Winter Carnival

Winter Carnival History

Michigan Tech Winter Carnival began back in 1922, when the Student Organization presented a one-night Ice Carnival. The show consisted of circus-style acts, with students dressed up in animal costumes. There were also bands, other student performances, and speed and figure-skating contests. The show was staged at the old Amphidrome, now the site of Dee Stadium, on the downtown Houghton waterfront and the birthplace of professional hockey.

This circus theme continued for the next two years, and while a far cry from the internationally known six-day extravaganza it would become, it was so enthusiastically received it was decided to make Ice Carnival an annual event.

Five students stand with shovels on a college campus with a plywood statue form under a tree in front of a brick building for Winter Carnival.
A lot has changed, but Huskies still pile, water, stomp, and mold snow to make the snow statues that are the most iconic symbol of Winter Carnival.
Three young women and a young man pile snow outside. One woman is wearing a Michigan Tech sweatshirt and another is wearing a Leland shirt, with a brick building in the background on a college campus.
It's on! Huskies work from dark to dawn during All-Nighter. Statues are judged bright and early the next day.

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 Upper Peninsula.

Carnival grew as the years went by, 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 four-year lapse. In 1934, Blue Key Fraternity decided to bring Carnival back, assuming sponsorship. 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 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 local business owners. The higher-learning team was outwitted on the ice; the game went to the area merchants.

1936: Michigan Tech Builds First Winter Carnival Snow Statues

The snow statues displayed at carnival were constructed not only by University students and organizations, but also by local school children. Houghton Rotary Club offered a prize for the best statue built by area kids.

The tradition grew as designs and construction were innovated and information on building methods was passed on from year to year. Statues became bigger and more elaborate, designed to reflect the nature, goals, and accomplishments of the campus groups building them. In 1941 the civil engineers won first place with their statue of a bridge, the Tech Flying Club built a plane, and electrical engineers built a generator.

A Husky mascot makes a round O of his mouth copying a fish statue made of ice and snow outside in the winter.
Snow statues have evolved over the years; but Blizzard T. Husky is always on hand to cheer on the builders—just like he was 2005 (and doesn't seem to have aged a day!)
Wide-angle of a snow statue with a saloon and wild west figures with an old yellow and burgandy mansion in the background.
Phi Kappa Tau in Hancock, Michigan, is traditionally a top performer in the snow statue competition.

Once a ski tow was built on Ripley Hill—now known as Mont Ripley Ski Area and the oldest ski area in Michigan—ski meets became an important part of Carnival activities. In 1940, just after the tow was completed, the Michigan State Amateur Ski Championship meet was held there during carnival, and now meets are scheduled to coincide with Carnival every year.

The War Years: Michigan Tech Winter Carnival Put on Hold

Carnival activities slowly ground to a halt during World War II; the last attempt at putting one on was in 1943. It was plagued with problems. A roaring blizzard two days before judging practically ruined the snow statues, but a concentrated last-minute effort got the statues ready on time. Students were being drafted by the score, transportation facilities were limited, and intercollegiate hockey games were canceled. Tech did play a hockey game at that year, facing off against the Copper Country All-Stars.

The next Winter Carnival was in 1946. It was this year that skits became a part of the competition. Performances were put on in the former Kerredge Theatre in Hancock, which burned down in 1959. The skit competition, which now takes place at Michigan Tech’s Rozsa Center for the Performing Arts, remains one of the most widely enjoyed parts of Carnival.

Changes in Winter Carnival Events Over the Years

Organizers have always looked for ways to keep Carnival entertaining for audiences and fun for participants. The Ice Revue was a popular feature of earlier Carnivals. The professionally staged ice show featuring Copper Country skaters was held at Dee Stadium. In 1952 it was replaced by an informal skating party and dance. In 1953 a Boom Copper Day replaced the skating party-dance, with an old-time gambling hall set up in the Dee featuring gaming (with stage money, of course!), a chorus line of coeds, a barroom skit presented by the Tech Little Theatre group, and a soft drink bar. In 1954, the event was renamed Fun Night, and consisted of carnival booths set up in Dee Stadium and staffed by various organizations.

