Travel

The State With the Worst Winters Is Also the Most Fun Place to Be This January

great northern
At the City of Lakes Loppet Ski Festival | Kara Carmichael (The Great Northern)
At the City of Lakes Loppet Ski Festival | Kara Carmichael (The Great Northern)

New Yorkers complain about snow as if they were the only ones in the country that get any. In Texas a patch of ice is the day’s top news, and a few hours of rainfall in LA result in the whole city shutting down. Up north, Americans grow up hardier. They do not fear the winter. The winter makes them strong.

Minnesota suffers the most miserable godforsaken winters in the United States. That is fact. And yet, respectably, its population of Midwestern nice optimists don’t just suck it up -- they throw a huge-ass party. The annual Great Northern Festival is a 10-day spectacle of wintery goodness that takes place in Minneapolis and St. Paul, attended by upwards of 250,000 souls who brave, nay, relish the below-freezing temperatures.

This year the action takes place between January 24 and February 3, and by action we mean ice-carving contests, cross-country ski races, the US Pond Hockey Championships, a giant snow slide, a silent disco, a snow plow competition, a casino night, ice bars, ice palaces, fire dancers, live music, food trucks, beer festivals, enchanted forests, art installations, a puzzle contest, and a cat show. Also skijoring, which is a Scandinavian craft beer that Minnesotans drink to become tall. Nah I made that up, it’s getting pulled along on skis by dogs.

Skijoring with very good dogs
Skijoring with very good dogs | Kara Carmichael (The Great Northern)

Perhaps the best bit is you can actually enter a lot of the competitions yourself, like the skijoring races. There are cross-country ski races for all ages and abilities -- there are 5Ks, 10Ks, and half-marathons if you’re weird. Another bit of original programming you won’t want to miss is FrogFest on January 26 -- finally you will understand the deeply mysterious sport of curling. The Great Northern is technically an umbrella event for three overlapping festivals by three founding partners, each of those with their own events, which is why there’s just so very much going on. Read on for more details about the events.

“Come out and explore,” says Great Northern Executive Director Cat Beltmann. “Winter is Minnesota at its best.” The schedule is still filling up every day, so we’ll be updating this with new events and activities as they come. There’s also plenty of non-festival related things to do in the Twin Cities this winter, so quit whining about the weather and go conquer the cold.

St. Paul Winter Carnival
Ice carving at the St. Paul Winter Carnival | Kara Carmichael

Saint Paul Winter Carnival

January 24 - February 2
Kellogg Park
For 2019, the Winter Carnival is moving into Kellogg Park. Festivities really get going with the Grand Day Parade on January 26. Fan favorites include the puzzle contest (which you can enter!) and the Vulcan Snow Park, which includes a Polar Plunge, snow sculpting contests (enter ’em!), and the aforementioned giant snow slide. 2019 will see a lot more outdoor concerts added to the programming, plus you can look forward to a beer garden with live music

City of Lakes Loppet Ski Festival

January 31 - February 3
Theodore Wirth Regional Park
Here you’ll find cross-country skiing, food trucks, a beer garden, and a tournament for a Swedish lawn game called kubb (assemble your team!). Skijoring events are February 1 and 2, and then comes the undisputed highlight of the festival: the Luminary Loppet, when festival attendees (you) walk (or ski, or snowshoe) around the frozen Lake of the Isles, which has been covered in luminaries. As you walk, you’ll come across fire dancers, hot chocolate, live music, an enchanted forest, an ice pyramid, and a series of totally pun-derful ice structures (Ice-Cropolis, Ice-Henge, Ice-ster Island). And, for those of you who’ve attained the appropriate age, a free beer. You gotta register to get your own glow stick, and registration is capped so get in on that early.

U.S. Pond Hockey
U.S. Pond Hockey | Kara Carmichael

US Pond Ice Hockey Championships

January 24 - 26
Lake Nokomis
There is no finer outdoor hockey tournament in the country than this annual event on Lake Nokomis. And if you think watching hockey does not sound as wild as some of the other activities available to you at the Great Northern, then you really gotta watch this:

Sign up here for our daily Thrillist email and subscribe here for our YouTube channel to get your fix of the best in food/drink/fun.

Kastalia Medrano is Thrillist's Travel Writer. You can send her travel tips at kmedrano@thrillist.com, and Venmo tips at @kastaliamedrano.