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A look behind the scenes of the 2021 Luminary Loppet

The Luminary Loppet looked a little different this past winter, as local group size restrictions lead to a location change from its typical setting at Lake of the Isles to the trails of Theodore Wirth Park. Without skipping a beat, volunteers threw on masks and assembled as usual to create and place over 1,200 ice luminaries along the course, as well as create the signature ice sculptures that make the Luminary Loppet such a magical night – including “Ice Henge” pictured below.

One volunteer, Todd, shares his experience and an inside look into the process behind the magic:

“About five years ago, a good friend of mine asked if I wanted to help assemble the ice sculptures on Lake of the Isles. Ever since, it has become an anticipated winter tradition to return to the lake with friends to work on the sculptures.”

Volunteers bundled up and prepared for a range of anywhere from two to six hour days outside for the multistage process that goes behind creating the sculptures. 

“We used refrigerator-sized, hollow wood forms to create the shape.  A few people would handle the hose – it’s no garden hose, it’s actually the same equipment used for snowmaking – and fill the forms with water, one layer at a time. Layers were essential to creating a block that was frozen all the way through, as pouring too much water at once would significantly increase the freezing time. We poured a layer, let it freeze, and poured the next with a total of maybe 8 to 10 layers that were each around 3 inches thick, per ice block. At the end of the day, we’d drain the hose so that it didn’t freeze.”

After the ice blocks were created came the most demanding task: tilting the sculptures up into a standing position, and assembling them into place.

“We had a big crew of around 20 people or more for [assembly]. We would remove part of the wood form, attach long boards to the ice for something to grip, and attach skis at a 90 degree angle to the wood planks to stabilize the ice once it was tilted upright. Typically, we fit the sculptures into a measured hole in the ice containing water, and freeze it into place. Without the lake this year, however, we created our own “mini pond” to serve as a platform for the sculpture.

On a normal Luminary year at the lake, you may find a spinning ice carousel propelled by a motor, as well as the yearly staples including ice spires, cylindrical sculptures, the Ice Pyramid, the Enchanted Forest, Ice-Cropolis, Ice-ter Island Head, and Ice Henge. However, Todd notes that there were upsides to relocation to the ski trails.

“One of the highlights of the location change was seeing so many familiar faces skiing past while we worked on ‘Ice Henge’.”  

Todd has also volunteered as a course marshal and as a photographer, has a daughter who skis with Loppet Nordic Racing, and enjoys walking the Theodore Wirth trails with his wife and dog. 

“I come back every year for the fun – I don’t think any of us would be out there in sub-zero weather if we weren’t having a blast…not to mention a hard day’s work at the volunteer site was often capped off with a Surly!”

Come join the community! If you are interested in helping out for the 2022 Luminary Loppet, contact to learn more.