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Ice Palace lighting ceremony to kick off Polar Fest Thursday

Members of the Detroit Lakes Photography Group have been out taking artistic photos of the ice palace and selling them. Fifty percent of the profit goes to the ice palace project. Prints, canvases and metal prints of various photos can be purchased by going to (Photo courtesy of David Baer)

The opening of Detroit Lakes' annual Polar Fest celebration is almost here — and with it, the highly anticipated Grand Lighting Ceremony for King Isbit's Ice Palace, the 32-feet-high, 600,000 pound structure made of solid ice that has swiftly risen to tower over the frozen shore of Little Detroit Lake during this past month.

The structure will be officially lit for the first time this Thursday, Feb. 8 at 7 p.m., kicking off a frozen festival of fun that is slated to last through President's Day, Monday, Feb. 19, when the palace will be carefully disassembled to make way for the — hopefully swift — arrival of warm spring breezes.

In between, the 2018 Polar Fest Committee has put together a jam-packed slate of activities that combines traditional favorites like the Poles & Holes Ice Fishing Derby and the Polar Fest Plunge with exciting new events like the first-ever "Minne-Soda Hotdish Challenge" and the long-awaited return of the Great Polar Race.

"I think the last time we had the Great Polar Race was in 2009," says Jill Brandt, who is co-chairing the Polar Fest Committee with Beth Pridday this year. "It's an exciting competition where teams of 2-4 people race around Detroit Lakes to complete their assigned tasks and win some great prizes."

This year's Great Polar Race is set for Saturday, Feb. 10, with registration getting underway at 9 a.m. and the competition set to conclude at 1 p.m.

"We also have some great new events," Brandt added. "This Sunday, Grace Lutheran Church will be hosting the 'Minne-Soda' Hotdish Challenge, starting at 4 p.m."

Area churches, businesses and community organizations have been busy gathering their "best-of-the-best" hotdish recipes to submit for the competition, which will be judged by a celebrity panel including Detroit Lakes' own Police Chief Steven Todd as well as a handful of other surprise guests.

"We have a trophy ready for the winner," Brandt said.

For a free will donation, local residents and visitors are invited to sample their favorite dishes from the competition, along with a glass of "Minne-Soda," some chips and a dinner roll. Proceeds will benefit the charitable endeavors of the Grace Lutheran Church Women, who will be hosting the event.

Here are a few more highlights of Polar Fest's opening weekend:

• On Thursday, Feb. 8 and Friday, Feb. 9, the Lincoln Education Center's Early Childhood Family Education program will be hosting "Polar Bears, Penguins and Palaces, Oh My!" — a celebration geared toward preschoolers and their families, who are invited to explore a pretend ice palace, experiment with ice, play 'ice fishing,' paint on snow, and say hi to Polar Fest's official ambassador, Polar Pete. Thursday's celebration runs from 4:40 to 6 p.m., while Friday's event gets underway bright and early at 10 a.m.

• Also on Thursday, Feb. 8, representatives from more than a half-dozen local nonprofits will be gathering at Hub 41 to celebrate "Giving Hearts Day," a 24-hour online fundraiser, with a special party including a live radio broadcast, coffee, cookies and an opportunity to donate gifts toward any of the participating charities and have all gifts of $10 or more doubled through matching grants provided by Dakota Medical Foundation and other generous contributors. The GHD party runs from 2-4 p.m.

• Then at 4 p.m. Thursday, Lakeside Tavern will be unveiling Polar Fest's official "Winter Shanty," brewed at Lakeside's own Tavern Brewery, for tasting, which will be followed by the "Party at the Palace" hosted by the Detroit Lakes Kiwanis in a tent out on the ice next to the Ice Palace, featuring music by Detroit Lakes' own Tim Eggebraaten.

• The Detroit Lakes Pavilion will also be open from 5-7 p.m. for the public to view an exhibit on "The History of the Becker County Ice Harvest Industry," hosted by the Becker County Museum.

• Of course, the opening day festivities will be capped by a breathtaking event, the aforementioned Grand Lighting Ceremony for the ice palace at 7 p.m. The palace will then be lit up every night at dusk throughout the Polar Fest celebration.

• On Friday night, Feb. 9, the ever-popular Daddy's Little Sweetheart Dance gets underway at the Historic Holmes Theatre, with the Grand March stepping off at 6 p.m. (visit for more information).

• Detroit Mountain Recreation Area will be hosting a "Guided Fat Bike Night Ride" starting at 6:30 p.m. Friday (see for details).

• Also on Friday night, the Detroit Lakes Noon Rotary Club kicks off its annual Poles & Holes Ice Fishing Derby with a "Derby Pre-Party" at Hub 41, starting at 7 p.m.

• On Saturday, Feb. 10, Detroit Mountain will be hosting both a Ski Camp and a "Learn to Ski & Snowshoe" Clinic starting at 9 a.m. (

• Saturday at 9 a.m. is also when the gates open for participants in the Poles & Holes Ice Fishing Derby to register. The derby itself gets underway at noon on the ice of Little Detroit Lake, near the Rossman Avenue Public Access. Then at 4 p.m., the "Derby Post Party" gets underway at the Holiday Inn, with minnow races and live music by Redline as well as plenty of drink and food specials.

• At 1 p.m. Saturday, the Laurentian Lakes Chapter of the North Country Trail Association will host a Guided Wildlife Trek at the Pond Wildlife Management Area. Join experienced guides as they ski, snowshoe or ski-shoe (or hike if there is insufficient snow) a three-mile loop on the North Country National Scenic Trail. The trek begins at the NCT trailhead, 36167 Highway 34, Detroit Lakes. This free, family-friendly event is designed for participants to learn more about winter wildlife on the nation's longest hiking trail.

• Saturday's activities finish up with plenty of laughs, as award-winning comedian Tommy Ryman takes the stage at the Historic Holmes Theatre for a 7:30 p.m. show (visit for ticket information).

• On Sunday, Detroit Mountain is the place to be for most of the day's festivities, starting with a "Snoway But Up, Snoway But Down" Fat Bike Race at 8:30 a.m., followed by another Kids' Ski Camp at 1 p.m. and some "Sunday Funday" tubing on the DMRA Tubing Hill starting at 4 p.m.

Polar Fest activities will continue through Sunday, Feb. 18. A full schedule, including links to registration and ticket information, can be found at

Vicki Gerdes

Staff writer at Detroit Lakes Newspapers for the past 17 years, currently editor of the entertainment and community pages as well as covering city council and the Lake Park-Audubon School Board. Living in DL with my cat, Smokey.

(218) 844-1454