Winterfest in Lake Geneva draws crowds despite cold temperatures

PHOTO BY Jenny Klopfer
Above is an aerial view of the snow sculptures in front of the Riviera during Lake Geneva’s annual Winterfest last week.


By Bob Peryea


The weather this year was perfect for sculpting according to the participants at Lake Geneva’s Winterfest. The week started with a couple of warm days, but fell away to dropping temperatures and flurries of snow.

The near zero temperatures were not a deterrent to the visitors. It seemed a boost to nearby businesses, as people hurried into stores to warm up.

The snow sculpting competition began last Wednesday is one of the highlights of the weekend. Teams come from all across the country to participate. The snow carving area in front of the Riviera Ballroom was constantly filled with carvers from all over the country, spectators and families.

Some of the snow creations included knights slaying dragons, wizards casting spells and deceptively simply looking egg creations.

 The winners

PHOTO BY Jenny Klopfer
The first place winners of the competition with “Dancing Flame” were Dave Andrews, Stephen Bateman and Jason Anhorn of Team Wisconsin.

Each team was identified by its home state. This year’s winner was one of two home state teams, Team Wisconsin with, “Dancing Flame.” Second place was awarded to Team Michigan with, “Walla Walla Bing Bang.” Third place went to the team that traveled the farthest, Team Alaska with, “Nisdaat Ku-eex” (which means the Last Dance). This was also Team Alaska’s final year in the contest after many years of great entries.

The Peoples’ Choice Award went to Team Illinois with their entry, “Quis Ut Deux.”


“I just want everybody to know how enjoyable and fun and great it is in Lake Geneva. The carvers and all my staff, all year long, talk about Lake Geneva. The whole area is great. Thank you from all of us,” said Don Berg, the executive director for Winterfun, the non-profit company that produces Winterfest.

For 18 years, Berg has been running Winterfest. In 1984, Winterfun started the first National Snow Sculpting Competition. In 1985, it went international. In 1995, the National Competition became part of Winterfest in Lake Geneva. Now, the competition is the main draw for tourists and locals to the snowy festival.

“This year’s weather was perfect for sculpting. It was perfect (because it stayed below freezing), the carvers were able to get more detail for the sculptures,” Berg said. “Every year the carvers are getting more and more experienced.”

Jeff Daub is the Facilities Manager for Winterfest. One of his most important duties is to load the snow into the “boxes,” the forms that are used to make the initial snow blocks.

“The weather was good this year. It was warmer for packing. And then it was colder for the sculptors, allowing them to make sharper edges,” said Daub.

For about 27 years, Daub has come to Lake Geneva for Winterfest week. “We also come back two to three times a year. My wife loves it here,” he said.

Daub went on to say, “Those teams are all good. They all come there to do their finest quality work.”

Thane Seeley, from Team Nebraska, competed this year with his brother and father.

PHOTO BY Brenda Peryea
“Quis ut Deus” by Team Illinois – Peoples’ Choice Award – Team members: Peter Hermann, Jack Gerard, Fran Volz

“It started with us messing around in our front yard,” Seeley said, explaining how his family got into snow sculpting. “We’ve been doing it professionally for six years.”

Last year, Team Nebraska won second place. This year, Seeley explained, their sculpture didn’t turn as they had hoped, “but we had great time anyway.”

The Seeley family is similar to most of the professional sculptors. Thane Seeley is an aviation maintenance technician. His father, Matt Seeley, is a civilian contractor with the U.S. Air Force. His brother, Taylor Seeley, is a full-time high school student.

Many of the sculptors in the event are not professional artists, but people who fell in love with this art in particular.

 Small businesses profit

Winterfest also brings commerce to Lake Geneva’s small businesses.

Bob Lee, owner of Bob’s Beach Shack, 140 Broad St., said that Winterfest weekend represents a 200 percent increase over other winter weekends.

“It brings in a substantial amount of business, but it also lifts your spirits,” Lee said. “Over the winter, you forget what its like to have a busy tourist season. This gets you emotionally ready for the new season.”

He pointed out that the sculptures will “bring business for the next three weekends.” For tourists who didn’t want to brave the crowds of Winterfest weekend, the month of February will be a great time to see the sculptures.

“People didn’t think of Lake Geneva in winter,” said President of the Lake Geneva Chamber of Commerce George Hennerly. “Now it’s one the largest retail weekends of the year.

“Here in Lake Geneva, we have great accommodations, great restaurants and year round retail businesses. Now, hotel occupancy is up 10 percent year round over 15 years ago.”

Hennerly described his feelings to this year’s Winterfest, “This event shows people the essence of Lake Geneva in winter.”

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