Great Ice in Grand Isle: Winter Festivities Come to a ‘Summer Community’

March 10, 2011  
Filed under Things to do

By Phyl Newbeck

In 2007, the residents of the Champlain Islands decided they were tired of being seen as only a summer destination. They vowed to change that and came up with a series of February events known as “Great Ice in Grand Isle.” Now in its fifth year, the events have taken on a life of their own.

Ruth Wallman, Executive Director of the Lake Champlain Islands Chamber of Commerce, said the goal of the festival is to promote off-season tourism. This year, Great Ice will take place in North Hero over the first two weekends in February. The third weekend is being held for any events which might be cancelled due to bad weather. The festival starts on Feb. 5 with skating on the North Hero oval. At 5p.m., those with cold feet can enjoy a bonfire and a chili cook-off catered by the Chamber and North Hero House, as well as the official launch of North Hero’s first Ice Out measuring device. At 7:30p.m., visitors can go to North Hero Community Center to see a screening of George Woodard’s new film, “The Summer of Walter Hacks.” The following day, Jamie Hess of Nordic Skater will offer demo equipment and Nordic skating lessons. A popular kid’s ice fishing derby will also take place on Sunday.

The second weekend in February starts Friday night with the first of three shows by the Logger, Rusty Dewees at the North Hero Community Center. Saturday will feature a Flapjack Breakfast at the North Hero House for $7 per person or $20 per family, followed by a trek to Knight Island (four miles round trip). The Ranger Station on Knight Island will be open and serving hot cocoa. Also on Saturday are afternoon pick-up hockey games and the F-f-rozen Chosen Regatta, a race for human powered ice vehicles for which there is a $20 entry fee. The frozen ones can warm up with a Valentine’s Dinner Dance at North Hero House. The weekend concludes with an Ice Golf tournament featuring nine holes and orange balls for a $10 registration fee, and night skating. The Lake Champlain Ice Fishing Derby, unaffiliated with Great Ice, will also take place February 12-13.

Wallman said the most popular event is the trek to Knight Island. In 2009, 120 people took part and in 2010 there were 180. Wallman said people make the trek by boot, skate, ski, or snowshoe with many pulling small children by sled and accompanied by dogs. The children’s fishing derby is also very popular. In 2010, 100 kids between the ages of 2 and 14 took par,t and 21 trophies were awarded. “It’s wonderful,” she said “to have outdoor activities for people who live in Grand Isle and beyond. The lake is a wonderful resource that we think about in summer, but it’s a great resource in winter, as well.”

The F-f-rozen Chosen Regatta, the first and possibly only such event in Vermont, generally takes place on a track one-third of a mile long and is divided into two-wheeled vehicles, multi-wheeled and/or bladed vehicles, and skaters.  Brian Costello of Local Motion reported that in 2010 a number of students from technical colleges entered the race, making it more competitive.  Last year’s winner received a $500 mountain bike from co-sponsor Earl’s Cyclery and Fitness.

Organizer Don Stewart is hoping this is the year Ice Golf takes place in good weather. The first year looked gorgeous but was frigid; the second year featured a snowstorm and the third took place with winds so strong that golf balls were routinely flying half a mile. Stewart is convinced that some kept rolling until they got to the Georgia shore. “I knew people would come out for this,” said Stewart, who got the idea from ice golf courses established in places like Greenland and Alaska. “People who play golf would play on the moon; they’d play under water.”

Bob Camp, owner of Hero’s Welcome on North Hero, said winter is still the establishment’s slowest season, but the addition of the Great Ice events has created a dramatic increase in business, with visitors coming from as far as Montreal, Pennsylvania and Boston. Camp had been plowing a skating oval in front of his store before the start of Great Ice, but the onset of these events led him to enlarge the track to over one quarter of a mile and to become more disciplined about maintaining it. In addition, he has added a regulation size hockey rink. Although the track and rink are obviously good for business, Camp insists he would continue to maintain them even if nobody stopped in the store. “The most unique thing about Vermont,” said Camp, “is the strength of each season. You just can’t take a pass on one season.”


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