snow statue from Michigan Tech Archives

Winter Carnival History

Winter Carnival here at Michigan Tech had its beginning back in 1922, when the Student Organization presented a one-night show called the “Ice Carnival.” The show consisted of acts put on in the traditional circus style, with students in costumes providing the animals. The show was held in the old Amphidrome, and in addition to the animal acts there were bands, acts put on by the students, and speed and figure skating contests. This circus theme was continued for the next two years, and while a far cry from the elaborate six-day carnival, it was so enthusiastically received it was decided to make Ice Carnival an annual event.

In an effort to gain publicity for the school and raise money for the Student Organization, the 1924 carnival troupe took to the road and played at various locations around the Copper Country, including Marquette and Calumet. While the tour was not successful financially, it did bring Tech’s name before a great many people in the U.P.

The carnival progressed as the years went on, with the addition of a Carnival Queen and a parade in 1928. One of the highlights of the 1927 carnival was a sled ride behind an airplane at speeds up to 60 mph.

After 1929, there was a lapse of four years during which nothing was done about presenting a carnival. In 1934, Blue Key Fraternity assumed sponsorship and put one on that year. The Winter Carnival of ‘34 looked more like the carnival of today, with a two-game hockey series with Minnesota, a parade, skiing, skating, and snowshoe races, and a dance to round out the two-day program. The focal point of carnival was the parade, with fraternities, professional societies, and other student organizations going all-out to make the biggest and best float. One of the comical sidelights was a hockey game between Michigan Tech faculty and the local businessmen. The men of higher learning were outwitted on the ice, and the game went to the local merchants.

1936 saw the first snow statues to be used in the carnival. Statues were built not only by students and student organizations, but also by local school children. The Houghton Rotary Club offered a prize for the best statue built by the local children. As information on the building methods was passed on from year to year, the statues became bigger and more elaborate. Statues by various campus groups would reflect the nature of the organization. In 1941 the civil engineers won first place with their statue of a bridge, the Tech Flying Club built a plane, and the E.E.’s built a generator.

Once the ski tow was built on Ripley Hill, ski meets became an important part of carnival activities. In 1940, just after the tow was completed, the Michigan State Mateur Ski Championship meet was held here during carnival, and now meets are scheduled to coincide with carnival every year.

During the war years, carnival activities slowly ground to a halt, the last attempt at putting one on being made in 1943. The carnival that year was plagued with problems. A roaring blizzard two days before judging practically ruined the snow statues, but a concentrated effort in the final days got the statues ready on time. Students were being drafted by the score, transportation facilities were limited, and intercollegiate hockey games were cancelled. Tech did play a hockey game at the carnival, however, facing-off against the Copper Country All-Stars.

The next Winter Carnival was held in 1946. It was this year that saw the first judging of skits, which were put on in the Kerredge Theatre in Hancock. The Kerredge has since burned down, but the skit competition remains as one of the most widely enjoyed parts of the carnival.

Another popular feature of the earlier carnivals was the Ice Revue, a professionally staged ice show featuring Copper Country skaters which was held in Dee Stadium. This was replaced by an informal skating party and dance in 1952, and 1953 a “Boom Copper Day” was staged to replace the skating party-dance. For this an “Old Time Gambling Hall” was set up in Dee Stadium and dancing, gambling (with stage money of course), a chorus line of co-eds, a barroom skit presented by the Tech Little Theatre group, and a soft drink “bar” were featured. In 1954 Fun Night was initiated which consisted of carnival booths set up in Dee Stadium by various organizations.

Fun Night was replaced in 1962 with a Concert by the Four Preps—sponsored by the Student Council. Also initiated, or rather re-initiated in 1962 was the Flare Pageant. This event, once in past carnivals, saw skiers carrying colored torches at night down Mont Ripley, forming intricate patterns of light.


1922

Student organizations held a one-night Ice Carnival. The show was staged in a traditional circus setting with students costumed as animals.

1924

A circus big top was pitched in front of the old Shop Building, and the show was performed in a circus sawdust ring.

1928

The Queens Competition began, judging women on their beauty, ice skating, and skiing skills.

1930

Carnival lay dormant due to the stock market crash of 1929.

1934

Blue Key National Honor Fraternity began organizing Winter Carnival.

1935

A two-game intercollegiate hockey series with the University of Minnesota was added.

1936

Michigan Tech students and local school children began building snow statues.

1940

Lack of snow postponed Winter Carnival until February, a permanent change. With the installation of a ski hill, a downhill ski racing meet was added.

1944

Winter Carnival was canceled because of World War II.

1946

Winter Carnival was enthusiastically resumed, and a Stage Revue was added.

1947

The Beards Competition began.

1959

Two buses brought fifty-two girls to Michigan Tech for the Sno-Ball. A tradition begins.

1962

The Flare Pageant down the ski hill was added; it's now known as the Torchlight Parade.

1963

A Tall Tales Tournament was started, but was short-lived.

1966

Snowballs were sent to Southwest Texas State University for a campus-wide snowball fight.

1979

A Canadian band, the "Guess Who," performed two Winter Carnival concerts.

1981

Comedian Pat Paulsen performed for Winter Carnival audiences.

1993

A Tug-of-War competition on ice was added.