The Luminary Loppet in 2016 at Lake of the Isles. Photo by Aaron Lavinsky

Stay tuned for the cold, and get ready for the ice.

This year at the annual Luminary Loppet, which takes place Feb. 3 on Lake of the Isles in Minneapolis, visitors can catch new additions to the array of illuminated ice sculptures, including six huge penguin puppets, a forest made from 100, seven-foot-tall ice spires that people can move through, and an ice concert with horns, tubas, drums, xylophones and other instruments carved entirely from ice.

These additional sculptures were made possible in part by a Minnesota State Arts Board grant for $35,330 in the “Minnesota Festival Support” category.

The Luminary Loppet is just one of many events that happen that weekend, such as the Minne-Loppet, a kids cross-country ski event; the Penn Cycle Fat Tire Loppet 35K; the Southwest Journal snow sculpture contest. These are all housed under the broader umbrella of the Loppet Foundation, a nonprofit begun in 2002 by a small group of cross-country skiers who wanted to organize a race. Over the years it's expanded to include year-round outdoor activities in the Minneapolis area. (The Loppet itself is also a part of the Great Northern festival.)  

A long-time Minnesotan named Jim Young is in charge of the Luminary Loppet Festival. In fact, he’s been a volunteer for many years, beginning with a job that was far less glamorous.

“I got involved in volunteering for the winter festival back when it was mostly cross-country skiing,” said Young. “The volunteer jobs that we were doing were just godawful. One year it was -10, I was standing on Lake Street and Knox Ave. next to a sign that said “road closed” because they ran the course into Hennepin and Lake. People would roll up and pull down their window, and they would say: ‘Is the road closed?’ and I would say: ‘Yes.’”

This was 2006. And despite the boringness of this service position, Young became interested in the Luminary Loppet Festival, which began the same year.

Some of the sculptures will be lit with candles, like the “icecropolis,” with ice that’s 4-5 inches thick. But wouldn’t the heat from these candles somewhat melt the sculptures? Actually, the candles don’t really affect much at all, Young explained. The bigger problem is keeping them lit inside the sculptures.

“We have a team of people that go around and relight candles,” said Young.

This year the Luminary Loppet happens to fall on the same weekend as Super Bowl LII. This extreme contrast between the brute American masculinity that is the spectacle of football and the dainty yet rigid ice forms seems to all make sense during a Minnesota winter.

Get tickets here.


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