A slice of the action
Green Lake, Spicer, Minnesota, USA


Intent on proving that Saint Paul was not only habitable, but that its citizens were also very much alive during the winter, the city’s Chamber of Commerce launched the inaugural carnival the following year. It featured the first illuminated ice palace, along with bobsledding, horse racing on ice and many other cold-weather events. It was celebrated with much jubilation and, it goes without saying, a great deal of hardiness too. 

Back out on Green Lake, they’re using startlingly antique equipment to cut beautifully uniform blocks of ice weighing around 275kg each. A dusting machine and gigantic circular saw are patiently lugged up and down, scoring precision cuts amid a spectacular blizzard of their own making. Too heavy to lift, the ice-blocks are then floated to shore down a narrow open channel, using hand-held pikes that date back to the 1930s. 

Dominating the scene is an archaic wooden-sided conveyor belt, used to hoist the ice-blocks. It was first put to work in 1941 when local companies cut and delivered ice to businesses and resorts for use throughout the summer months. It was once powered by a Model-T engine, I’m told. It looks more like something from the mind of a mad inventor of limited means and I start to worry that the contraption will shake itself apart at any moment. But, as I watch, it effortlessly lifts the blocks high enough from the lake’s edge to allow them to glide gracefully to the waiting pickup trucks on shore.

From here, a convoy of semi-trucks hauls them to the city, where concrete foundations have been laid in Saint Paul’s Rice Park for a structure that will total almost a million kilos in weight when it’s completed in time for the annual Winterfest at the end of January. 

I plan to keep a close eye on the construction of the spectacular 20m-tall ice palace, but make a note to follow its progress from the comfort of my centrally heated hotel room on the live-stream they’ve set up. I’m clearly a soft southerner through and through.

For more information about the Winter Carnival and the Twin Cities of Saint Paul and Minneapolis, visit www.wintercarnival.com and www.visit-twincities.com.

Photography by David Edwards. Winter ice palace image courtesy of Visit Saint Paul

Get out there


… consider visiting the Winter Carnival, even if you don’t want to go behind the scenes at the ice harvest. You can let your Elsa fantasies come true.

… embrace the wintry landscape and head out on a cross-country ski-trail in one of the city’s urban parks or golf courses.

… take retail therapy into overdrive with a visit to Mall of America, in nearby Bloomington. It’s one of the biggest shopping malls in the US and has to be seen to be believed.


… assume you’re hardier than you are – it’s bitterly cold out and about in Minnesota in winter. Dress appropriately or make use of the Skyway System that links the buildings in Minneapolis.

… forget to check out the LGBT scene. A visit to Lush or eagleBOLTbar in Minneapolis will get you acquainted with the locals in their natural habitat.

… miss out on watching the bizarre spectacle that is a roller derby. The Minnesota RollerGirls and North Star Roller Derby go all-out all winter.