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Ely Winter Festival on its way

SNOW ANIMAL - Zandi Peterson and Jaymie Stocks of Ely working on “Checkers” in the 2023 Ely Winter Festival. Photo by Parker Loew.

by Tom Coombe

Winter’s arrival in Ely came a little later than usual.

But now that the community is in the grips of a more typical January, complete with snow and below-zero temperatures, naturally it’s time for the town’s annual winter celebration.

Several snow forms already up in Whiteside Park make it clear that the Ely Winter Festival, now in its 31st year, is coming soon.

This year’s event, once again jam-packed with an assortment of both outdoor and indoor activities, runs from Feb. 1-11.

“Did you really think a little snow shortage was going to stop the Ely Winter Festival? Hah!” said Lynn Evenson, who leads the festival’s board of directors. “Mother Nature came through again, which means it’s about time to pull on your boots, zip up your coats and come on out.”

Among the activities this year are the annual snow sculpting symposium, featuring both professional and amateur carvers, as well as the Ely ArtWalk, skating and kick sledding at Whiteside Park, snowshoe hikes with the Listening Point Foundation and numerous classes put on by the Ely Folk School.

Organizers are also highlighting “extra special events” this year including a concert by singer-songwriter Courtney Yasmineh at Northern Grounds Coffee House; a Big Band concert; and the Ely Film Festival at the State Theater.

A full schedule and further information can be found online at www.elywinterfestival.com.

Started in the 1990s as an offshoot of a cross country ski race that was held locally, the Ely Winter Festival has taken on a life of its own and has become a focal point of winter in town.

The snow sculptures usually serve as a drawing card, as Whiteside Park fills with the snow sculptors and their works of art, with teams coming from around the state and beyond. The symposium is set for Feb. 1-4 and the sculptures will remain in the park through the festival and weeks beyond.

A festival opening ceremony will be held the evening of Friday, Feb. 2 at Whiteside Park, starting at 6 p.m., with the U.S. Molkky Winter Championship to follow. Molkky is a yard game that originated in Finland and involves throwing a baton at wooden pins to accumulate points, sometimes titled Viking Bowling.

The same evening, a big band concert, featuring The Big Time Jazz Orchestra, will be held at Washington Auditorium.

In conjunction with the Ely Winter Festival is this year’s Ely ArtWalk, which brings more than 400 pieces of art - by artists with direct ties to the Ely area - to the shops and windows of downtown businesses. The ArtWalk runs through Feb. 28.

New to Winter Festival calendar last year was Yasmeh, who will perform a candlelit, solo acoustic concert on Monday, Feb. 5 in Northern Grounds’ upstairs Society Hall.

Ely’s Historic State Theater, is home to the second End of the Road Film Festival, which runs from Feb. 8-11. More details can be found at elyfilmfest.com

The festival calendar includes numerous other events, with weekend days in particular filled with various activities.

Snowshoeing tours out to Sigurd Olson’s historic Listening Point will be available through the ten days of the festival. For more information and sign up sheets, go to www.listeningpointfoundation.org.

The 2024 Ely Winter Festival pin is available at Northern Grounds, Zup’s Market, Grand Ely Lodge, Potluck Kitchenware, Blue Loon, the Chamber of Commerce, and Piragis Northwoods Company for $6.

The price includes a $1 donation to arts programs in the schools. Last year’s donations went to Ely Schools’ production of the musical, “Frozen.” This year’s recipient will be the art department.

Long-sleeved T-shirts with this year’s pin design are available at Grand Ely Lodge, Northern Grounds, and Piragis Northwoods Company for $25.

The festival is also putting a call out for volunteers for various events, if interested email snow@elywinterfestival.com.

The event also requires the assistance of sponsors, and the EWF committee extends thanks to the City of Ely, Grand Ely Lodge, Ely Family Dental, Ely Film Festival, Raven Words Press, Veterans on the Lake, Rock Country Masonry, Dutchman Tree Service LLC, Ely Flower and Seed, and all of their other sponsors.

“This festival couldn’t happen without you, and they appreciate all your support,” said Evenson.

The EWF is also made possible by the voters of Minnesota through grants from the Minnesota State Arts Board and the Arrowhead Regional Arts Council, thanks to a legislative appropriation from the arts and cultural heritage fund.

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