The Ely Winter Festival is a 10-day celebration of winter, life outdoors, and the people who live here. Events have changed over the years, but the passion people have for this event has never faded. 

Dealing with the cold weather is a common complaint for many. If you live in Ely year round, you have to embrace the cold. Not just embrace it, you have to love winter. Ely Winter Festival is a celebration of a community’s love for winter and a celebration of one another. Folks from out of town can learn a lot about our community by visiting during the Ely Winter Festival. It is a time when the community comes together to have a little fun during the long winter. 

When asked what aspects of the festival bring the community together, Linda Ganister replied, “The reason I volunteer for the EWF is precisely because I think it builds community. Many many Ely area residents are showing their art to the rest of us during the Ely Art Walk. The scout base is running a winter camping demo in the park. Teams from Ely and from as far away as Argentina are creating works of art in the park – for US! The Dorothy Molter Museum is hosting their fun annual dinner and normally also offers fun activities for kids. NLAA normally offers a craft show, again, with local vendors and vendors from further away. The Kickoff in the park showcases all kinds of Ely groups – ski team, scout troops, etc. It is really fun to see the list of classes Ely Folk School offers for us, and by us. I am also a huge fan of the mostly outdoor aspects of our festival. We don’t need to spend the entire winter inside complaining about it. There’s art. There are places to snowshoe to. There’s the ArtWalk. Skiing.”

Not everyone here loves being out in the cold all the time, many enjoy winter because of the extra quiet time inside to read or work on creative projects. This year over 50 artists will display their art in store windows. Elementary, middle and high school students will have art to showcase as well as a few other artist clubs and groups from the area. Pick up a brochure at the Art & Soul Gallery or at Northern Grounds, bundle up, and take the walk around town. Odds are you will meet someone along the way to have a conversation with or be tempted to pop into one of the many stores. The Ely Folk School provides classes taught by instructors on topics that are relevant for locals and entertaining for visitors. Many of these instructors are artists themselves. 

“Most people don’t realize that the snow sculpture event is a symposium, rather than a contest. Our sculptors enjoy hanging out together, sharing tools and techniques, and giving each other a hand when necessary. During a contest, the sculptors are much more competitive,” says Linda. 

How has COVID affected the festival and are there any changes folks should be aware of this year?

“We are making a concerted effort to allow our carvers to take their meals home. The warming tent in the park will be just for them, and we will not be asking volunteers to sit in the warming tent. We are allowing indoor events. We are not offering the wine tasting fundraiser in January.” – Linda Ganister

Nancy Hernesmaa

In what ways are you participating in the Ely Winter Festival this year?
I am involved in the Ely ART Walk as a Board member and an artist displaying pottery. We have a great team of dedicated Board members who put together an awesome show that represents a wide variety of mediums and talent bringing our community together for the entire month of February.

What motivates to participate?
Personally, I love the comradery and sense of community that I see around town. People are smiling, reconnecting with one another, taking photographs, there is excitement in the cold frigid air!

Are there other things you are involved in around town?
When indoors I am often in my pottery studio blissfully playing with clay, I do enjoy the outdoors spending copious amounts of time cross country skiing and riding my Fat Bike.

What is your favorite winter activity?
I love this time of year with the various activities and festivities that the Winter Festival brings to our community. Be it ice carvings, classes at the Ely Folk School, snowshoe hikes, there is plenty for all!

Camp Street Studio

In what ways are you participating in the Ely Winter Festival this year?
We signed up as a group in the Art Walk because we all share a studio space and one love seat together.

What motivates you to participate? 
We want local exposure and to make more local connections!

Are there other things you are involved in around town? 
We all live and work locally

What is your favorite winter activity?
We all like to drink tea and sauna!

Jane: cross country skiing, hiking, and not leaving my house
Lara: downhill skiing, cozy times indoors
Madden: ice skating and hiking
Nora: cross country ski and snowshoe with my Lulu! Also, knitting and watching GBBO

Cecilia Rolando

In what ways are you participating in the Ely Winter Festival this year?
I will be in the Art Walk with five paintings, in one of the stores.  I also have a small solo show at the Front Porch Cafe of 20 new pieces and greeting cards.

What motivates you to participate?
I have been a participant for many years having designed 13 of the winter festival commemorative pins, including the first one.  In my job of NLAA director I coordinated the organization’s small snow sculpture contest in Whiteside Park for 20+ years.  It is natural therefore,  to be part of this, and as an artist, in something which is a big part of winter in Ely.

Are there other things you are involved in around town?
I am an artist exhibiting, with many others, at the Art and Soul Gallery.  I also have a small column weekly, in the Ely Timberjay, called ‘Breathing Out,’ which features an illustration and haiku about my observations of nature around town. I teach art classes occasionally at the Ely Folk School.

What is your favorite winter activity?
Walking outdoors in the cold taking photos on my iPhone of various observations relating to the cold, snow, winter.

Shaun Chosa

In what ways are you participating in the Ely Winter Festival this year?
I have this little thing called the Great Nordic Beardfest, I run that whole circus.

What motivates you to participate?
The Great Nordic Beardfest has become a highlight of the Winter Festival, and it draws people from all over the tri-state area. It’s a damn good time, has a local charity component, and is an economic boost in a rough time of the year.

Are there other things you are involved in around town?
I try and fill up the Napa Window every Artwalk.

What is your favorite winter activity?
Staying warm inside with my fur babies and making art.

Artwork by Shaun Chosa