FRANKENMUTH, Mich. — In a world where it seems like just about everything is being cancelled, I present to you one event that is not. The 30th annual Zehnder’s Snowfest will take place from Jan. 29 – 31, 2021 in Frankenmuth, Mich. Visitors who arrive early from Jan. 24 and later can watch as giant snow blocks are turned into snow sculptures.
The wintertime tradition has been modified with a much smaller footprint this year. There will be 60 ice sculptures as well as 10 snow sculptures for viewing. Everything is being done with safety precautions in mind due to the COVID-19 pandemic. That means live music, fireworks, rides and the petting zoo are all canceled this year.
“We’re excited to try to keep things as much as normal as possible as we look forward to inviting people to come visit Frankenmuth,” said John Shelton, vice president of sales and marketing at Zehnder’s of Frankenmuth. “First and foremost when we started planning back in August, we say that the most important thing is keeping people safe in a fun environment. Right now, we’re going to do Friday-Saturday-Sunday only. Really, the focus of Snowfest is going to be the opportunity is to get out and enjoy the artwork of ice and snow carvings. It’s not a competition–we’re basically having commissioned pieces of artwork that people can come and enjoy. It’s a chance to get out and do something…get some fresh air, visit Frankenmuth, visit the shops, there’s always take-out.”
He continued: “Unfortunately, a lot of the things people have come used to at Snowfest we’re not able to do. For example, the warming tent. There’s no fireworks, petting zoo and rides and things of that nature. We had to prevent, where at certain times, these mass gatherings that we are trying to avoid. We also shrunk the event down. Typically, Snowfest would start on a Wednesday and would conclude with our American Culinary Hot Food Competition on that Monday. We’re going to have 10 snow blocks at Zehnder’s and our neighbors across the street, the Bavarian Inn Restaurant. We will have a 75-block ice piece: It’s going to be a replica of a train station with a caboose and an engine. That’s being sponsored by Pepsi. Then, we’ll have throughout Zehnder’s and throughout town about 60 ice carvings.”
In the past, people could watch them work on the ice carvings and the snow sculptures. Will that be happening this year?
“Yeah, you can. They are going to start arriving on Sunday, Jan. 24. They’ll start working on the snow blocks the 25th through Friday the 29th. You have to be done by noon on Friday the 29th to have all of the displays available for viewing. But if you want to meander and kind of walk through and watch them progress on their sculptures, you are more than welcome to do that. We tend to have more local people from the Frankenmuth area who do that. But we’re keeping distance. You won’t be able to get too close and kind of have conversation. We’re going to have it roped off a little bit more than we’ve had in the past. We expect about 40 people in total who will be carving that week. We have a couple of teams from Wisconsin, West Virginia and Ohio are probably our out of state people and then everybody else within the state of Michigan.”
I understand indoor dining is still closed per Gov. Whitmer. Are there areas where people can still enjoy their Frankenmuth chicken dinners?
Shelton answered: “We do have a tent outside that’s heated but you have to keep the sides open. We have seating for about 50 people on a first come, first serve basis. You can get take out here at Zehnder’s and then people go outside. Again, there’s seating on our porch as well. You will see across a couple venues throughout town they are like these igloos where people can sit and comfort. We’ve had that up for several weeks now. That just happened organically through our housekeeping department because they kept saying how our trash cans kept being overflowed. Unbeknownst to us, people were actually coming up, doing a little shopping, eating take out and sitting in their car and eat. We set this up about a month ago just to make it a little more convenient to people so they don’t have to sit in their car and eat. There’s takeout available at Zehnder’s, Bavarian Inn, Davinci’s, the majority of restaurants in town. We’re hearing rumors that in-door dining is not going to start until Feb. 1st. Literally the day after Snowfest.”
I noticed on the Snowfest website you are selling a sweatshirt and an official pin.
“People collect them. This is like our 30th year. We’ve gotten a following on our Snowfest pins. Again, we’re trying to keep some of the things that traditionally were part of Snowfest and the pin was right up there. We’re selling them online. If you come to Snowfest, anytime from now until Jan. 31st, we do have them available in our guest services area to purchase. We’ve also designed some type of sweatshirt. We just put it online this year understanding that probably crowds are going to be a little bit smaller. Those who do collect them and those who would like to purchase them, we tried to make it a little bit more convenient. The pin has a polar bear with a mask on it. I think it’s going to be one of the historic type of merchandise. Hopefully, this is the last time we have to have any type of event that has to have a mask on. It’s doing well we just put it up over the last few days. We’ll continue to see how that goes for us.”
I understand everything at Snowfest is being done with the safety precautions in mind.
“Correct. That’s first and foremost. For everybody, our guests, staff and so forth. Our emphasis is to make sure that we’re following all of the CDC guidelines, protocols: Wear a mask, wash your hands and social distancing. We will be making sure those guidelines are adhered to. Obviously, the events have been decreased.”
With event after event being canceled, this is a breath of fresh air. I’m glad and I’m sure many others are that Snowfest is still going forward.
“We’ve heard that from people. Back in August when we started planning this, there’s been so many unknowns. We didn’t know we were going to be shut down back in early October. We kind of made the decision, let’s move forward. We didn’t want to start out by saying, ‘No.’ Because that’s all we’ve been hearing all year long. We made the decision as an organization, let’s move forward. But again, everything had to be done under the umbrella of safety first. We felt good about that. I really thought, to be honest, it might be in jeopardy once we weren’t doing in-room dining. Will we still do Snowfest? We came to the conclusion that it was good to do. We were getting feedback from the local community and businesses. If there is anyway possible, we would be supportive of what you’re trying to do. We felt that this was a good kickstart to 2021 getting back to what we’re used to.”
Any other final comments you’d like to add?
“I appreciate you giving me the opportunity to let people know that Snowfest is still going on. This reminds me of the very first Snowfest. We started out with nine ice carvings and about 10 snow blocks. We didn’t have any idea what we were doing. It turned out to be very, very successful. It’s almost like we went Back to the Future on this one. Those who weren’t at the very first Snowfest 30 years ago, you’ll get a feel of what it looked like in 2021.”
Once again, the 30th annual Zehnder’s Snowfest will take place from Jan. 29 – 31, 2021. However, guests may arrive early to watch the snow sculptures being built.
For more information about the Zehnder’s Snowfest, visit https://www.zehnders.com/snowfest/