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Monday, Jun 24, 2024

Middlebury WinterFest Brings Together Community With A Flurry of Cold Weather Celebrations

<span class="photocreditinline"><a href="">BENJY RENTON</a></span><br />Geography professor Pete Nelson sculpts a snowy masterpiece.
Geography professor Pete Nelson sculpts a snowy masterpiece.

MIDDLEBURY - WinterFest, a four-day celebration of all things winter, came to the Middlebury community for the second year in a row this past week. The events, planned by the Better Middlebury Partnership (BMP), brought together Middlebury residents of all ages to enjoy the best of what the cold has to offer, from winter-themed arts and crafts to snow carving. The organization used to put on the much-enjoyed Chili Fest, but has decided to try something new in the past few years.

 “We’re just trying to get people to have a good time and be outside,” said Chris Hammond, a member of the BMP. “The winters are so long here — take a break and enjoy the experience of living in Vermont!” 

WinterFest kicked off on Friday evening, Feb. 15 with a Lantern Walk that began at Riverfront park. Participants staved off the cold with a warm bonfire and group songs before taking their homemade paper lanterns for a walk through town.

A furry four-legged friend enjoys the crisp air and the celebratory Winterfest scene.

On Saturday morning, Middlebury’s youngest residents enjoyed winter-themed storytelling by librarian Kathryn Laliberte at the Ilsley Public Library. Parents and children sat on pillows as they participated in an interactive reading of “Snowmen at Night,” wondering what it is snowmen get up to when people aren’t watching. (Spoiler: they drink ice cold cocoa and go ice skating). Afterwards, the kids created snow measuring sticks, which they decorated with yarn scarves, and calculated the amount of snow that had accumulated. 

Laliberte said that her favorite part of WinterFest is the spirit it brings to the town. “I like that it gives the community a chance to come together and do something for low cost,” she said.

Over the weekend, local residents and college students packed Kenyon Arena to see the ice skating show. Local skaters ages five to eighteen joined Middlebury students on the ice to skate along to Broadway’s most famous hits. In the first act, young skaters in multicolored unicorn onesies swept across the ice to “Best Day Ever” from the SpongeBob Musical and leather-clad Middlebury College Figure Skating club members danced to “You’re the One That I Want” from Grease. University of Vermont’s synchronized skating team circled the rink, arms linked at the shoulders, to a medley of songs.

Alongside the group skates were solo performances by seniors Yiyi Jin and Hannah Krutiansky, alum Lydia Waldo ’18 and local ninth grader Emma Cooley. The special guests of the show were Katarina DelCamp and Maxwell Gart, a skating pair who recently placed tenth at the 2019 U.S. Junior National Championships. 

WinterFest attendees could capture the magic of the day with photos.

In the audience on Saturday was Susan Veguez, who started the local skating program 45 years ago and for years sewed all the costumes, designed the choreography and selected the music for the show. Back then, the local skaters were performing on Middlebury’s old ice rink, without a proper Zamboni. “We used to have to line up the kids with shovels and clean the ice off before we skated,” Veguez said.

On Sunday, WinterFest continued with a snow carving competition at the College Park in town. Eight teams, competing for a prize of $250, chipped away at large blocks of snow with hammers, ice picks and saws. Team projects varied widely, with the Habitat for Humanity team replicating a house they’re currently building on Seymour Street and Middlebury women’s leadership club BOLD creating a car.

Middlebury families walk with lanterns, lighting up the cold night.

By one in the afternoon, the group from WomenSafe was halfway through creating a protest scene with dyed, multicolor snow-protesters holding signs. “It’s a working together and building a just world protest” said Kerri Duquette-Hoffman, a Women’s Safe employee. Across the park, the team from Carpenter & Costin chipped away at a block of snow over four feet tall destined to become a one-eyed minion from “Despicable Me,” complete with its iconic blue uniform.

Miniature activist snowpeople tout their causes.

Alongside the ice show and the snow carving this past weekend, the community also enjoyed free, winter-themed movies at the Marquis, including “Frozen” and “Happy Feet,” and a brews and BBQ event held at Otter Creek Brewing.

WinterFest concluded on Monday, the first day of school break for students in town, with a free ice skating event at the Memorial Sports Center followed by an afternoon of sledding at the Parks and Rec gym.