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Winter Carnival kicks off Thursday for 137th time

The event was born in 1886 to prove that Minnesota could embrace the cold weather. That'll be the case again this year.

ST PAUL, Minn. — The Saint Paul Winter Carnival kicks off Thursday for the 137th time, and par for the course, the 10-day event will push through single digits and sub-zero temperatures most of the way.

It's nothing new for a festival that started in 1886, after out-of-town newspaper writers compared Minnesota to Siberia.

"Word was that Minnesota was a place no one should live, that it was like a tundra," said Lisa Jacobson, president and CEO of the Saint Paul Festival and Heritage Foundation which runs the Winter Carnival. "They wanted to prove that you could do fun things in this kind of weather, and here we are."

That fun starts Thursday with the Multi-Block Ice Carving Competition, followed by the opening of the Vulcan Snow Sculpture Park at the Fairgrounds and the Ice Sculpture Park at Rice Park on Friday. The King Boreas Grande Day Parade is happening this Saturday, followed by the Vulcan Victory Torchlight Parade on the following Saturday, Feb. 4. 

Although the Winter Carnival features 57 total events over 10 days, they're not exclusively outdoors. Jacobson said a warming house with beverages and food, which opens on the first day of the carnival, has been expanded this year.

"It's been colder," Jacobson said, "and we're ready for it."

Chris Swarbrick, who was busy Wednesday night carving ice for the Sponsor Wall, has been involved in the Winter Carnival for 24 years.

He has seen it all.

"We've been minus-40 for sure, and then we've had carnivals where it's 40 and rainy," Swarbrick said. "We've seen the gauntlet."

Although the relatively warmer temperatures on Wednesday helped with ice carving, he prefers cold temperatures once the ice is in place.

It's all part of the fun of the Winter Carnival.

"I just love all the people, the story behind it, how it started," Swarbrick said. "It's great to have a celebration in the winter."

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