Organizers pull off unique, modified winter festival

When all the hot chocolate was gone, all the ice carved, and all of the cold weather behind us, organizers of this year's High On Ice festival looked back and were proud of what they were able to accomplish amid trying circumstances this year.

"We as an organization are really, really pleased with how it went, and are extremely lucky to have the service providers in town that helped, and our grounds staff, facility staff, and the public work staff that worked all weekend," said Marissa Jordan, lead organizer of the festival for the city.

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Putting on the festival always takes a lot of work, but normally, the organizers have six months of preparation. This year, they felt behind from the start, not having a solid idea of what the festival would like until December because of all the public health restrictions and their ever-changing nature.

"We didn't have a lot of direction at first, but once we knew the drive-thru tour was our goal in December, we were able to pull a lot of things together, some new concepts and some old ones, and make it a go," Jordan said.

"We've received so much positive feedback, and people seemed happy that we found a way to make this event happen instead of cancelling or postponing it."

Drive-thru tour steals the show

High On Ice
Marissa Jordan, the city's lead organizer for the High On Ice festival, took some time to appreciate all the hard work that went into this year's festival on February 17, 2021, before beginning the tear-down. - Dillon Giancola

The drive-thru ice sculpture tour was undoubtedly the star of the show.

There was a steady line of cars day and night for the duration of the festival, often leaking out onto 96 Avenue, full of families waiting for their chance to catch a glimpse of the carvings.

The number of people who took in the tour was something that surprised organizers, Jordan said, so much so that they had to close off the access to 96 Avenue from 100 Street, something the city prepared for but Jordan didn't think they would actually have to happen.

"We were busiest in night, which is the oppositte of how the festival usually works. There were some frustrated drivers, but any time you re-route traffic for an event that happens and we understand, it's not fun to have to deal with when you are trying to deal with where you're going," said Jordan. 

The decision to hold the drive-thru came about as a result of it being the only format sanctioned by the province. It was all about necessity, but it stands out seeing that this was the only winter festival and ice carving competition in the country that went with a drive-thru event, and only one of the few festivals that still took place at all. 

"People are grateful that it happened. High On Ice has become such a huge community draw — it's about celebrating our winter and what we can do — and it would have been devastating if we couldn’t do it in some form or fashion. It's become an ingrained thing that people look forward to," said Johanna Martens, who oversees the ice carving for the festival. 

Martens acknlowedged the community was disappointed there were no ice slides this year, but that they were determined to still do the best they could with what they were able to offer. 

While the drive-thru is now closed, the sculptures are still up and peope are able to walk in Centennial Park and view the sculptures, as long as they stay behind the barricades. The sculptures will stay up until the weather warms up and the ice starts to melt and become dangerous. 

Community events

Noah Lang
City worker Noah Lang hands out some hot chocolate to festival attendees on the opening night of the drive-thru sculpture tour, February 12, 2021. - Dillon Giancola

The festival typically has plenty of in-person events. However, the pandemic forced Jordan and her team to change how they do things. Instead, they had to focus on stay-at-home activities, such as craft and decorating contests, a crossword puzzle scavenger hunt, and a business passport. 

"We received entries for everything we offered. The crossword puzzle is something we tried in the summer when the pandemic first forced us to get creative, and the passport thing is a thing we tried previously for a different event. This was a chance to involve more local businesses and more aspects of the community, and it seems like people enjoyed the convenience of the festival — they got to do things at their own pace and leisure instead of adhering to a schedule," Jordan said. 

The city gave away more than 20 gift baskets to the winners of its various contests, who were announced Friday. Click here to see if you were one of the people selected.

Email reporter Dillon Giancola at

© Copyright Alaska Highway News


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