Neither cold nor COVID-19 can stop the St. Paul Winter Carnival

This year’s St. Paul Winter Carnival was a celebration of the city and the 135-year-old winter festival.

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Emily Urfer

Ice sculptures displayed in St. Paul’s Annual Winter Carnival on Thursday, Jan. 28. This year marks the 135th Anniversary of the first carnival.

Nina Raemont

Way back in 1885, a group of East Coast newspaper correspondents visited Minnesota and declared the state and its chilly temperatures uninhabitable — another Siberia. After getting word of these disparaging remarks, a group of Minnesota business owners retaliated by creating the winter carnival in 1886 that Minnesotans near and far know and love today.

For 135 years, the St. Paul Winter Carnival has been a staple celebration of winter within the Twin Cities and proof that Minnesota is very much inhabitable. And neither cold nor COVID-19 stopped this year’s festivities.

Running Jan. 28 – Feb. 7, the festival offered a plethora of events, many virtual and some in person, that families and friends could take advantage of. From a scavenger hunt that taught participants about local landmarks to the “Fire and Ice: Winter Carnival Art Show” that displayed Minnesota artwork, there were many opportunities for Minneapolitans and St. Paulites alike to explore the historic city of St. Paul.

Throughout February, visitors can still shop around St. Paul and earn points through the carnival’s “Crafted” drink experience or visit the AZ Gallery, which is hosting the “Fire and Ice: Winter Carnival Art Show.”

“We kept saying it was a tradition with a twist, but it was really, really cool to see us all kind of getting together safely and putting on a great event,” Kirstin Knutson, this year’s Queen of Snows, said.

This hallmark of this year’s festival was the drive-thru Ice and Snow Sculpture Park at the Minnesota State Fairgrounds. The drive-thru was so popular that it sold out within the first few days of being open, according to Alyssa Olson, marketing manager for the St. Paul Winter Carnival.

Ice sculptures displayed in St. Paul’s Annual Winter Carnival on Thursday, Jan. 28. This year marks the 135th Anniversary of the first carnival. (Emily Urfer)

Erica Holmstrom, an attendee of the ice sculpture drive-thru, has gone to the winter carnival six times before, and this year she was surprised the events weren’t canceled due to the pandemic. Holmstrom enjoyed her time throughout the drive-thru, seeing the impressive ice and snow sculptures and spending some time with her mother.

“I was really impressed with how much work went into it, and you could definitely tell that [the sculptors] were proud of this stuff that they had created,” Holmstrom said. “I have no idea how those people make those things. They’re awesome.”

The drive-thru boasted sculptures of the state of Minnesota carved into ice, a cheeseburger with a bite taken out of it, a snow moon inquisitively glancing at a rocket and an iced steampunk octopus.

Deneena Hughes, artist and sculptor of the aforementioned octopus, has been participating in the festival since 1996 — she’s only skipped out on participation once, and that was because she was giving birth. On her sculpture this year, her octopus holds a clock. The time on the clock, 9:54 a.m., is no random time etched onto a piece of ice. Twenty-one years ago, her daughter was born at that time. “[Playing] a part in helping others enjoy winter and see its beauty is really fun for me,” Hughes said.

For Hughes, the festival isn’t about showcasing her own art — it’s about celebrating the beauty of a Minnesotan winter.

“Winter is remarkably beautiful, and I love living where it’s celebrated rather than merely tolerated and endured,” Hughes said.