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Ely Winter Festival: A 30-year tradition to be proud of

Ely Echo - Staff Photo
ELY WINTER FESTIVAL treasurer Linda Ganister spoke about the history of the 30-year event at the Tuesday Group. Photo by Parker Loew.

by Parker Loew

Linda Ganister, treasurer of the Ely Winter Festival, gave a presentation on Tuesday at Grand Ely Lodge. She has helped run the Ely Winter Festival for 15 years.

Ganister started by saying, “The mission of the Ely Winter Festival is to promote activities and events during the 11-day festival that engage local community members and visitors in outdoor activities, arts, music, food, historical events, and other activities that promote the unique culture and location or Ely.”

The events that take place during the Ely Winter festival have changed and evolved since its inception, but its mission has stayed true; to bring the community together.

“The most important part for me is community. I love seeing all the different groups that get involved. Everybody can get involved if they want to!” Ganister said.

Ganister continued the presentation by giving a brief history of the festival.

The festival began as a ski race in 1984 known as The Wilderness Trek. The skiers would start at Bear Head Lake State Park and finish near the high school in Ely.

Local businesses and craftspeople would set up booths at the finish line so that people could watch and cheer on the contestants. Food and live music were eventually added, as well as a spaghetti dinner that remains popular today.

In 1988, two Ely Locals by the name of Bill and Gloria Miller volunteered to try and bring more activities to the finish line at the end of the race and expand the event to a three-day affair. Ganister described the Millers as “A force to be reckoned with.”

They succeeded in adding new events and expanding the festival to three days. The Millers, however, were not satisfied.

In 1993 the Millers added a snow sculpting symposium and created an 11-day festival, called the Voyageur Winter Festival, centered around The Wilderness Trek ski race. Many of the new events were inspired by the voyageur history in the area. Activities such as a crafts fair, musical concerts, sled dog rides, and several food events have become part of the regular festivities.

Over time, people got tired of running the Wilderness Trek Ski Race as it was “a ton of work.” For many years the race was canceled due to limited snowfall, excess snowfall, or the cold.

The snow carving symposium became the main attraction at the festival after the Wilderness Trek Ski Race ended.

In 2007, the Voyageur Winter Festival changed its name to the Ely Winter Festival. The name change reflects the organizers desire to celebrate local culture and local history.

The snow carving symposium became an even bigger deal in the following years, and carvings were placed all over town. “Some people liked this, and some people didn’t,” Ganister said. The festival is now known as Ely’s largest festival.

The Ely Winter Festival will start on Feb. 2 and will host many world-renowned snow carvers, including an international carver from Germany.

Ganister acknowledged the importance of volunteers at the festival near the end of her presentation. “Nothing like this happens without volunteers,” Ganister said.

There are currently a few openings to volunteer if you would like to get involved. Host families for the carvers and warming tent stockers are needed. If you would like to volunteer, call (218) 365-7669.

To kick the festival off, the first in-person spaghetti dinner since Covid will be served at St. Anthony’s Catholic Church from 4-7 p.m. on Friday, Feb 3. The tradition of eating spaghetti and then going to Whiteside Park to watch the carving begin is one of Ganister’s favorites.

Ely Winter Festival Pins are currently available to purchase online. The pin has a different design every year and has three primary objectives. The first objective is to raise money for the Winter Festival. The second is to give pin holders benefits at the festival that non-pin holders don’t have. The third is to raise awareness of the event.

The pins cost $6, five of which go to the Winter Festival, with the remaining dollar going toward the purchase of art supplies for the high school.

For more information about the festival, visit

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