With ice castles, ice mazes and ice carousels, Minnesota is a winter wonderland.
January 17, 2023 — 5:00am
Snow days and slick roads can make even a hardy Minnesotan feel like staying home, but there are some winter wonderland experiences you don't want to miss — exploring an ice castle, finding your way through an ice maze or stepping onto an ice carousel.
All you need to do to take part is bundle up, wear boots with good traction and buy tickets in advance, if you can.
Jeff Wheeler, Star Tribune file
Already, the Minnesota Ice Maze has proven to be a hot ticket.
At least 10,000 guests wearing parkas and puffy jackets visited the half-mile-long maze on its opening weekend, Jan. 6-8, according to CEO Robert Harrell.
The maze takes its theme from its location — in Eagan near the Minnesota Vikings headquarters. With its 14-foot-tall Vikings ship made out of ice and visits by ice princesses and live reindeer (Jan. 28-29), the maze is all Nordic, all the time.
Made of 1 million pounds of ice, the maze is relatively easy to walk, but you can amp up the experience by trying to find all the ice sculptures hidden within the icy twists and turns.
After reaching the end, visitors can also take part in the adjacent "Winter SKOLstice" event, which includes curling, hockey and skating (weather-permitting) at Viking Lakes. There is also a warming haus with food and drink for purchase. That event is free.
The Minnesota Ice Maze, 2645 Vikings Circle, Eagan. Monday-Friday through at least Feb. 19. Tickets are $24.99 $12.99 for children younger than 15 years old and free for those ages 0-4. minnesotaicemaze.com. For more information on the SKOLstice event go to www.explorevikinglakes.com/winterskolstice.
Return to childhood
Making her way through the tunnels of Ice Castles in New Brighton made Jennifer Pat feel like a kid.
"When you get inside it feels like you're in a different world," said Pat, who was there with her two children. "My favorite part was getting inside the cave and I had to crawl. To feel like you're surrounded by ice — it brings back my childhood memories."
The castle, which comprises 25 million pounds of ice, features 20-foot-tall walls, an ice fountain and an ice slide. There also are fanciful ice sculptures. And, if you're lucky, you might see an ice sculptor chiseling away at blocks of ice.
Starting Jan. 19, visitors will be able to scan a QR code on their phones to play "Castle Quest," which will lead them to areas in the castle that are typically overlooked by visitors, said Chelsea Abbey, guest engagement manager.
"They will be tasked with finding puzzles in the chambers and when they solve all the puzzles they will win a prize," Abbey said. "There's no time limit — you can go at your own pace."
Ice Castles, Long Lake Regional Park, 1500 Old Hwy. 8, New Brighton. Open every day except Tuesdays through at least Feb. 20. Tickets range from $11 to $22. Children younger than 4 years old admitted free. For more information, go to icecastles.com/minnesota.
Carlos Gonzalez, Star Tribune
Fire and ice
The Ice Palace at Fountain Hill Winery in Delano combines two wintry treats: a cool ice structure and warm beverages.
Sitting on a sprawling two-acre site, the palace has 15-foot-tall walls and ice tunnels big enough for kids and adults to explore. It's lit with colorful lights at night and there's also a 12-foot-long ice bridge and costumed characters, from snowmen to ice princesses.
With 70 sprinklers spraying about 33,000 gallons of water a day making the walls higher and thicker, the palace will change and grow during its run, said Ice Palace CEO Brigham Youngstrom.
Fountain Hill Winery will be selling mulled wine, hot cocoa and other beverages. There also will be food trucks and plenty of outdoor seating with heat lamps. On the topic of heat, attendees can also watch fire performances throughout the evening and there are ample fire pits for warming up throughout the experience.
"We are excited to be able to bring in people from the surrounding areas to enjoy the ice palace," said Youngstrom. "The amazing arctic blue ice is out of this world as to how it looks. It's something different and new and something fun to get out of the house to enjoy."
The Ice Palace, 731 County Road 30 SE., Delano. Open through at least March 4. Hours are weather-dependent. Tickets range from $11 to $23. Children under 4 admitted free. www.theicepalacefhw.com.
Provided by Becca Ruegemer
Chuck Zwilling and his family are attempting to break a very specific world record — for the largest ice carousel within another ice carousel.
That should be a cinch, because they already hold a Guinness World Record for the ice carousel they created last year. The carousels are part of I.C.E. Fest 2023 in Little Falls, Minn., on Feb. 11-12.
Visitors will be able to watch as the crews use chainsaws to cut the massive circles of ice on Green Prairie Fish Lake. The circle will then be propelled into a slow rotation by motors inserted in holes in the ice.
"What we discovered over the years is that's what people like to see — the cutting and the getting it spinning," said Becca Ruegemer, director of marketing.
In addition to watching the ice cutting and riding on the carousels, visitors can try curling, dog-sledding, human foosball and bowling and, if the weather permits, airplane rides.
The free event (donations are encouraged) also includes food and beverages. All proceeds go to programs that help at-risk children.