About the Festival

Listen to a 2007 interview with Irene Hartfield, Festival Volunteer
(at 36:30)

How it all began

In 1984 the Ely Ski Club (now known as the Ely Nordic Ski Club) started a cross-country ski race running from Tower to Ely called the Wilderness Trek. Local businesses and craftspeople set up booths at the finish line. Food and live music added to the festivities.

Starting in 1988 Bill and Gloria Miller volunteered numerous hours to create and direct more activities at the finish line of the Wilderness Trek. Their focus was on expanding to a three-day weekend promoting outdoor activities and education about the history of the Ely, Minnesota area.

In 1995, the Millers and their army of volunteers called on Bob Maidl to organize a Snow Sculpting Symposium in concert with an expanded 10-day festival surrounding the Wilderness Trek and featuring the Voyageur historical aspect of the area. Steger Mukluks hosted the first Mukluk Ball. The first commemorative pin was designed especially for the festival.

Then, in 1998, as part of the Voyageur Winter Festival, the Ely ArtWalk was created to promote local artists and their work by providing exhibition space in the windows of Ely’s downtown merchants. That year, 16 artists participated, displaying 30 pieces of art in a handful of stores. In 2004 the Ely ArtWalk became its own entity and by 2006 included over 170 artists, 600 pieces of art and 55 stores participating in the event.

Over the years, activites such as a crafts fair, musical concerts, Sled Dog Rides, and several food events have become part of the festivities.

Each year, Grand Marshals are selected from the community, usually based on their service, especially to the Winter Festival.  The late Bob Cary and his wife, Edith Sommer Cary, two of the original members of the Ski Club, were honored as Grand Marshals of the 2006 Voyageur Winter Festival. In 2008, Terri and Terry Schocke were honored for their many years of volunteer service with the Festival.  2010 Marshals were Nancy and Doug Scheibe.  Nancy is a sculptor herself and each year creates a sculpture both in the park and in front of the Front Porch, Festival Headquarters.  Read more about Nancy here.

In 2007, the name of the festival changed from Voyageur Winter Festival to Ely Winter Festival. The historical aspect is still represented during the two surrounding weekends of the festival and there are always a lot of additional events for the artistically inclined, the musically inclined, those who love the outdoors and those who love to eat!  There’s always something for the whole family!

To see this year’s events, please visit our Events Calendar on a regular basis.