We are in the midst of the coolest celebration on earth – the Saint Paul Winter Carnival.  One of my favorite events to attend is the snow sculptures.  Teams work for hours taking a huge block of compacted snow and cutting and carving and sculpting it into a work of art.  In years past I’ve only seen the sculptures after they were completed, but this year I decided to take in the actual carving.  I found some teams with elaborate hand drawn sketches and plans for their sculpture, and other teams that had small dolls or toys that they were using for their design.  The tools, measurements, and time that go into these works of art is amazing.   The temperatures have been warmer than usual which created some challenges for the sculpting but the end results are always amazing.

snow-sculptures_winter-carnival_15600-staatsAfter a week of gloomy, dreary skies a beautiful blue appeared today to help Saint Paul celebrate it’s Winter Carnival.  With temps in the 20’s, hundreds of people were dressed warmly, soaking up the Vitamin D, and enjoying the snow sculptures that were completed for the carnival.  Perhaps because we’re all longing for warmer climates, this sculpture titled “Under A Rest,” received the Peoples Choice Award.  Complete with cacti and little gophers popping up from the ground, the cowboy seemed quite content to take a long winter’s nap in his frozen state.

Baby Bunyan snow sculpture_Staats8611In the midst of a quick January thaw, the St. Paul Winter Carnival began this past week.  Temperatures of 40+ degrees do not equate to an expected Minnesota winter.  Both snow and ice were melting and people were shedding multiple layers.  But an Alberta Clipper brought a return to temps below freezing last night.  The snow sculptures at the fairgrounds were all intact today, and the blue sky and sunshine brought people out to participate in winter play.  A snow slide had a long line of people, both children and adults, waiting to take a run; the snow maze was the right size for a child to get confused but the adults towered over it; and a simple large mound of snow was a wonderful temptation for kids to scramble and climb up.  This snow sculpture was titled “Baby Bunyan,” with a reference to Paul Bunyan as a child.  Our celebration of winter will continue for the next few months, until we are able to relish in the short season of spring and melting snow.

St Paul Winter Carnival snow sculptures_StaatsThis week was the beginning the St. Paul Winter Carnival, a true celebration of all things having to do with winter.  And this year the weather has cooperated in fine fashion (some might even say it’s been a bit too cold).  In past years some of the events have had to be cancelled or shortened because of warming temperatures, but that isn’t an issue for us now.  The snow sculptures were being carved yesterday as I wandered around the Minnesota Fairgrounds.  This huge sculpture was especially popular for photographs, with the St. Paul Winter Carnival emblem in the center, surrounded by all sorts of cold-weather creatures and beasts.  There were even some “tools of the trade” – chests of saws and chisels – that were still being used for touch up.  The celebration continues through next weekend (although I truly believe winter will be lasting much longer than that!).

Bringing them home 7D_0156 _StaatsThe Saint Paul Winter Carnival is in full swing this weekend.  This is the time when we celebrate (and embrace) the cold weather.  There are events ranging from parades to ice carving to snow sculpting to hockey games to outdoor beer gardens to Red Bull Crashed Ice and a sleigh and cutter rally too.  Although we’ve had some serious cold weather this past week our snowfall has been minimal.  But there was enough for the sleighs and horses to be out today.  With temperatures right around freezing and a light snow coming down it seemed like I had been transported to a different era.  Many of the drivers were dressed in period clothing to match their sleighs or wagons, and the horses seemed to enjoy the open space and the snow as they trotted along.  There were one and two-horse sleighs, and a few sleighs pulled by ponies whose feet had to work overtime to cover the same distance as the horses.  This driver and his matched team seemed to be reveling in the event and the weather.  The image made me think that they had been out for a drive and were now headed back to the comfort and warmth of their respective home and barn.

