If you think your winter is cold, imagine living in a city dubbed “The Icebox of the Nation.” The place is International Falls, Minnesota, a city so cold it has been called the coldest city in America many times over. Sitting on the border between the U.S. and Canada, this scenic city in northern Minnesota is not just some frozen wasteland where winter rules all. Winter in International Falls is a time for celebration, a season where snow-laden citizens do their best to keep toasty and active.
To give some good perspective on your own winter worries, Faye Whitback, International Falls Chamber of Commerce President, is happy to give some insight on how one of the coldest cities around embraces Old Man Winter.
The Clymb: With a winter season spanning 4–5 months and average temperatures from November to February floating around 26º Fahrenheit (as well as 71 inches of snow), what are some of the different activities residents of International Falls take part in during the winter?
Faye Whitback: Of course hockey is hot in International Falls. Ice fishing is a given and a colorful ice house culture thrives on our frozen Rainy Lake (the 63rd largest fresh-water lake in the world). Rainy Lake is a huge area and with portable equipment, spots to fish are unlimited. Cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, snowmobiling and ATV riding are a big part of our winter life as well. There are probably at least 10 miles of trails within Voyageurs National Park (the nation’s only 100 percent water-based National Park), and outside of Voyageurs NP, there’s at least another eight miles of cross-country skiing in the area.
The Clymb: Winter in International Falls seems to culminate with the annual Icebox Days. What are some of the events and activities offered by this festival which is now entering its 36th year running?
FW: Much of the world has heard about our Icebox Days winter festival, with the signature event the “Freeze Yer Gizzard Blizzard Run.” It’s been featured on every major network, and many cable channels. Our winter needs this wacky festival packed full of original events for visiting “Gizzard” runners and families. Community guests and residents are all encouraged to try frozen turkey bowling, the chili cook-off, locally-invented “smoosh” board races, moonlight snowshoeing in Voyageurs National Park and, new this year, a golf game on Rainy Lake. Exhilarating fireworks under the winter sky are staged Saturday evening near Smokey Bear Park. Everyone is warmly welcomed to the Icebox of the Nation Jan. 14–17 for the 36th amazing year of Icebox Days and the Freeze Yer Gizzard Blizzard Run.
The Clymb: The “Freeze Yer Gizzard Blizzard Run” sounds like it’s a fun (and cold) time. What is it that makes this event so special and what drives people to participate in such a cold winter weather activity?
FW: The Gizzard race is held in the traditionally coldest weekend of the year and has never been cancelled in 35 years. It’s an amazing experience in which 300 or more runners come to earn the title “Only the Bold Run the Cold.” While at least half the races have been held in below zero temps, even grade-schoolers to octogenarian participate. The boldest often arrive in costume and there’s always a few wearing, well, hardly anything—exposing limbs with implied superiority. There’ve been bumblebees, ballerinas, and boisterous birds among other fun-loving braggadocios. But there’s more you need to know about those who earn “the bold;” they seem to be inhabited with a love for running and nature that’s so robust they can’t help but participate in this joyous winter resilience.
The Clymb: While winter seems to be pretty synonymous with International Falls, the other three seasons are full of crisp autumn colors, warm summer breezes, and sweet-smelling spring thaws. Which season is your favorite, and would you say winter is the best?
FW: We don’t try to convince folks that winter is better than summer. With summers like ours, that would be silly. What we do is celebrate winter’s character with resiliency and fun. We encourage Mother Nature to do a little dance with Old Man Winter. Embrace it. Life goes on and spending time in a snowy wonderland where cheeks turn pink and noses go numb isn’t so bad, it can even be exhilarating.
Must See During Winter in International Falls
Rainy Lake Area
Dubbed as the headquarters to Voyageurs National Park, the Rainy Lake Area is your one-stop destination for every winter recreational activity outside of downhill skiing. Whether you find yourself cross-country skiing, ice fishing, snowmobiling, or just enjoying the white winter blanket views of Minnesota’s snow-clad wilderness, you can rough it or stay at one of the many cabins and vacation homes that surround this historic site.
Voyageurs National Park
Located in the heart of the North American continent, Voyageurs National Park is the nation’s only water-based National Park, and International Falls is your gateway to the excitement. Although Voyageurs is most populated in the summer months, the winter provides a surplus of snow activities to find the solitude and blood-pumping bliss only offered in the colder months.
Icebox Days 2016 — January 14–17
Icebox Days is the annual winter festival in International Falls. It takes everything that’s great about winter and crams it into a long weekend full of snow-fed activity. This past year featured recreational and community activities such as a wing eating contest, pub crawl, moonlight snowshoeing, pancake breakfasts, frozen turkey bowling, fireworks, and of course the infamous “Freeze Yer Gizzard Blizzard Run.”