2023 Zehnder’s Snowfest returns to Frankenmuth with more ice sculptures and fireworks

The high school snow carving competition will return to Zehnder's Snowfest in Frankenmuth, Mich. (Gloria Rzucidlo/AmericaJR)

Frankenmuth, Mich. — The Zehnder’s Snowfest wintertime festival returns to downtown Frankenmuth, Mich. from Wednesday, Jan. 25 through Sunday, Jan 29. While there may be less snow sculptures, there will be more ice carvings and two fireworks shows for the first time ever. Most of the activities are free to enjoy.

I spoke one-on-one with John Shelton, Vice President of sales and marketing at Zehnder’s of Frankenmuth. He told me about all of the fun and excitement that is planned for this year’s Snowfest.

Please give me some highlights of the 2023 Zehnder’s Snowfest.

“We’re looking forward to another great event,” Shelton said. “Probably one of the biggest changes we’re making for the first time in the history of Snowfest..we’re going to have two nights of fireworks. The first night being Friday, Jan. 27 and historically, we’ve always had it on that Saturday, which we are doing. Both times are at 6:45 p.m. on Friday and Saturday. One of the other things, Mother Nature hasn’t been cooperating with us here in Michigan. Unfortunately, we’re not able to make enough snow for all of the snow carving events we had. We had to cancel the world class event but in lieu of that we’re adding more ice.

“We have four, 10-block ice sculptures, an additional 13 ice sculptures, four-block ones. We’re going to have about 150 ice carvings throughout town. We still have children’s snow sculpting division, our high school division is going to be taking place the weekend and our state snow sculpting competition. There’s plenty of entertainment—lots of bands. The bulk of the activity is on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. We actually officially kick off Snowfest on Wednesday, Jan. 25 with our ‘All Things Chocolate’ baking contest.”

Are there any new activities that did not happen in 2022?

“We’ve never kind of gone into, as we look at each year of Snowfest, we have to come up with another kind of wow factor. The event itself is that wow factor. What we try to do is build on what’s been working well. What we’ve determined is that people really like to see from start to finish. They like to see the chainsaws and the noise of how people are finishing that artwork. We just try to add on to that through more hands-on experience we can try to give people in watching how these sculptures are developed is pretty cool. That’s what we really try to focus on. The other portion is…how do we come up with different ways to entertain people. Like I said, we added a couple of more amusement rides this year, the petting zoo, the donkey rides, all of that stuff is still popular. The formula has worked for us for the last 31 years so instead of trying to change the formula, we just say…how do we enhance the formula?”

When is the best time of day to come and watch the snow and ice carvings happen?

“It takes about eight to 10 hours to do a 10-block piece. They are going to start that as early as on Wednesday. All of the pieces will be done by probably Friday evening. If you want to watch from A to Z, I would say Thursday afternoon and all the way through the weekend. As of Friday night-Saturday morning, all of the pieces will be done.”

Can you tell me about the activities inside the warming tent?

“On Wednesday, we kick off with our ‘All Things Chocolate’ baking contest that’s sponsored by Michigan Sugar. Then, we have entertainment on that day as well. On Thursday, we have bingo, which is popular for our empty nesters sponsored by 97.3 JOE FM. Starting Friday is where your bands. Friday is country night. We have a karaoke contest sponsored by WKCQ. Literally, you’re going to have music from 3 p.m. to midnight on Friday. On Saturday, we actually start at 9:30 in the morning with the 338th Army band. They have a full orchestra, they do a patriotic concert. Our veterans really seem to like that. It’s one of my favorites, to be honest. From there, we have The Saucecats performing, we have magic shows, face painting, we conclude with The Rock Show starting at 8 o’clock all the way to midnight. Then, on Sunday, we have entertainment from Noon to 5 p.m. If you like music and food, we’re the place to be at.”

Will the ice rink be returning? I heard it was popular last year!

“Outstanding. That’s part of the Frankenmuth Convention and Visitors Bureau Chamber. They opened up last year for the first time. We get to embrace that as part of Snowfest activities. Once again, we’re doing the same thing. Last year, they had over 18,000 people from November to February take advantage of that activity. It’s always busy, it looks great. That’s a wonderful opportunity that’s right in the heart of downtown Frankenmuth. It’s great and it’s very inexpensive. You can rent ice skates for $13 for basically unlimited time. So it’s very affordable for all families.”

You said there’s two fireworks shows. Where is the best place to watch them?

“Zehnder’s parking lot is an outstanding place. You can’t miss it. They’re going to come right over the river. That is probably the prime spot to watch the fireworks. Some people will park over by the golf courses. There’s a nice view. You need to be in your car to do that. If you are standing outside, behind Zehnder’s parking lot is ideal.”

Can you discuss the parking and transportation options?

“We have a shuttle available for Friday-Saturday-Sunday starting at 11 a.m. from Bronner’s parking lot. It will take you over to the Covered Bridge. Then, you walk over the bridge and basically you’re downtown. It’s over by the Bavarian Lodge Hotel and Restaurant. For our visitors who were unable to get rooms in Frankenmuth, who are staying in the outlying area of Birch Run, we actually have shuttle available from Birch Run as well from the different hotels into downtown Frankenmuth. Parking is always going to be something that’s a challenge because you’re looking at 60,000 plus people coming on Saturday but hey, we’re used to it. We try to tell people, the best thing to do is drop people off and take the shuttle from Bronners. Everybody thinks they’re going to find that spot in Zehnder’s parking lot. Downtown parking is going to be pretty much gone by Noon on Saturday for sure.”

It sounds like a lot of fun activities are planned for the week.

“We believe we have something for everyone—young and old alike from the toddler to grandma and grandpa. Come out and enjoy Zehnder’s Snowfest. The weather looks good. It’s a great way to get out of the cabin fever of the winter here in Michigan.”

Any other final comments you want people to know?

“We encourage you to come and visit us. Enjoy the sights and sounds of Snowfest, of Frankenmuth and obviously, take time to have one of our famous chicken dinners.”

Once again, Zehnder’s Snowfest kicks off on Wednesday, Jan. 25 and continues through Sunday, Jan. 29. Ice sculptures will remain on display a few days after that–weather permitting. Free shuttles are offered from Friday-Sunday from Bronner’s and Birch Run Premium Outlets and hotels.

For more information, go to: https://www.zehnders.com/snowfest/. To print the full schedule of events, click here.

video by Jason Rzucidlo / AmericaJR

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