Take pond hockey championships, people skiing by candlelight and St. Paul’s historic Winter Carnival. Throw in some culinary and arts events put on with the help of Northern Spark, celebrity chef Andrew Zimmern and others.
The result? The Great Northern, a festival that will debut this January and combine some of Minnesota’s most popular winter traditions.
The U.S. Pond Hockey Championships, City of Lakes Loppet Ski Festival and the Winter Carnival will all be held from Jan. 26 to Feb. 5. That idea came out of a meeting last fall, where Eric Dayton gathered representatives from the festivals and other potential partners and suggested they do “something in the wintertime.”
There were logistical questions about mashing three events into an 11-day time frame and concerns about each festival retaining its identity and independence — but there also was enthusiasm, said Dayton, who co-owns the store Askov Finlayson and restaurant the Bachelor Farmer.
The collaboration will fill in gaps when one festival may not have programming, so something always will be going on over the 11 days, said Rosanne Bump, president and CEO of the St. Paul Festival and Heritage Foundation. The traditions of the Winter Carnival will continue, she said.
“The idea is to brand the region as a winter destination so hopefully more people will come,” Bump said. “It will increase the visitors and gives residents more reasons to get out.”
Nearly 2,000 people participate in the pond hockey championships each year, said Carson Kipfer, co-commissioner. Teams coming from out of town often ask what else they should do in the Twin Cities, he said, and with the Great Northern, “I think people will be able to stitch together a pretty remarkable experience.”
The Great Northern will help the City of Lakes Loppet expand and attract new attendees, said John Munger, executive director of the Loppet Foundation.
This first year, they are “walking,” Munger said, but by next year they will be “running” with the event — in time for the 2018 Super Bowl. He hopes Super Bowl attendees who are busy and cannot attend all of the Great Northern events are prompted to return in future years.
The event is meant to be long-term and is not being created just for the Super Bowl, Dayton said. Target is the lead sponsor for the festival and has agreed to help fund it for the next three years, he said.
The different pieces of the festival, including the art and food events, still are being worked out.
Dayton said he would like Zimmern to help them get food trucks involved.
R.T. Rybak, president and CEO of the Minneapolis Foundation, said at an event Thursday announcing the festival that the foundation will be sponsoring a pop-up art project on Nicollet Mall.
The Great Northern will use social media and its website to help people figure out what is going on each day, Dayton said.
By 2018 he would like to have a smartphone app that would aggregate the events.
“It’s just going to be really fun,” Munger said, “and an important symbol for Minneapolis and St. Paul to celebrate what’s great about living here in the winter, instead of running away from it.”