A new Minnesota Ice Festival will cozy up to the Minnesota Vikings for a possible world-record breaking ice maze and extravaganza inside TCO Stadium at the NFL team's Eagan headquarters.
"We're going for a home run this year and we're pulling out all the stops," Minnesota Ice CEO and owner Robbie Harrell said in an interview.
Minnesota Ice is the St. Paul-based company that built a maze on the Eagan campus last January. It is taking it into the open-air TCO Stadium for 2024 and blowing up the event into a full-fledged festival.
Among other things, that means trying to obliterate the Guinness World Record for largest ice maze set by Buffalo, N.Y., in 2010. Harrell said the plan is for an 18,000 square-foot maze in Eagan opening Jan. 5. Buffalo's record was just under 13,000 square feet at the Powder Keg Winter Festival.
"We figured if we're going to bring it inside TCO Stadium and we're going to put in all the hard work on everything else, we might as well go for a world record," Harrell said. "I'm kind of on a mission right now, I think, as many ice world records I can set, I want to. Minnesota's known for being cold. They're known for ice."
He's lined up the requisite judges to visit Eagan in January. He also promised the maze will be taller with more dead-ends and sculptures than the one in January. Tickets went on sale Saturday at www.minnesotaicefestival.com.
"For the people that complain they didn't get lost last year, they should get lost this year," Harrell said. "Adding the extra square footage will make it a lot of fun."
The maze, on the campus just south of Interstate 494 and east of Dodd Road, is the main attraction at the pumped-up event that will stretch into mid-February as the weather allows.
Kyle Chank, general manager of Viking Lakes, the live-work-play development built by the Vikings' owners on the former world headquarters of Northwest Airlines, said the ice event fits with the goal of providing year-round activities at the site.
The festival also builds on the Winter Skolstice events that started Friday and continue through February. Trees around the walkways and lakes are already wrapped in white lights. Also open is a ticketed mile-long drive-thru light display featuring Barbie, a monster truck, a tunnel of lights and well wishes for various holidays. The 30-foot Christmas tree is set to be lit at 5 p.m. on Dec. 2.
Tickets for the Skolstice mile-long drive-thru light trail are already on sale at www.magicoflights.com/minneapolis. The Winter Markets at Viking Lakes also started Friday and will run weekends through February.
Chank noted that campus is mostly open and some activities — skating, checking out the tree, walking the dogs around the lakes — are free. "You don't have to buy anything," he said.
Also opening on the football field with the maze in January will be an ice rink with a warming house and skate rentals, multiple fire pits, an ice slide and an ice cannon shooting fireballs into the air every few minutes. Two ice bars will feature local bartenders, alcoholic and nonalcoholic beverages and 10 food trucks will operate under the lights of the stadium and its giant screen. There will be games and giveaways.
"We're going all in; This is the Minnesota Ice Festival," Harrell said.
For the purple faithful, no need to worry about the football field supporting all the action. Harrell said it will be protected by multiple layers. First festival officials put down plastic, then a layer of waterproof decking followed by plywood and 1,600 yards of gravel. Then they build the maze, rink, warming house and bars.
Harrell, an ice entrepreneur, decided to build the maze in Eagan a year ago after a Stillwater partnership abruptly fell apart. Before deciding to return to Viking Lakes, Harrell considered other sites for the enlarged event, but he felt the lure of the Vikings' home base.
Harrell had months to conjure up the 2024 festival, and visitors will feel it. He will use 2 million pounds of ice in 2024 compared with 1 million a year ago.
Another change: Harrell is dropping prices from 2023. He's also selling entry by the day and dropping the timed entries. Adult entry will be $19.99 (down from $21.99). Kids ages 5-15 are $9.99 and those younger than 5 are free.
Attendance was strong in 2023. Harrell hoped for 30,000 visitors and drew 55,000, he said.
Harrell also plans a dramatic ice-sculpting contest, providing artists with 20-30 blocks of ice instead of the usual 5-10 blocks seen at other events. Each block weighs 300 pounds. The sculptors will have about five days to work and retired artists will judge them.
"We've got a lot of ice sculptor friends from around the nation so people will be flying in for this," Harrell said.