Check Out the Lake Geneva Winterfest for Awesome Winter Activities!

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This winter we visited Lake Geneva in Wisconsin for the 26th Annual Winterfest. Yes, it still meant cold and snowy weather, but luckily it was before the major arctic blast and the temperatures were still above zero! This event, hosted around the Flat Iron Park and in front of The Riviera, has the national snow sculpting championship in the United States. To bring more than just the amazing, snow sculptures, Lake Geneva builds a few days of events around this! Complete with a Cocoa Crawl, Fire & Ice Bar, Bonfires on the Beach, and many other family-friendly winter activities, Winterfest brings plenty of opportunities to enjoy the beautiful area of Lake Geneva.

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Snow Sculpting

Let’s start with the meat of the festival, the U.S. National Snow Sculpting Championship. The sculptors can have a team of up to 3 sculptors.  This year, 2021, there were 11 teams, with 7 different states being represented. There were teams from Wisconsin (3 teams), Illinois (3 teams), Florida, Alaska, Colorado, Michigan, and Iowa (go Iowa!). The teams have 72 hours to create their masterpieces and then they are voted on by championship officials, and the public.

The event begins when the local Grand Geneva Resort & Spa donates 474 cubic yards of man-made snow. Using this instead of what might be on the ground guarantees that all of the snow is the right consistency to build amazing sculptures. The snow is pulverized into a very fine consistency and then 80 truckloads are transported to the parks where the molds are located. The snow is dumped into an 8-foot wide by 9-foot tall cylindrical mold. How does the snow get packed into the mold? Workers hop into the mold and stomp on the snow (I want that job!). Once the snow is firmly packed, the mold is removed and the snow is ready to be carved!

Woman on balcony overlooking the Flat Iron Park during the Lake Geneva Winterfest. Teams can be seen on the ground working on their snow sculptures.

There are many tools that the sculptors might use, depending on what their end goal is. However, there are a few common tools that are used for this snow sculpting competition in Lake Geneva. There’s the ice chopper, which is used to chop off large amounts of snow from the block, the snow saw which cuts through thick parts of the snow block, a chisel which is used to remove small amounts of snow for those fine details, and a machete which is used to cut through smaller parts of the snow and create curves.

Here’s The Snow Sculptures:

Wisconsin #1 – Tribal Dance

1st place in People’s Choice & 3rd place for the Championship

Illinois #2 – Fowl Play

Illinois #3 – 2020

Florida – The Power of the Mind’s Eye

3rd place in People’s Choice & 2nd place in the Championship

Wisconsin #2 – Inoculation

2nd place in People’s Choice & 1st place for the Championship

Alaska – Ice Cold Craft Beer

Colorado – Daryl

Illinois #1 – The Like-Ness Monster

Michigan – Bird in Hand

This one was sad because in the last hour the beautiful tail of the bird broke off 🙁

Wisconsin #3 – Covid Criminal

Iowa – Fantasy Reef

Cocoa Crawl at Lake Geneva Winterfest

An additional event during Winterfest was the Cocoa Crawl. During this event, 24 businesses hosted either a sweet treat or a special hot cocoa sample. The event was free to participate in, but you did have to pre-register. You were also able to vote for your favorite drink and treat, and when you turned in your voter card you received a little gift. The gift had a bunch of coupons, postcards, and a cute little thing to hang up in a window. This was a great event, with soooo much sugar involved! However, it did get kind of busy inside of the stores that had treats. Typically that wouldn’t both me, but since we were still trying to social distance, we skipped a few places that just had a few too many people for us.

Chocolate cup with chocolate mousse at Baker House during the Lake Geneva Winterfest

The businesses that participated included:

  • The Bottle Shop with puppy chow
  • Avant Cycle Café with samples of their signature hot cocoas
    • Won 2nd place for best hot cocoa
  • SoHo Boutique with cocoa & treats
  • Delaney Street Mercantile with dark chocolate malted milk balls
  • Seasons on the Lake with cocoa & special treats
  • Harbor Shores on Lake Geneva with hot cocoa muddy buddy surprise
  • The Candle Mercantile with white chocolate cocoa
  • Geneva Gifts with chocolate/marshmallow fudge tortilla roll-ups
    • Won 1st place best treat
  • Kilwins Lake Geneva with Kilwins classic shredded chocolate for drinking with your choice of toppings
    • Won 1st place for best hot cocoa
  • Clear Water Outdoor with chocolate candy
  • Lake Geneva Clue Room with cocoa packets and chocolate suckers
  • Thumbs Up with Kahlua hot cocoa with caramel & chocolate sauce (for 21+)
    • Won 3rd place for best hot cocoa
  • Edie Boutique with chocolate-covered toffee with sea salt
    • Won 3rd place for best treat
  • Marigold with chocolate-covered peanut butter balls
  • Inspired Coffee with hot cocoa & coffee
  • Geneva Lakes Jewelry with hot cocoa cookies
  • The Baker House with turtle hot chocolate and treats
  • Maxwell Mansion with housemade craft hot chocolate
  • Constant Cravings with hot chocolate and cocoa gourmet popcorn
  • Antique Unique Vintage with chocolate caramel balls
  • Thrift In with pigs in a blanket (but it was really like a bacon & eggs treat with pretzels and white chocolate)
    • Won 2nd place for best treat
  • Lola’s with chocolate rice crispy squares
  • YMCA with a chocolate treat

