Frigid Festival Fun

Artists with chainsaws carve creative sculptures from ice and snow.
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Michigan Tech University Winter Festival
Ice- and snow-carving enthusiasts get creative at annual winter festivals around the state, like that at Michigan Technological University and the Plymouth Ice Festival, among others. // Photography courtesy of Michigan Technological University

The day a dragon was spotted bearing its fangs at passersby on the streets of Frankenmuth, no calls were placed to local police — or even animal control. Instead, the dragon’s owners were located and given an award: The People’s Choice Award for a double-block snow sculpture at the annual Zehnder’s Snowfest snow-carving and ice-carving festival.

The festival is one of several such events scheduled throughout Michigan, providing residents and tourists a fun afternoon — or weekend — outing that includes a walking tour of snow sculptures and ice carvings created by locals as well as international participants. Linda Kelly, special events coordinator for Zehnder’s, said past entrants come from as far away as France, Mexico and China to compete for the coveted first place or People’s Choice Award. The snow dragon sculptors, however, came from nearby Flint to carve it from a 10-by-10-by-20-foot block.

The 2018 festival marks its 27th year and draws 120,000 to 150,000 visitors annually.

Snow abundance rarely is a concern at Michigan Technological University in Houghton, which has held its own Winter Carnival since 1922. Sarah Martens, a fourth-year MTU student and president of MTU’s Blue Key Honor Society, works on organizing the event but said she has been hands-on in prior years.

Plymouth Ice Festival - Sculptures
Photography by Robert Lovelace

“My second year, I helped out with a (snow) statue; we built the Edmund Fitzgerald,” Martens said. “The highest point was 8-feet tall. It had to be 20-feet long minimum. We did the sunken version … the broken end piece and the front part.”

The 2018 theme is “Myths and Tales of the Past in Our Frigid Forecast.”

While MTU students sculpt snow in the Upper Peninsula, miles away in southeast Plymouth, sculptors will carve ice blocks while competing for awards in the annual Plymouth Ice Festival held in downtown Plymouth. The event draws collegiate and professional ice carvers.

“The ice carvings can be 3 feet to as big as the imagination,” said James Gietzen, owner of Jag Entertainment, which has sponsored the festival for 36 years. “The last couple of years, the biggest ones have been about 10-feet high and 12-feet wide.”


Plymouth Ice Festival - fire sculpture
Photography by Robert Lovelace

2018 Michigan Snow Carving and Ice Carving Festivals

Plymouth Ice Festival
Downtown Plymouth | Jan. 12-14, 2018

Zehnder’s Snowfest
Downtown Frankenmuth | Jan. 24-29, 2018

Winter Carnival
Michigan Technological University
Houghton | Feb. 7-10, 2018

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