Many of the students Kirstin Knutson works with as a guidance counselor at Community of Peace Academy know about the St. Paul Winter Carnival.
"They get it. They live in St. Paul," she said. "But when I say, 'Did you know I'm the queen?' They'll say, 'You are?'"
She is indeed. Thanks to COVID-19 altering many of the royal family's in-person events, Knutson actually served as Aurora, Queen of the Snows, for 2020 and 2021. A carnival spokesperson said it's likely the first time a queen wore the crown for two years.
Knutson, 27, cedes her title Jan. 28 when a new queen is coronated. But even after two years and hundreds of appearances throughout St. Paul, her regard for the city's celebration of winter has not diminished. She even met her husband through the carnival — he was a 2018 Royal Guard.
In a recent interview with Eye On St. Paul, Knutson talks about what attracted her to the demands — and fun — of being queen.
This interview was edited for length.
Q: How does one become Queen of the Snows?
A: There's like a three-month interview process that starts at the beginning of November through the end of January with the coronation. You go online at wintercarnival.com and you fill out the application. You have to find a sponsor and it could be anybody you wanted. It could be a family. A business. Whatever it is.
Q: Do you raise money for the carnival?
The candidates are also responsible for selling Winter Carnival buttons every year. I don't have an exact number they have to sell, but it was like "sell as many as you can." We also have fundraisers.
Q: Tell me a little bit about the sponsors.
A: When you're a candidate, you get a sponsor and at every event they are recognized. They get tickets to the event. They get free publicity.
Q: What do sponsors pay?
A: I think it's like $800 for a candidate for queen or a princess. If you become queen, I think they have to pay an additional $1,000. If it's a princess, I think it's another $800. My sponsors are Bob and Cheryl Flood [a couple she got to know through their family's involvement with the festival].
Q: Why did you want to become Queen of the Snows?
A: I've always wanted to be part of a strong alumni organization, especially one that gives back to the community. The Winter Carnival and its various organizations give a lot to charity, give a lot to the city of St. Paul.
Q: Your reign ends on the 28th. Tell me a little about this last year and what it's meant to be Queen of the Snows.
A: Well, I have been [queen] two years because of the pandemic. So, it's been a little bit different than in the past. My first year, we couldn't really do a lot. We did drive-by parades and visits. That was special. We got to see people at kind of their end stages of life [at hospitals and nursing homes], people who really loved the Winter Carnival. We even knighted people. It was really cool to be a part of that.
This year, it's been traveling across the United States. We went to Florida, Georgia, LaCrosse, Wis., and Aberdeen, [S.D.]
Q: What's been the most enjoyable part of being queen?
A: Probably when you start to talk about Winter Carnival to people who don't know about it. It's really cool to open their eyes to something they might not have known before.
Q: What do you say to someone who says it's all a marketing campaign?
A: I've never really been told that. What I hear is "What are you? Why are you wearing a crown in downtown St. Paul?" So, you just take that time to explain to them what you are. I really go back to the history. We are the longest-running festival in the United States. I'll say, "Do you know the Tournament of Roses?" We're older than them by two years.
We were started to show that Minnesota in winter is a really awesome place to live. We were really meant to build community and bring everybody together and, 136 years later, we're still able to do that.
Q: What's the benefit of being queen for a guidance counselor?
A: I am able to show the kids what I preach. I preach a lot of community involvement. I am 100% a volunteer. I don't get paid to do it. I chose to do it. I like to show them, here's how I got involved.
Q: In a year, how many events do you attend?
A: During the 10 days of the carnival, probably 100 events. You're up at 5 or 6 in the morning and you're going to schools, nursing homes, businesses and finishing up at 10 or 11 o'clock that night. We do, on average, probably 400 appearances a year.
Q: Be honest: How much do you like winter?
A: I ... like winter. But not the super frigid cold. Polar vortex I can do without.
Q: Do you have any tricks to staying warm when you're on that float during the parade?
A: HotHands. Body warmers. Lots of layers.