In Minnesota, the one thing you can count on is ice and snow. The timeline might be erratic, but there’s always a foreboding sense that winter is coming. This year, the snow seems to be on hold, forcing area festivals to nix snowbound events, delay schedules and put the state’s beloved ice and snow artwork in jeopardy.
Here’s a look at how the unseasonable weather is affecting events in the ice mecca of the Midwest.
St. Paul Winter Carnival
St. Paul’s Winter Carnival built its first of 37 ice palaces in 1886, making it the oldest winter festival in the United States. Sadly, there will be no ice palace or Vulcan snow palace this year.
Instead, the Vulcans are constructing a fire castle in place of their usual snow palace. “Originally we were going to build a snow castle, but as you’ve noticed outside, it’s not winter,” said Tony Mahmood, chairman for the Vulcan Snow Park and vice president of Fire and Brimstone, the Vulcan organization.
The fire castle will include a miniature golf course made of snow, designed by Shadowbrooke Golf Course in Lester Prairie, Minn. To add a frosty finish, players compete with frozen tennis balls instead of golf balls.
Vulcans generally make their own snow with modern machinery, but Mahmood said it has been too warm this year. The non-snow palace will have a 50- by 70-foot courtyard with columns as high as 20 feet. There will be some snowy features, said Mahmood. “We have enough snow for the giant slide and the snow sculpting competition.”
One Winter Carnival activity that won’t be impaired by the weather? The ice sculpting competition. Taking place in Kellogg Park while Rice Park is still under construction, the mammoth-sized ice blocks are pre-made for sculptors.
Jan. 24-Feb. 3. Free. Various locations, see website for details: wintercarnival.com.
Lake Superior Ice Festival
Despite its northerly location, the Lake Superior Ice Festival in Superior, Wis., is struggling to keep its frozen activities alive. “It’s been pretty warm here, too,” said Nikky Farmakes, who works with Travel Superior, a community partner for the event.
The festival began three years ago to accompany the Great Lakes Pond Hockey Classic. Farmakes said a few organizations came together and figured, “There really wasn’t anything fun to do in January and February, so we decided that since we live in winter six months out of the year, why not celebrate it?”
Highlights of the weekend include ice sculptors who will be doing live carvings for artwork placed throughout the festival grounds. The biggest draw will be a giant ice throne perfect for selfies. Local businesses have even taken to the theme and put ice sculptures outside their doors. “People are really getting creative with it, not just on the island [Barkers], but something you can see for weeks after,” said Farmakes.
Only if it stays cold enough.
Jan. 25-27. Superior, Wis. lakesuperioricefestival.com.
The popular Ice Castles attraction in Excelsior also has been affected by El Niño-like weather. Uncooperative temperatures delayed the opening of the 20 million-pound structure. Built by hand, the castle is taking thousands of hours to create, including turning as many as 12,000 hand-harvested and individually sculpted icicles into a variety of formations. LED lights inside the ice sparkle to music. Located in Excelsior this year, (formerly in Stillwater) organizers expect to open Saturday, but visitors should check before going.
Expected opening date Jan. 12. $7.95-$15.95. 135 Lake St., Excelsior. icecastles.com.
The 2018 ice palace at Winterfest in Spicer.
West of the Twin Cities, Winterfest in Spicer, Minn., was unable to keep its ice palace alive. According to the event website: “For safety reasons the Ice Castle has been demolished.” Still, there will be a host of activities to make you shiver, including ice golf, a polar plunge, a hockey tournament and sleigh-and-ski festival.
Jan. 20-28. Various locations, see website for details. willmarlakesarea.com.
Bartz Snow Sculptures
The Bartz brothers of New Brighton are known for building massive snow sculptures in the front yard of their New Brighton home. For eight years, the brothers have challenged themselves to make their snow sculpture bigger and better, but this year, they had a hard time cobbling up enough snow for their large snail.
In the end they were able to haul in snow from neighbors, area parking lots and ramps, and tennis courts to create the 23-foot-tall aquatic creature that will be on view daily until the beginning of February.
Warmer weather has caused some damage to the snail, prompting several hours of repair work. The good news is a snail that big will take a long time to melt. Last year’s sculpture, a lobster, didn’t melt completely until April 28.
Daily 8 a.m.-10:30 p.m. through beginning of February. Free. 2777 16th St. NW., New Brighton. facebook.com/BartzSnowSculptures