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Winter made fun: Ideas for different personas

How about experiencing something extreme this season to conquer those February frustrations? Though winter may seem restrictive and boring to many, others thrive on some of Minnesota’s eccentric seasonal events and places. Here’s a snapshot of some strangely thrilling things that occur in our region.

For the artist

Mouths gape and eyes rise in amazement at the sculptures crafted at the St. Paul Winter Carnival’s snow-sculpting and ice-carving contests. Named “The Coolest Celebration on Earth,” this particular event awards $3,000 to the first place ice carving group and $1,200 to the first place snow sculptor.

With those kinds of rewards, the art is a must-see. The festival is Jan. 26 through the first week of February. The exact dates for this year’s contests are yet to be released.

Fargo-Moorhead’s Defiant Gardens will host a similar event. Eight ice sculptures were chosen out of 16 sculptures to be presented the evening of Feb. 3. Giant sculptures will be set alight to produce a full “Winter Wonderland” effect. Teams, who have been critiqued and judged by local college professors, as well as two sculpting veterans from Winnipeg, produce these sculptures. To see winter art at its full potential, attend this event.

For the person looking for something closer to the F-M area, open mic nights and poetry slams always feature unique and even odd performance.

“Getting up in front of people you don’t know falls under the definition of extreme for many,” said Michael Loreno, owner of The Spot Restaurant and Wine Bar in Fergus Falls, Minn. For the performing or observing type, The Spot promotes artistic variety and social excitement with open mic on the first Thursday of the month and poetry slams every last Wednesday.

But a person barely has to travel to experience an open mic or poetry slam. The Red Raven Espresso Parlor on Main Avenue in Fargo hosts the Maker’s Market, an open mic and poetry event the first Saturday of every month. JT Cigarro’s Bar and Lounge is another Fargo establishment on Seventh Avenue South that offers open mic every other Tuesday for those older than 21.

For the outdoorsman

People uncover the fisherman inside at nearby Polar Fest’s Pole n’ Hole ice fishing derby. Held Feb. 18 on Little Detroit Lake’s north side, a multitude of ice fishers and fans gather for a shot at the $10,000 or Chevy 4×4 which goes to the largest fish. Though prizes are desirable, many people believe that this event is more about having social fun and “just fishin’.”

The Suomi Hills Kennel of Deer River, Minn., offers a more intensive activity: dog sledding. The “team” will give mushing rides lasting anywhere from one hour ($125 per hour plus mileage) to a few days ($500/day plus mileage). The party picks a trail to explore, and the team comes to it.

Joel Kerstin, professional musher, refers to these rides as adventures. Besides exploring the woods and trails of Minnesota, a person gets to meet the furry individuals that power the company and hear the 56-pawed “poetry” in mid-mush, with one party member as the musher.

Even faster paced is a sport that has many winter fans: skiing. “If you do only one thing outdoors in winter, do it by candle light,” suggested Beth Gauper, who attends the annual Winter Tracks Festival in Grand Marias, Minn. “Nothing is more magical than a forest full of flickering lights.”

One can find candlelight skiing, both long and short distances, at various state parks not far from the F-M area. On Feb. 4, one can take a pick between the Battle Lake, Minn., area’s Glendalough State Park’s one and a half mile cross country candlelight ski or Buffalo State Park’s short cross-country ski starting at MSUM’s Reginal Science Center. Maplewood State Park near Pelican Rapids, Minn., also hosts a one-mile candlelight ski on Feb. 25.

For the motor fan:

For viewers and drivers, the Midnight Riders Classic Old Timers Snowmobile run takes place on Feb. 4. Hundreds of snowmobilers congregate for a show of classic snowmobiles and then a race of more than 100 snowmobiles in Lake Park, Minn.

Also for the auto-centered individual are on-ice auto races. The Minnesota Ice Racing Stud Club tours the state each year promoting the Minnesota Ice Racing Championship. The closest location this year is at Mille Lacs Lake on Feb. 25- 26. The Stud Club and others inquire that these ice auto races are the fastest growing winter sport.

Though this particular event is only for member participation, viewers are welcome. The Stud Club riders shovel out a show as they race studded motorbikes and other ATVs. Dangerous but dazzling, this event attracts hundreds. One can register to become a Stud Club member at the club’s website.

For the fearless

Many Perham/Dent, Minn., area folks would say that ice racing is nothing compared to a slide down the locally famous Perham Hill.

“This hill is not for the faint of heart,” said 8-year-old James Ard of Dent, who has been sledding the hill for the past few winters. The hill is much steeper and larger than the average sledding hill.

There are no rules or restrictions at Perham Hill so extra precaution is advised, especially when the soft snow has been packed down, glazed over with hard ice and potholed by erosion.

“If you know how to steer, it’s really a thriller,” said Marshall Baker, 22, a Moorhead area resident.

Baker admits that he has been down the hill countless times but has yet to go home without a variety of bruises.

A popular bizarre event many communities arrange for winter is the Polar Plunge. “Freezing has never been this fun,” said an East Otter Tail Focus journalist. Functional as a fundraiser for most communities, a large hole is drilled in the ice and individuals cannonball into the frigid water in celebration of winter. Laughs are loud in response to the plungers’ reactions to the icy dip.

For this particular event, watching may prove more amusing that participating. Some close Polar Plunges include Jamestown, N.D., on Feb. 12, the Holiday Inn in Grand Forks, N.D., and Applebee’s in Fargo on March 5 and Detroit Lakes, Minn., on Feb. 18.

For the sportsman

More team-focused fun can be found at the International Eelpout Festival in Walker, Minn. Some festival events include a bikini ice-fishing fashion show, eelpout karaoke and eelpout angling contests. But, the most extreme of these events is the rugby tournament on-ice. This is an official rugby tournament featuring the Bemidji, Minn., state champs and it’s free for cheering fans. Other official and local teams pack on the padding to try for the team win. This festival is held Feb. 16-19.

For a participation sport, take your pick of the hundreds of ice golfing events around the lakes. As a more family friendly activity, this one requires skill. Ice golfing locations range from Carlson’s 18-hole mini-golf rotary fundraiser on Chub Lake of Carlton to Longville’s annual Ice Golf Team Tournament with cash prizes for the top three finishers. Both events are held in early February, specific dates pending.

However, it’s not difficult to find local ice golfing events, as almost every winter festival has one. Many are for charity causes and others are for fun competition.

These are just a few select events that are in Minnesota. Plan a weekend mini-vacation or a day trip. Whatever the case, freak out and make February a new favorite. No matter the character, the season has told and untold secrets that have the potential to fully boost an attitude, allowing a not-so-frustrating February.

BY KATIE BAKER
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