Fire & Ice Bar at Lake Geneva Winterfest

This was something I was super excited about because I’ve always wanted to go to an Ice Bar. The Ice Bar was located at Baker House, which was right next door to the hotel we were staying at, Harbor Shores on Lake Geneva. Just to get in there was a $15 cost, which did include one of their specialty drinks. I don’t like to talk negatively, but honestly, both my mother and I did not like our drinks at all. I took maybe 3 sips of mine. Granted, I’m not a big drinker, but there was room for improvement in our opinions.

Woman at Baker House Ice Bar in winter jacket during Lake Geneva Winterfest. Standing next to ice bar with a block of ice that has a luge in it for drinks.

Around the area, there was the Ice Bar, 3 cabanas with fire pits, some heaters, some fire tables, and some fire pits. Unfortunately, they didn’t have all of the fire tables ready to be used, but we got a spot next to one of the heaters. You could also order food from inside, which did look good! On the bar, there were 2 blocks of ice that had little luges built-in for you to take shots. I REALLY wanted to do this, but I didn’t think it was the best idea given the current situation, so next time!

View of the Baker House setup at the Fire and Ice Bar during the Lake Geneva Winterfest. Cabanas, fire pits and heaters, surrounded with lots of snow on the ground.

Ice Sculpture Walk

Since ice goes with snow, they also had an ice sculpture walk throughout the downtown area. There were 26 businesses that participated, and it was fun walking around finding all of them!

More Events at Winterfest in Lake Geneva

There were a handful of other events throughout the week/weekend. There would have been Bonfires on the Beach, but it was WAY to cold for that. If they had it, there would have been s’mores makings and treats you could purchase near the bonfires. They also had a company doing hovercraft rides. We thought that would be fun, but when we talked to them, all of their spots were sold out. However, it looked like either they had a lot of no-shows or the hovercraft actually broke down, because we didn’t see them go out to often.

View of the hovercrafts during Lake Geneva Winterfest. The frozen lake has 2 hovercrafts that are parked on it waiting for guests.

Along Wrigley Drive there was going to be a vendor market. However, again because of the cold I’m guessing, there really weren’t any out. The Maxwell Mansion also hosted Freaky Tiki Winterfest. This included a party for those 21+ on Friday and Saturday evening, and family activities during mid-day throughout the festival. We never made it over there, so I can’t vouch for that unfortunately.

Overall, we had a great time at the Lake Geneva Winterfest! We went Wednesday – Saturday as to try to miss the larger crowds. That worked out great though as it allowed us to watch the snow sculptures take shape into masterpieces. While we were there we stayed at Harbor Shores on Lake Geneva, which I highly recommend. You can read more about the hotel here. We also enjoyed delicious meals from Oakfire and Sprecher’s Restaurant & Pub. Oakfire had an awesome Nutella Pizza which….was very yummy!

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Favorite Part of Winterfest?

I don’t know if I could say I had a favorite part of the Lake Geneva Winterfest. It was all fun, even though it was very cold, and something different to experience! I’m always looking for fun winter vacations, so I’m glad we found this great festival! Have you been to this Winterfest, or what other fun winter events do you like to attend?

Visit Wisconsin for the Lake Geneva Winterfest with the U.S. National Snow Sculpting Championships and many other awesome activities!

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    • liapontarelli

      They were very impressive. How long they stick around all depends on the weather. We got hit with some arctic temperatures right after so I’m sure that helped their lifespan!

  • Linda (LD Holland)

    I remember the first time we visited Lake Geneva in NY we had just got back from Switzerland and a visit to Lake Geneva there. No similarities at all! It would be fun to visit in the winter for the winter festival. I love the creativity of ice and snow sculptures. Hubby would not pass on a cacao crawl! Great that you were able to visit when the crowds were smaller.

  • Umiko

    What a fun festival! Something that I will never experience in Texas. lol. It’s cool to see there’s one participant came from the non-snow state. I wonder if they were sand sculptures back home. The Cocoa Crawl is so tempting!

  • Ramya Pandey

    This definitely sounds exciting, the only sad part is I don’t like winter much. But I am blown away by the creativity displayed by these sculptures. I loved the bird on hand sculpture, it is amazingly creative and beautiful. I liked your candid feedback around the drinks and the activities present around there.

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