“Stomping Snow” for this weekend’s Winter Wow!fest 2012

The CVB girls pose beside one of the big snowcubes at the Open Space.
The CVB girls pose beside one of the big snowcubes at the Open Space.


Some people will do anything to get out of a day of work. They’ll even spend hours shoveling snow into a giant wooden cube, jump up and down on it like maniacs to make sure it’s properly packed, and then move on to another cube to do it all over again. And again. And again.

Every February, that’s what we do – a dozen of us from the Traverse City Convention & Visitors Bureau and the National Cherry Festival – as part of the preparation for our annual winter carnival, the Cherry Capital Winter Wow!fest. One of the most popular attractions at Winter Wow!fest (held this year on Feb. 17-19) is the Snow Sculpture Garden: 10 massive sculptures carved from huge blocks of snow by teams of master artisans from all over Michigan.

If you’ve been in Traverse City over the last few days, you’re likely to have seen them – covered in custom-fitted tarps of silver and black at Open Space Park, at the foot of Union Street. And who mades those huge blocks of snow? We did!

Fortunately, it doesn’t take a lot of skill – just a lot of time. (Well, big feet are helpful, too.) A week before the festival, relays of trucks shuttle back and forth between Traverse City and Bellaire, bringing loads of pure white snow donated by Shanty Creek Resorts to the sculpture garden site near the Clinch Park Marina. Then, for two days, we go to work stuffing snow into large 8’x 8′ x 8′ wooden forms.

Each time a load of snow is dumped into the top of the big cubes, we “snow-stompers” climb up into the interior with shovels, breaking up the bigger chunks, spreading each layer out evenly, and jumping up and down on it to pack it into a firm, carvable mass. It’s a little intimidating at first, because you have to jump down into the bottom of a nearly empty box, but as the level of snow rises it gets easier and easier – until you’re standing on the very top trying not to fall off!

Snow-stomping is actually a lot of fun. We get a lot of encouragement from passers-by, and we feel a sense of proprietary pride to watch the master carvers transform our blank-faced cubes into whimsical works of winter art. But we also know that we’re only a few of the many volunteers who help out at Winter Wow!fest, a celebration of  music, food, and fun that takes place each year on the President’s Day Weekend.

A carver sculpts a rattlesnake head at Winter Wow!fest 2011.
A carver sculpts a rattlesnake head at Winter Wow!fest 2011.

This season’s Wow!fest will feature several new events – including the Soup’R Chili 5K, where runners will compete on an oval course along the beach, and the “Curb Crusher” Rail Jam, in which snowboarders and skiers will compete on a series of snow-covered 10-foot ramps.

For the first time, several events – such as the popular Snow Ball Co-ed Softball Tournament and snow sculpture competition – will be held in the City’s Festival Open Space Park on West Grand Traverse Bay. Most other activity will be located across the Grandview Parkway at “Celebration Central,” between Cass and Union streets.

That’s where the action begins on Friday night with “Winter, Wine & Wow,” a reception featuring local wines, craft brews, edibles and live entertainment in a huge heated tent.

Saturday morning will begin with a new, kid-friendly feast – a Cherry Pancake Breakfast in the new ECCO meeting center on Front Street, linked to the festival area by a pedestrian bridge across the Boardman River. The downtown area will continue to be used for a number of Wow!fest attractions, including a series of popular ice sculptures created by the Ice Brigade (of Food Network fame) and a three-day Presidents Weekend Sale.

Other Saturday events include the Monster Dog Pull,where canine Olympians compete for the title of “monster dog” by pulling weighted sleds. There’ll also be winter versions of popular Cherry Festival competitions like the Frozen Pit Spit contest and the Brain Freeze ice cream eating contest,  the uproarious Frozen Bed Race, and the Soup r’ Bowl where participants slurp up soups created by local chefs.

The famous Frozen Bed Race!
The famous Frozen Bed Race!

One special Saturday event is a once-only extravaganza to celebrate the 30th anniversary of Wow!fest partner WKLT as Traverse City’s premiere rock station – it’s the Winter Wow!fest Summer Festival Fantasy, an 80s party featuring music from the 1980s featuring music videos and huge summer festival giveaways including the season’s hottest concert ticket – VanHalen for two!

Snow for the various snowsport competitions is being provided by Shanty Creek Resorts, which is lending some of its winter magic to the festival. In addition to the snow they supplied for the sculptures, the resort is building a Snow Park and Tubing Hill where families can enjoy the fun of snow-tubing, while local outfitters will be introducing novice skiers and snowshoers to the joys of cold-weather sports.

Competitions that require steeper hills will still be held at the nearby Mt. Holiday Ski Area, including such offbeat competitions as the Friday “Downhill Dash,” a no-holds-barred mountain bike/ski/snowboard race down the ski hill and the “Cardboard Classic” in which competitors must use sleds made only with cardboard, tape and paint. As always, the festival will end Sunday night with a fireworks display above the Grand Traverse Resort & Spa.

Come and join us! It’s a lot of fun – even if you’re not stomping snow!

Closing night fireworks over the snow at Grand Traverse Resoprt & Spa
Closing night fireworks over the snow at Grand Traverse Resoprt & Spa

About mikelovestc

These days, I’m the media relations guy for the Traverse City Convention & Visitors Bureau, but before that I spent 25 years as a reporter and columnist at the Traverse City Record-Eagle, a job that frequently took me out into the most remote backroads, forests, beaches and islands of the beautiful Grand Traverse Region. My strategy was pretty simple — just drive, paddle, ski or walk until you’re certain you’re lost, and then find somebody to talk to. It was a great job! I never intended to live in Traverse City. I grew up in Grand Rapids, spent four years in the Coast Guard in places like Miami Beach, Monterey and San Francisco, and when I finally graduated from college I took a summer job at the Miami Herald. To my surprise, I discovered I didn’t like the tropics nearly as much as I thought I would — and when the Record-Eagle offered me a job I took it, figuring I’d put in a year or two and head off to someplace like Seattle or Portland. What I discovered very quickly is that this place gets to you in a variety of unexpected ways. The beaches here are as lovely as anyplace else I’ve ever been, the weather is mild all year round — warm enough for swimming in September and cold enough for skiing in December — and just about the time you’re getting tired of one season you get another one every bit as pleasant. The people are laid-back and friendly, the music and arts scene is awesome, and the place still hasn’t gotten so sophisticated that a guy like me feels out of place.
This entry was posted in Festivals, Outdoor Sports, races, winter and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to “Stomping Snow” for this weekend’s Winter Wow!fest 2012

  1. lampenj says:

    Looking forward to checking this out this weekend. We just so happened to book a weekend at The Great Wolf Lodge and were pleasantly surprised to find out this event was taking place this weekend. Awesome!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s