116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
Winterfest may be the smallest of the Amana Colonies’ five major festivals, but when Mother Nature cooperates, it packs a wallop.
The Jan. 14 snow dump, followed by frigid temperatures, ensures the ice sculptures won’t melt anytime soon. Lots of activities are on deck — indoors and out — to skate through Saturday’s daylong festival, Jan. 22.
Dana Jensen wasn’t personally thrilled to see the latest snowstorm and chilly forecast, but from a professional point of view, the inches couldn’t pile up at a better time, while the temperatures take a nose dive.
“For Winterfest, they’re great, because we have a lot of activities that are based around winter,” said Jensen, event manager for Amana Colonies Festivals Inc. “So we kind of want some snow, kind of want a little bit of the colder weather. It’s hard to get the ice sculptures to stick around for more than a few hours in the summer.”
Where: Amana Colonies
When: Saturday, Jan. 22, 2022
Main Amana sites: Festhalle Barn, 4707 220th Trail; Market Barn, 707 46th Ave.; Amana Colonies Convention & Visitors Bureau, 622 46th Ave.; Hotel Millwright, 800 48th Ave.
Details and brochure: amanacolonies.com/things-to-do/festivals/winterfest
Winterfest, which began in 2005, didn’t get put on pandemic pause. The 2020 festival took place before the COVID-19 shutdown, and with some modifications, the 2021 version invited people with cabin fever to step outdoors and breathe some frigid fresh air. Indoor mini-golf was canceled, but the outdoor events moved forward, with masks required, and the popular wine walk still was held. Social distancing was easy for that, Jensen said, since participants moved outdoors between indoor sites around town, and none of them were crowded.
Masks are encouraged this year, and will be available at the Visitors Center, the Market Barn and the Festhalle Barn. Participants also will be asked to socially distance wherever possible.
“With the outdoor events, it’s super easy to spread out a bit more,” Jensen said. “We have a lot of space that we can utilize at the Market Barn. And we aren’t going to utilitze the full nine holes this year for mini-golf, so we’ll have a little bit more space in the Festhalle, as well.”
The first event of the day is the Amana Freezer 5K Run/Walk. Registration begins at 8:30 a.m. at the Carding Studio in the Hotel Millwright complex. The race kicks off at 10 a.m., taking participants to East Amana and back. Cost is $35 at amanacoloniestrails.weebly.com with proceeds benefiting the Kolonieweg Recreational Trail.
The most popular event may find the contestants warmer than most of their viewers. It’s the beard contest, which begins at 2 p.m. at the Market Barn, in the green space at 707 46th Ave., across the road and a short hop south of the Festhalle Barn.
“Anyone is able to compete and show off their facial hair,” Jensen said. “We offer prizes for things like most unique; longest beard; most colorful.”
The beard contest committee decides on the categories, she added, so while she doesn’t know all the categories and prizes, she said, “It’s always fun to come out and see everything. We have a great emcee — Ben Macumber, who will host the event. It’s always a good time, and it’s at the end of our Winterfest games.”
While the hairs on the chinny chin chins are center stage for the beard contest, participants can pig out, so to speak, with the ham-put, tossing a piece of pork as far as possible. All ages can participate, but no one will want to bring home the bacon.
“I don’t think anyone wants to eat that ham afterward,” she said with a laugh.
Other games from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the Market Barn include the wreath toss, snowball toss, log sawing, mushing, and a fishing wall, where kids can cast a line over the wall and pull back a prize.
All ages are invited to participate, except for the two-person log sawing competition, which has an age requirement and parental permission. Mushing also requires a team, with one person on the sled and another one pulling it. The fastest time wins a prize in kid and adult divisions.
A chain saw artist and an ice sculptor also will have the chips flying at the Market Barn.
Mini-golf will be set up at the Festhalle Barn from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. with donations accepted to help defray festival costs. “We provide everything,” Jensen said. “Just show up at the Festhalle and play as long as you want.”
The wine walk has expanded into a Beverage Walk, to also include beer and non-alcoholic tea and coffee for adults. Punch cards are $5 at the Convention & Visitors Bureau. When finished, participants can return their cards to the Visitors Center to receive a Winterfest souvenir wineglass. Kids can tag along, too, and enjoy free cocoa.
Another way to warm yourself from the inside out is with a bowl of open-fire chili at the Market Barn, from 11 a.m. until the last ladle is scooped. Also on deck will be cider, coffee and hot chocolate. Proceeds will benefit the Amana firefighters.
Kids can head to the Ox Yoke Inn from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. to decorate a “Yokey Bear” cookie; cost is $2 per cookie, with proceeds benefiting Safe Haven of Iowa County. Kinder gift bags also will be given out at the Ox Yoke Inn from 11 a.m. to close, with purchases off the children’s menu.
And beginning at 2 p.m., kids can gather around a fire and roast marshmallows at the Millstream Brewing Co.
Shops and restaurants will be open, welcoming people to step inside, with some sites offering free hot beverages.
Hotel Millwright will kick off its “Up to sNOw Good Party” at 5 p.m., with live music beginning at 6 p.m. Admission is free. Across the street, live music will be playing from 6 to 9 p.m. at the Millstream Brewing Co. and the nearby Millstream Brau Haus.
The fun continues Sunday with a glass painting class at Ackerman Winery from 2 to 4 p.m. Cost is $15, and all supplies are included to paint a Frosty De-LIGHT snowman votive candle holder.
Winterfest typically draws 500 to 600 people from the surrounding counties, Jensen said, while the recent Tannenbaum Festival drew 13,000 farther afield.
“We have Winterfest so we can let people know that, ‘Hey we’re here. I know it’s cold and it’s January in Iowa, but the Amana Colonies are still around and we’re still open.’
“It gives a much-needed boost in traffic to all of our businesses here in town, because January is a really quiet period for everyone,” Jensen said.
“It also is a time for me to kind of relax and actually enjoy the festival. Because it’s a smaller festival, it doesn’t require as much of my time day-of, so I actually have time to stop and enjoy the beard contest, versus Oktoberfest, where I’m running around and don’t get to stop and enjoy any of the contests and games we do for Oktoberfest.
“In terms of the festivals, rather than seeing Winterfest as our first festival, we see it as the last festival of the season. This is our party festival. Everyone in town gets to take a breather, sit down and just enjoy the day. … In May we have Maifest, and from there, it just gets busier and busier.”
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