Deteriorating ice conditions force some Minnesota winter events to pivot

Ice Pyramid
An ice pyramid lights up part of the Luminary Loppet course on Lake of the Isles in Minneapolis in 2010. The 2023 event has been postponed by a couple weeks due to poor ice conditions.
Gina Reis | MPR News file

Heavier-than-average snowfall across much of Minnesota this winter has been a boon to a lot of winter sports enthusiasts, providing a great foundation for ski trails, sledding hills and snowmobile routes.

But it’s now causing problems with ice conditions on some frozen lakes.

In some cases, lakes that started the season with a healthy ice cover have seen that ice degrade underneath a blanket of wet, heavy snow — forcing organizers of some events to change plans.

That includes the annual Art Shanty Projects, which was set to open Jan. 21 on frozen Lake Harriet in Minneapolis. It’s now going to take place on land, along the lakeshore, in what organizers call “Plan Beach.”

“At New Year’s we had 13 inches of solid, clear, good ice, and we were feeling great. That’s more than enough. We need a minimum of 10 inches to do our program. And then that huge snowstorm hit, and the snow just became this nice, cozy, warm insulating blanket for the sheet of ice,” said Artistic Director Erin Lavelle.

Colorful art shanties on a frozen lake.
Art Shanty Projects festival structures are seen on frozen Lake Harriet in Minneapolis in 2020. The 2023 event is being moved off the frozen lake and onto land due to poor ice conditions.
Christine T. Nguyen | MPR News file

“It started to get a little warmer, too, and that meant that the insulating snow created many inches of slush — so the ice underneath was melting and turning into slush,” Lavelle said.

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The slush made it problematic for a few organizers to get around on the lake to check ice conditions — let alone crowds of visitors coming to see the artist-created structures. And measurements showed the thickness of the ice was down to 6 inches in places.

Lavelle said that although the program will be on shore this year, it will still be memorable.

“The park is very lovely, and there are still plowed paths that meander through, and shanties will be along the lakeshore and near the bandshell and up at the top of the hill and in the picnic grounds,” she said. “So it’s still going to be a really lovely environment, even though it’s radically different than being in the middle of the lake.”

The annual Luminary Loppet on Lake of the Isles in Minneapolis also is being affected by the ice conditions.

Every year, the event draws thousands of people who ski, snowshoe or walk along a candlelit path on Lake of the Isles in Minneapolis, part of the City of Lakes Loppet Winter Festival. But organizers said the slush has made it impossible to groom trails or construct ice features along the route.

This year’s Luminary Loppet was originally scheduled for Feb. 4. But it’s been postponed two weeks, and will now be held on Feb. 18.

Claire Wilson, executive director of the Loppet Foundation, said they hope postponing the event by two weeks will allow enough time for the ice to form properly, or for organizers to come up with a contingency plan.

“As winter folks, we have had one of the most wonderful winters in recent memory. So it is a little bit ironic that in a winter with so much snow, we're having difficulty with the ice,” she said.

The other City of Lakes winter festival events will continue as scheduled.

The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources is urging snowmobilers and others to check ice conditions, and use caution when crossing frozen lakes and rivers. Find more ice safety information on the DNR’s website.