Seven young people in winter clothes stand on the ice outside in the snow. Three of them are holding a giant whiskered fish; they are all smiling.
Ice fishing was a Winter Carnival competition category for many years. Here's a big catch from 1999.
Six young women in winter hats and hoods pose in the snow on the Michigan Tech campus outside.
Snow and smiles at the 2000 Snow Olympics at Michigan Tech Winter Carnival.

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. The spectacular event, which had been featured at past carnivals, lit the night as skiers made their way down Mont Ripley, forming intricate patterns with colored torches.

Check out the Winter Carnival timeline for more historical highlights:

1922

A one-night Ice Carnival begins a long-time and beloved Michigan Tech tradition.

1924

A Big Top is pitched in front of the old Shop Building, and the Ice Carnival show is performed in a sawdust Circus ring.

1928

The Queen Competition begins, with candidate judging categories including beauty, ice skating, and skiing skills.

1930

Carnival lay dormant as the nation reels from the stock market crash of 1929.

Two students dress in an elephant costume outside in the snow.
A Elyfunt performed in the 1924 Big Top Show.

1934

Blue Key National Honor Fraternity begins organizing Winter Carnival.

1935

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

1936

Michigan Tech students and local school children build the first Carnival snow statues.

two women sit on the lap of a King Neptune ice and snow sculpture.
A prize-winning statue from 1936.

1940

Lack of snow postpones Winter Carnival until February, a permanent change. With the establishment of Mont Ripley Ski Hill, a downhill ski racing meet is added.

1944

Winter Carnival is canceled due to World War II.

1946

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

Two students on a stage wear tie-dyed accessories. One plays guitar wearing a giant wig; the other plays air guitar.
Winter Carnival Stage Revue performances (these students are truly partying like it's 1999!) continue to pack in the crowds.

1947

The Beards Competition begins.

1959

Two buses bring 52 young women to Michigan Tech for the Sno-Ball—a tradition that would continue for some years.

A man with a beard sits between two women in the 1970s in a black-and-white photo inside during a beard judging contest. The woman with the crown and the other woman are checking the man's beard for softness.
The 1970 Winter Carnival beard judging, by the Queen and her Court, was all about sideburns.
young man with beard sits in an auditorium inside with his hand on his bearded chin with people in the background.
A contestant in the 2000 beard competition awaits judging.

1962

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

1963

A Tall Tales Tournament starts, but is short-lived.

1966

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

Fireworks are shot in the sky in all colors of the rainbow over a ski hill at night.
The light show on Mont Ripley has in recent years included an eye-popping fireworks display.
Four pilots, a stewardess and a man in a 1970s fur jacket hold boxes that say "Snowballs to Texas" Frigid Fairy Tales in front of a Republic Airlines plane with a blue goose logo on its wing.
500 pounds of Copper Country snow wings its way to Texas, a tradition that continued for more than a decade in the 1960s and '70s. (1973 photo courtesy Michigan Tech Archives)

1979

The most successful Canadian rock group of the 1960s and 70s, the Guess Who, a Billboard chart topper, performs two Winter Carnival concerts.

1981

Nationally known comedian Pat Paulsen performed for Winter Carnival audiences.

1993

A Tug-of-War competition on ice was added. Human bowling and human sled dog races were soon to follow.

Four long-haired male musicians with guitars on a poster that says Guess Who.
It isn't often that international rock stars visit Houghton. Guess Who did in 1979.
Four young women hold a thick rope on their knees in the snow in a tug-of-war-game outside with a blue sky and forest treeline in the background.
Let the games begin! The 2016 tug-of-war competition.
A group of men pull a man in a sled down a street in a black and white photo in winter outside.
Human sled dog races in 1963, courtesy Michigan Tech Archives
Three young women pull a sled of three woman and another woman behind in a human sled dog race outside.
Human sled dog races in more recent times.