Amidst a light coating of snow and a bright and sunny day, I went to the 36th annual sleigh & cutter festival that was put on by the St. Croix Horse & Carriage Society.  Because of our lack of significant snow this year I wasn’t sure if the event was going to take place.  But this year’s smaller snowfall was much easier on the horses and ponies than last year’s two to three feet of snow that they tried valiantly to move through.  With the somewhat “mild” temperature of 20 degrees and sunshine, the horses seemed to enjoy the outing, moving easily across the open spaces and kicking up a light dusting of snow.  The drivers were dressed in period costumes and the horses and ponies were adorned with bells that rang and echoed across the course.   If you were to block out the sound of the cars traveling on the boulevard nearby it would have been easy to think that the year was 1900 when this was the mode of transportation for winter days.

The past week was all about winter here in the Twin Cities.  It was the St. Paul Winter Carnival with its ice and snow sculptures along with all the outdoor activities associated with the event.  I was fortunate to have a dear friend from the Seattle area here visiting (yes, people really do come to Minnesota for vacations!).  I wanted to show her something that’s unique to our area in the winter time besides all the piles of snow that are gracing our urban landscape.  So we headed north to the second largest lake in the state, Mille Lacs.  We got our road pass for the day and drove four plus miles out into the lake on the ice road.  How bizarre to look at my GPS and see the car symbol surrounded by blue water!  Just a reminder that there really is a lake underneath this layer of ice.  The lake is filled with fish houses now, as far as the eye can see.  Some are sitting out all by themselves, and others are close together forming their own little villages.  Although we didn’t see any large piles of fish sitting nearby, I’m sure the fishing must have been good on this blue-sky day.

In the bracing cold of winter, we Minnesotans can not be said to shy away from outdoor activities!  And yet Mother Nature has played a cruel trick on us here in the Twin Cities this year.  In what is traditionally the coldest time of the season we have had temperatures above freezing, and rain…requiring some adjustments on our activities.  This was the weekend of the US Pond Hockey tournament on Lake Nokomis.  Unfortunately the rinks were covered with 2 to 3 inches of water, making a puck useless, and postponing the presentation of the Golden Shovel award to a later date.  This was also the beginning of our Winter Carnival in Saint Paul — an annual celebration of the enjoyment of our white season.  The Vulcans were out en force, celebrating in their raucous tradition, and getting ready for their overthrow of King Boreas in the upcoming week.  And there was a sleigh and cutter rally at Lake Phalen, where the horses and ponies were tromping through slush and standing water, rather than gliding along over inches and feet of snow.  But we know that winter is not done yet.  There are predictions of colder temps returning again.  In the meantime, we’ll promise  to enjoy the winter, adjust to Mother Nature’s schedule, and revel in whatever is doled out to us.

snow-sculpture-37983_staatsThe Saint Paul Winter Carnival concluded this past weekend, and just in the nick of time.  We finally climbed above freezing on Saturday, January 31st with a balmy 45 degrees!  It appears once again that our Vulcans have persevered over winter, and spring can’t be too far away.  This is a photo of the winning snow sculpture this year, titled “Hormel McSwine & Friends”  (obviously captured before our January thaw!).   The sculptures were on display at the Minnesota State Fairgrounds and drew crowds of people admiring the art & craft, with the kids (and adults too!)  wandering through the snow maze and dreaming of the summer use of the Fairgrounds, with animals, rides, entertainment, and all types of food on a stick!  Warmer weather will prevail…soon!


We are now celebrating the St. Paul Winter Carnival.  For 122 years we have embraced our cold winter weather, finding excuses to join 350,000 other carnival visitors reveling in outdoor activities for “the coolest celebration on earth.”  We layer and bundle and venture out in temperatures that hover at zero degrees.    The carnival is based on a legend of Boreas, the King of the Winds, and his enemy Vulcanus Rex, the God of Fire, battling for spring and summer to overcome the cold of winter.   Lucky for us, Vulcanus Rex and his Vulcan Krewe prevail each year, giving us the promise of warmer weather to come.  There are parades, ice carving and snow sculpture contests, hockey tournaments, sledding, skiing, and a sleigh and cutter rally.  This year’s sleigh and cutter festival was held at the Phalen Park Golf Course and included members of the St. Croix Horse & Carriage Society.  Under crisp, blue skies there were beautiful sleighs, costumed drivers, and stunning horses.  It was easy to lose yourself and be transported back to the late 1800’s or early 1900’s when this was the mode of winter transportation.