Winter in Cripple Creek: The Ice Festival
Cripple Creek is usually known as a gold camp or gambling city, but in the winter it is also becoming known locally for the Ice Festival it hosts during the second and third weekends in February. Visitors to the city can enjoy the gambling and hotels as they would during other times of the year, and the colder climate and high altitude are perfect to preserve the ice sculptures that line Bennett Avenue.
This year’s Ice Festival featured a train kids can stand in, a wagon with a slide, an ice maze, and building facades of a jail, firehouse, and saloon, in keeping with the theme of the old west and bringing a touch of whimsy to the normally dusty and quiet town. I think the old timers like Bob Womack, Johnny Nolan, Speck Penrose, and Charlie Tutt would have loved such a distraction from the daily business of life in Cripple Creek when they lived there at the last turn of the century. And they probably wouldn’t have minded the expanded beer garden or the martini luge, either.
It’s been unseasonably warm, in the 50’s for most of the middle of the month, but in Cripple Creek the temperature was perfect for preserving the ice sculptures. Hovering at about 30-36 on the 14th, we were glad the sun came out and gave us a little warmth.
It may have been because we visited the Ice Festival on the first weekend before much was set up, but there weren’t as many sculptures as I had expected. Maybe if the ice fest were a competition, more people would exhibit their artistic ice talent.
I think this ice festival, only two years old, has the potential to take on the dimensions of the snow festival in Breckenridge, which for many years has been hosting a competition where there are no prizes other than paid travel and accommodations for the competitors. Certainly that might encourage more carvers to have their work ready for the first weekend’s massive crowds. According to other visitors, more ice sculptures were available to see and interact with (including a slide!) the weekend after we visited, although the warmer weather began to melt the sculptures and brought a larger crowd which made it hard to see the sculptures. Kids had some long lines to wait in for the maze, slide, and train.
If you go, plan to stay through the evening, because if you think the ice sculptures look amazing during the day, try visiting at night, when the lights turn all the sculptures into a fantasy of color. It’s quite a bit colder at night, though, so make sure you dress appropriately.
The city council of Cripple Creek has decided to host more public entertainment, like the 2 Mile High Club’s Aspen Tours, Cripple Creek Ghostwalks, and the Top of the World Rodeo, in addition to old favorites like Donkey Derby Days, the Once Upon a Time in the West Art Show and the Veterans Rally, in order to bolster the city’s economy and civic awareness. Because outdoor public events not only bring the crowds to the street vendors but to the local businesses, having more free events like the ice festival will certainly bouy the flagging winter economy in Cripple Creek.