Ice Festivals Bring Warmth to Winter in Central PA
Despite the cold temperatures, a handful of outdoor winter festivals thrive, mainly due to the warm, welcoming central Pennsylvania communities in which they’re hosted. Organizers say warm community hospitality is the key to shaking off the winter blues during Chambersburg’s IceFest, January 26-29, or the Lititz Fire & Ice Festival, February 17-20. Both celebrations feature fantastic ice sculptures lining downtown districts, free or low-cost admission and a festive spirit woven throughout community-wide events.
“It’s the community coming together.”
One of the longest-running ice festivals in the state is Chambersburg’s IceFest, celebrating its 16th annual festival in 2017 and attracting at least 10,000 visitors.
“I think the longevity is thanks to the original reason the festival was started: to give people something to do during the winter, and to celebrate a different form of art—ice sculpture. The community has embraced it and made it a stellar event. Plus we keep adding to the event to keep it fresh,” says Penny Shaul, who serves on IceFest’s planning committee.
Three blocks of Chambersburg’s downtown district—King, Washington and Main Streets—are lined with about 70 ice sculptures during the four-day festival. All are sponsored by local businesses and carved by DiMartino Ice, based near Pittsburgh. Crowds gather to see giant blocks of ice transformed into sculptures during live carving demonstrations. The icy artwork varies from year to year, but subjects have ranged from traditional snowmen to fish, trains, tractors and much more. Many of the sculptures are interactive, with visitors able to sit on the sculptures or peek through an opening for charming photo opportunities.
“We wanted to create something free that the whole family could enjoy, something that would reach beyond Franklin County,” Shaul explains. There is no admission to view the ice sculptures; the festival has persevered through all types of weather during the past 15 years.
“We’ve had everything from temperatures in 60’s to three feet of snow the week before the event—which happened last year,” Shaul says. “Warmer weather helps bring out the crowds, but they still come out in cold weather because we also have events held in heated tents.”
One of those events is the Chili Cook-off, featuring professional and amateur cooks who bring a spicy component to the otherwise icy festival. Visitors can pay a small fee to sample the chili concoctions under a big heated tent.
A giant ice slide is one of the most popular additions to the festival, according to Shaul. Taking a turn down the 40-foot-long slide is free, with sleds available on two side-by-side lanes. Shaul says boys from Chambersburg High School’s lacrosse team serve as volunteers.
The SnowFall Ball, Icing on the Cake (cake decorating contest), Polar Dunk Plunge and many more activities are organized by hundreds of community volunteers as part of IceFest. Kids’ activities include a scavenger hunt, obstacle course and more.
Three nonprofit organizations are the driving collaborative force behind IceFest—Downtown Chambersburg, Inc., the Chambersburg Council for the Arts and the Downtown Business Council. But Shaul says the entire community is involved, from businesses putting on mini events, to artists and co-op crafts within businesses, to grade schools providing artwork for shop windows.
Shaul, owner of the downtown shop Here’s Looking at You, says it’s great to see the streets filled with people during the festival. “I think it’s a fantastic opportunity to showcase our downtown…every year people come into the store who haven’t visited our downtown in years,” she says.
Plus, “It’s nice to have something free to do during the end of January when people are going stir crazy.”
The Lititz Fire & Ice Festival
A group of business owners from Lititz Women in Business visited Chambersburg’s IceFest years ago and were inspired to create their own version in Lancaster County. Lititz Fire & Ice Festival’s founder and organizer Dawn Rissmiller was part of that group.
“We saw what they had to offer and decided to make it our own,” she recalls. “Ice was really the foundation, but we added a chili cook-off, vendors, a carnival and other facets. We really just wanted to bring people to Lititz during those months when it was really dead, but the event turned into more than that.”
The Lititz Fire & Ice Festival, now in its 12th year, typically features up to 10 giant ice sculptures and at least 50 smaller sculptures, called “one-blocks” because they are carved from one block of ice. The sculptors who provide the talent for Chambersburg’s festival, DiMartino Ice, are also the creative force behind Lititz’s festival, always held over Presidents’ Day weekend. Ice sculptures line the downtown streets and grace Lititz Springs Park as well.
“I think what keeps it going is that every year we make it a little different to keep it fresh,” Rissmiller claims. “Everyone has the winter blues, so it’s a chance to get out and enjoy a nice weekend out. At the Friday night event, you’re smelling the fire, the caramel corn and funnel cakes, seeing the live carvings, and the sculptures lit up in different colors is a breath-taking sight. We’re seeing people year after year from all over the east coast—[from] as far as South Carolina to Connecticut and Maine.”
The “fire” portion of the festival refers to the bonfires located throughout Friday night’s opening festivities and Saturday’s chili cook-off, which was so popular in 2016 that tasting tickets sold out by noon. Rissmiller says there are normally about 75 amateur chefs in addition to chefs from restaurants, each of them representing a charity and raising money for causes from the MS Society to Warwick Baseball.
Rissmiller combines her position as event organizer with her role as advisor to the Lititz Leos, the youth service organization affiliated with the Lions Club. It’s the Lititz Leos who provide the manpower to run the event. “They learn life-changing skills—how to make change, plan events [and] work with budgets, town legislation and police,” says Rissmiller.
Hundreds of volunteers and dozens of service organizations, clubs, charities and community groups are also involved.
Kelly Withum, executive director of the downtown organization Venture Lititz, says, “She probably wouldn’t tell you this, but because of the involvement of the teens from Leo Club, [Dawn] has won a national award.”
Withum says Lititz’s downtown region, approximately four-and-a-half square blocks, features more than 70 retail shops and eateries.
“We are grateful for the extra foot traffic during the traditionally slow first quarter. The festival is also great because we all have cabin fever, so it’s nice to have a great, fun event—granted you may have to bundle up, but that’s part of the fun,” Withum says.
Planning Your Visits
January 26-29 / icefestpa.com
Lititz Fire & Ice Festival:
February 17-20 / lititzfireandicefestival.com
• Dress in layers. Don’t forget hats, mittens, gloves, warm socks and boots.
• Visit either festival’s warm tents, indoor events and/or bonfires to stay toasty.
• Plan your visit around downtown shops you’d like to visit to take a break from the cold.
• Both festivals’ kids’ activities are focused on daytime hours Saturday when temperatures are generally a little warmer.
• Bring your camera or phone fully charged and ready for photo ops!