Miserable winters? Not in our backyard.

That’s the mind-set that organizers of a new winter mega-festival want Minnesotans to embrace — subzero temps and all. They’re promising that the Great Northern, a 10-day outdoor celebration with art, food and music, will give us more ways to get our winter on than there are new releases on Netflix.

“This is the winter capital of America — winter is when we really shine,” said Eric Dayton, who is part of the Great Northern leadership team. “It’s time to take this perception that winter is a negative liability and try to reposition it into a positive asset.”

Dayton and leaders of the City of Lakes Loppet Ski Festival, the St. Paul Winter Carnival and the U.S. Pond Hockey Championships have joined forces to prove to the world that Minnesota is so much more than grape salad and the No. 1 ranked state when it comes to “worst” winters.

Regardless of what the outsiders think, winter is not a season to shrink from, they say. From Jan. 27 to Feb. 5, the Great Northern will encourage Minnesotans to step outside to watch movies on screens made of ice, dine at outdoor restaurants and warm up in a community sauna.

“We know it’s going to be cold,” Dayton said. “Let’s step into the punch and embrace it, because the alternative is pretty miserable.”

‘We are the North’

In Minnesota, we face whiteouts, black ice, drifting snow, salt-smeared windshields and salt-stained boots.

We shouldn’t cower, but soldier on, said Dayton, who has long been on a mission to improve the identity of our northern state (rebranding us as simply the North) and to embrace who we are, rather than hide from it.

Dayton, owner of the Bachelor Farmer restaurant and Askov Finlayson retail shop in North Loop, created the Skyway Avoidance Society last year to encourage people to bundle up, get out of the warm skyways and revive Minneapolis’ often barren winter streets.

“The mindless pastime of negative winter small talk actually really does seep into our psyches in a way that’s more damaging that we realize,” Dayton said. “If we spend the whole winter complaining about Minnesota, how do we expect to attract people to come here for a visit or to relocate here?”

But in the case of the Great Northern, is placing the area’s staple winter events under one umbrella just clever branding? With the 2018 Super Bowl on the horizon, the fest’s organizers say the economic vitality of the Twin Cities depends on this sort of partnership, one that will create traditions and pay dividends beyond a single year.

For R.T. Rybak, who sits on the fest’s leadership team, it’s also a time for Minneapolis and St. Paul to leave old rivalries in the past and come together for a shared interest.

“A common goal only makes us stronger,” said the former Minneapolis mayor, now president and CEO of the Minneapolis Foundation. “Integrating art into the activities is an opportunity to shine a spotlight on our robust arts community while getting everyone outside to celebrate winter.”

101 ways to embrace the cold

From dancing with “Frozen” characters in Rice Park to bellying up to a bar in the middle of frozen Lake Nokomis, the Great Northern will leave no cold stone unturned.

Organizers hope the cross-metro festival earns a national reputation and puts the Twin Cities on the map as a winter travel destination, similar to what the South by Southwest music festival has done for Austin, Texas, Dayton said.

“I don’t want to do a ‘B’ version of someone else’s ‘A’ event,” he said. “I want to create our own ‘A’ event, and nobody can do winter the way we can do winter.”

Here’s an example: The Twin Cities’ top chefs are coming together to create outdoor dining experiences that required special, never-before-issued city permits to make happen.

In St. Paul’s Lowertown, chef Thomas Boemer (of Revival and Corner Table) and chef Adam Eaton (of Saint Dinette) are putting together a French Canadian-inspired outdoor winter feast. Attendees will dine under the awnings of the farmers market (but still outside!).

In Minneapolis, the street between the Bachelor Farmer and Spoon and Stable will be closed as the two acclaimed restaurants, along with Meritage of St. Paul, transform the outdoor space into a winter wonderland with a table for 100 and a four-course dinner. There will be firepits for warming up and roasting s’mores.

The chefs are working out clever ways to keep hot food hot, but don’t expect the event to be canceled due to cold weather. Diners will want to come dressed in their warmest parkas. This is Minnesota, after all.

“I’d love for it to snow that night,” Dayton said. “Rain would be more of a challenge, but if it’s raining in Minnesota in late January, we have bigger problems.”

 

@aimeeblanchette