MINNEAPOLIS — It's the weekend winter enthusiasts have marked on their calendar as The City of Lakes Loppet kicks off Thursday for another year. 

We met with Director of Events Jonn Bussey at Theodore Wirth Regional Park, where a lot of the activities and races take place. 

"It's a celebration of winter in Minnesota," he said. "It's all outdoors, it's active, it's fun and it's community. It's family."

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It's billed as the Urban Cross Country Ski Festival, with races from Thursday through Sunday. 

"It might not look like a lot right now, but come Loppet this is going to be right in the middle of all the action," Bussey said of the park. "We are in the stadium, which is both the start and finish of a lot of our races. If you want to watch some very enthusiastic skiers get started and some very exhausted skiers come back in after the races, this is the spot to be." 

Besides cross country skiing, there are Fat Tire Bike races, skate sprints and skijoring competitions. 

"We're thrilled to get to host the national championships for a couple different distances in skijoring," Bussey said. "So skijoring is literally you with skis on and a harness connected to your dog out front." 

If you have an artistic side, you can always watch 12 teams battle it out in the snow sculpture competition. A dozen frozen solid pillars will become intricate carvings come festival time. It's one of the best spectator elements of Loppet because you can watch the entire process and crown the champions come Saturday at 4 p.m. Hopefully the carvers have some sharp tools because it's going to take a lot to get into these solid blocks of ice.

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A lot of the activities are centered around The Trailhead, which is designated as Loppet Village for the weekend. If you need to warm up or get a refreshment, this is the place to be as you can grab a beer or a bite. 

The Trailhead
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The best attended event is the Luminary Loppet on Friday night. Bussey feels it's the highlight for many.

"We are going to have 10,000 people either walking or skiing on Lake of the Isles," he said. "They are going to be surrounded by candle-lit ice sculptures. We have spires, we have Ice-Cropolis, we have Ice-Henge and people playing instruments entirely made of ice. It's really a magical setting."

Loppet kicks off January 31 at 6 p.m. with Classic Team Sprints and concludes Sunday afternoon. For a complete schedule of events, click here.

More places to Explore the Winter Wonder:

Lebanon Hills Regional Park

La Dona Cerveceria

Cuyuna Country State Recreation Area