Winter Festival fun fires off Feb. 6

by Tom Coombe
The countdown is on to Ely’s grand winter celebration.
In less than a week, the Ely Winter Festival begins and it once again promises a jam-packed schedule full of a broad assortment of events. The festival, which dates back to the mid-1990s, runs from Feb. 6-16.
Two of the signature events of the festival - the International Snow Sculpting Symposium and the Ely ArtWalk - are both back for another year.
Giant snow blocks are up at Ely’s Whiteside Park and elsewhere in town as 13 teams - from Minnesota, elsewhere in the upper Midwest as well as Canada will turn the snow into various works of art.
The snow sculptures serve as a major attraction and the park generally becomes a hub of activity, particularly on the opening weekend when the sculptors are present and interact with visitors - talking about their designs.
The sculpting symposium also includes an amateur component, with individuals, families and groups carving smaller blocks from Feb. 1-8, with judging and the awarding or prizes next Saturday.
New this year, professional sculptors are mentoring several high school and Vermilion Community College art students and VCC’s interim art instructor Abbey Blake on snow carving. They will work together on two large blocks in the park. VCC art instructor Chris Koivisto, who is on sabbatical, will be one of the mentors.
In conjunction with the festival, the downtown business district is transformed into a multi-block art gallery of sorts, with more than 400 piece of art going on display in shops and windows as part of the Ely ArtWalk. The artists hail from Ely or have direct ties to the area.
While snow sculptures and art capture much of the attention, those are just part of a loaded schedule. EWF board members and volunteers have assembled a schedule of returning and new events - all designed to enhance the enjoyment of the winter season for visitors and residents alike.
After a one-year break, the Great Nordic Beardfest returns Friday, Feb. 7 at the Boathouse Brewpub. Winners will be crowned in numerous categories and live music is also part of the festivities.
The Ely Folk School offers dozens of classes that may be taken during the festival. A full list can be found at
Numerous other events are in the works, ranging from a KUBB tournament at Whiteside Park to Northern Lakes Arts Association’s Downtown Art Market, taking place Feb. 8 at Amici’s Ceremony Hall on West Sheridan Street.
Live music performance include the Valentine’s Day Concert with singer-songwriter Courtney Yasmineh, joined by Ely’s Tim Stouffer, in the restored Society Hall upstairs of Northern Grounds, and the Lumberjack and Lumberjill Party with Van and the Free Candies at Piragis Northwoods Company on Feb. 15.
Festival-goers may see the full slate of activities by picking up an EWF brochure at numerous businesses, or by going online at It is also printed in this week’s Ely Echo on page 11.
Festival Headquarters are at Northern Grounds Coffee and Wine Bar, where Winter Festival pins, T-shirts, and other items will be available for sale
Tower’s Doug Peterson has signed on to carve Northern Grounds’ snow block while Nancy Schiebe and her team will again carve the Front Porch’s tradtional rendition of the Wolf, Bear, Moose EWF pin - designed by Scheiber herself. The block outside the Grand Ely Lodge will be carved by Emma Kari, a recent Ely High School graduate who designed the 2018 EWF pin.
The EWF and Ely ArtWalk are funded in part by grants from the Minnesota State Arts Board and the Arrowhead Regional Arts Council - thanks to a legislative appropriation - as well as the Donald G. Gardner Humanities Trust, the Ely Chamber of Commerce, the City of Ely, and local merchants, organizations, and individuals.
Major sponsors are Ely Family Dental, Fortune Bay Resort and Casino, Grand Ely Lodge, Steger Mukluks, Twin Metals, and Zup’s. Almost every restaurant in town donates a meal to every carver to be used during their stay in Ely.