposium in concert with an expanded 10-day festival surrounding the Wilderness Trek and featuring the Voyageur historical aspect of the area. Steger Mukluks hosted the first Mukluk Ball. The first commemorative pin was designed especially for the festival.

Then, in 1998, as part of the Voyageur Winter Festival, the Ely ArtWalk was created to promote local artists and their work by providing exhibition space in the windows of Ely’s downtown merchants. That year, 16 artists participated, displaying 30 pieces of art in a handful of stores. In 2004, the Ely ArtWalk became its own entity and by 2006 included over 170 artists, 600 pieces of art and 55 stores participating in the event.

Over the years, activites such as a crafts fair, musical concerts, Sled Dog Rides, and several food events have become part of the festivities.

Each year, Grand Marshals are selected from the community, usually based on their service, especially to the Winter Festival.  The late Bob Cary and his wife, Edith Sommer Cary, two of the original members of the Ski Club, were honored as Grand Marshals of the 2006 Voyageur Winter Festival. In 2008, Terri and Terry Schocke were honored for their many years of volunteer service with the Festival.  2010 Marshals were Nancy and Doug Scheibe.  Nancy is a sculptor herself and each year creates a sculpture both in the park and in front of the Front Porch, festival headquarters.

In 2007, the name of the festival changed from Voyageur Winter Festival to Ely Winter Festival. The historical aspect is still represented during the two surrounding weekends of the festival and there are always a lot of additional events for the artistically inclined, the musically inclined, those who love the outdoors and those who love to eat!  There’s always something for the whole family!


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Great festival and the best snow sculptures anywhere. A lot cheaper than the Superbowl also.

Thursday, February 1, 2018