Written by Lucy Soderstrom, Program Director

The Ely Winter Festival is right around the corner! The ten biggest days of winter in Ely may have a bit less snow than last year, but there are infinite things to do both outside and inside! Sew a beaver hat, learn the basics of blacksmithing, bead a snowflake, and so much more here at the Ely Folk School. Visit the ice rink at Semer’s Beach, cleared by volunteer citizens, or the ice rink at Whiteside Park, sponsored by Ely’s Flower and Seed. Rent a pair of skis from Piragis or a fat tire bike from Ely Bike & Kicksled and check out everything the Hidden Valley trail system has to offer. 

I love the Ely Winter Festival because it showcases the inherent inquisitiveness that seems to be genetically instilled in all Ely residents. It seems to me that whatever you’re interested in, you can find an event, sculpture, rental, or film that will pique your curiosity, activate your imagination, and catapult your creativity. You may think I’m exaggerating, but I am quite serious – you can test drive an Electric Ford Mustang, attend a jazz orchestra, bake Swedish semlor, see movies about Minnesota women pushing the frontiers of roller derby or taiko drumming, learn to weave, watch a film about Nowa Cumig (AKA Dennis Banks), the founder of the American Indian Movement, discuss wolf management and the wolf-human relationship, take a snowshoe tour of Sigurd Olson’s home, get a group of friends to play kubb in the park, support Ely Community Resource or the Dorothy Molter Museum while enjoying a meal, see a documentary about a 24-year old musician run for City Council in Amarillo, Texas, tie your own fly fishing flies, and I could go on and on. It’s best though, for you to think about where your interests lie, then sign up for events that will further enrich your personal taste and learning journey. 

I’ve learned a lot in Winterfests past – last year I was captured by a film about female mushers and a subsequent panel from local Ely woman mushers and by frying whitefish with Mark Olson atop a snow block for a meal and discussion about the film Bring Her Home. Two years ago, I learned about the Ojibwe game snow snakes and got to play a few rounds with friends and colleagues. Three years ago, my first full winter in Ely, I took an Ely Folk School class focused on tracking animals in the snow, allowing me to learn so much more about my new animal neighbors.

Every year, I’ve enjoyed wandering the Snow Sculptures in Whiteside Park and being inspired by each sculptor’s artistic eye. As a kid, I learned geocaching at the International Wolf Center and went skiing for the first time at Bear Head Lake State Park. At the risk of sounding repetitive, I’ll reiterate – I truly love the Ely Winter Festival for the opportunities it offers for each individual to explore themselves and this corner of the world. The Festival encourages you to get out of the house and push the boundaries of your comfort zone. It reminds us that even though its winter, there are nearly endless possibilities and avenues to explore, both indoors and outdoors. 

Where should you go to make your week’s schedule based on your own taste and passions? The Ely Folk School Class Calendar, the Ely Winter Festival Events Calendar, and the Ely Film Festival Schedule! Plus, be on the lookout for Ely Film Festival printed Program Guides, which will be available soon. Call me, Alexia, or Brett at the Ely Folk School at 218-235-0138 if you have questions. 

And if you don’t see your interests represented amidst the full schedule? Pitch an event or class for Ely Winter Festival 2025 or submit a film to the Ely Film Festival! The Ely Chess Club did just that this year. Founded just this fall, it’s putting on Ely’s 1st Speed Chess Tournament on Sunday, February 11! 

The Ely Folk School is proud to be an Academy Level sponsor of the 2024 Ely Film Festival.