Super Bowl Edition: Luminary Loppet

We’ve been fans of the Luminary Loppet since we first traversed the path around Lake of the Isles in Minneapolis a few years ago. It’s a fantastic, magical night out to embrace the horrible cold weather that starts to eat away at your feeling that things will ever be light and warm again.

We were excited to once again don our boots, mittens, and every other warm piece of clothing we had, along with a bunch of hand warmers we got from Target, to take on the Loppet this year. After a nice late afternoon nap (naps are a gift we give ourselves as human beings, there should be more naps in life) we headed to a parking ramp in Uptown near the library where a bus would take us to the starting point at Loppet village.

We waited a good 25 minutes for the bus to arrive. We spent the short ride to the lake frantically adding another sock to Becky’s feet, dropping hand warmers inbetween the layers. It had been snowing all day, and the wind was going to be stinging cold tonight.

We checked in at the tent, got our official glow sticks to wear on the course. We didn’t know that the sticks would be the most reliable lights of the evening.

Before we begin to lean heavily into our impression of the Loppet of 2018, we need to stress how much we support the Loppet Foundation. They are a nonprofit organization whose goal is to provide “year-round outdoor activities in the Minneapolis area.” We donate to them every year, whether or not we attend the Loppet, because we believe in all of the activities they provide for all ages. Be sure to check them out and see if there’s an awesome activity to fit your schedule.

That aside, according to the Star Tribune,

This year at the annual Luminary Loppet, which takes place Feb. 3 on Lake of the Isles in Minneapolis, visitors can catch new additions to the array of illuminated ice sculptures, including six huge penguin puppets, a forest made from 100, seven-foot-tall ice spires that people can move through, and an ice concert with horns, tubas, drums, xylophones and other instruments carved entirely from ice.

These additional sculptures were made possible in part by a Minnesota State Arts Board grant for $35,330 in the “Minnesota Festival Support” category.

According to GOMN:

One of the Loppet’s most popular events, the Luminary Loppet, promises to be bigger and better than ever in 2018.

That’s because the event, which features candlelit trails and an array of ice sculptures on Lake of the Isles, falls on Feb. 3 – the day before the Super Bowl. Organizers are expecting a record crowd of 10,000 spectators.

This Super Bowl Edition of the Luminary Loppet was too big, so it failed!

Maybe it was the snow, or the wind, but the  luminaries were more often unlit than lit. It made for a very dark course and each unlit luminary became a block of ice/tripping hazard that more than once we stumbled upon in the dim illumination provided by the city’s lights reflecting off the clouds. They looked rather depressing.

The fresh snow meant this year we would contend with skiers throughout the course, skiers that often did not bother to change course to avoid people. To be fair though, the whole thing is possible because they are putting on skiing events all weekend.

We didn’t get far onto the lake before we came to the realization that this course was going to be hell. The snow was usually packed down in previous years, but this year it was still loose so that every fifth step was a stumble into a pothole. Without the lit luminaries, it was difficult to tell if there was an actual area where the snow would be firmer and where it might be. We stumbled our way over to the fire dancers and watched for a while. Each of us probably having the same thoughts.

“There is no way we are going to be able to do the whole course this year.”

We don’t understand why the luminaries were unlit because the same Star Tribune article states:

A long-time Minnesotan named Jim Young is in charge of the Luminary Loppet Festival. In fact, he’s been a volunteer for many years, beginning with a job that was far less glamorous….“We have a team of people that go around and relight candles,” said Young.

We were at the Loppet for 2 hours+ and did not see any such team, but we were greeted on the way out by 3 volunteers standing at the door.

The positive experience from the 2018 Loppet was the elevation of the Fire dancers. One of our favorite stops, people usually stay and watch them for a few minutes and move on.  Due to their location, and one of the few things lit on the lake, the dancers drew hundreds of people at a time. It’s good for them, and we are pleased that they got their due!

The wind was coming from the north, and with it little spiky hard snowflakes. We would be heading into the wind for the first half of the walk. Becky put on a ski mask and covered her mouth with a scarf. Even then it was painful. As someone with glasses, every time I use a scarf in the winter, I end up fogging up my glasses with my breath. So it’s always a choice between seeing or not hurting my face.

Instead of going around the whole lake, we decided to do the short cut and head straight across. Half way to the other side, we came to one of the new attractions this year, the ice forest. It consisted of a hundred 7-foot-tall thin pyramids with candles inside. It was pretty cool actually, though the effect is somewhat dampened by the hundreds of people all around it so you can only see a few at a time.

We moved on, trudging, stumbling, tripping over unlit luminaries to the enchanted forest, which is Becky’s favorite part of the event. This part of the course goes over a small nub of land with hundreds of tiny lanterns in the trees and a dozen ice sculptures, though sculpture may be too generous a term – dioramas? Collections of ice shapes?

Our first year, we were able to sit off to the side and look up into the trees. This year, it was elbow to elbow throughout the forest. Less than half the lanterns were lit. And Becky got to see a guy peeing on a tree because they also don’t have any facilities around the course that can take two hours to walk. (No, the guy was not me.)

We walked straight back the way we came. Mercifully, the wind was at our backs. And this year, I had the brilliant thought to make two large thermoses of hot chocolate for our journey.

We made it back to the entryway area, where there were food booths, beer gardens, a concert, and other stuff. Becky took off her ski mask for the first time all trip after being bundled up. Less than 30 seconds later, she had the pleasure of a passerby cough right in her face.

We didn’t stick around for anything else. We wanted to get back to the car and find some Thai food on the way home.

We hope next year’s luminary loppet isn’t as crowded and is much more luminary. For $17 bucks a ticket (early bird price) and thousands of visitors taking part, it seems like they could have had a few more people going around to re-light some candles.

Like all things Super Bowl, the Luminary Loppet fell victim to the idea to go big or go home. When they did this, it became dangerous and disappointing. We love the fact that they received an art grant for this year, but the creations the money added were unavailable for a majority of the 10,000 people who attended.

Although this year was not as wonderful as past years, we’ll give it another go next year. We just felt bad if this was someone’s first time experiencing the event. If it had been our first, we would have had trouble seeing what all the fuss was about.

This was our final installment of the Super Bowl series. It won. We’re exhausted and ready for the return of the normal.

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2 thoughts on “Super Bowl Edition: Luminary Loppet

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