Hunter Ice kicks off annual events

Published 10:05 am Thursday, December 26, 2013

The Hunter Ice Festival in Niles is celebrating a decade of frozen sculptures this year with the inaugural 'Hunter Ice Ball.' Leader file photo

The Hunter Ice Festival in Niles is celebrating a decade of frozen sculptures this year with the inaugural ‘Hunter Ice Ball.’ Leader file photo

“If life hands you lemons, make lemonade,” or so the saying goes. And, if Mother Nature hands you a seemingly endless supply of ice and snow, make an ice festival.

That seems to be the trend in southwest Michigan at this time of year, and it’s become such a popular way of passing the winter months that more and more towns are organizing their own ice festivals.

In just a few weeks, Niles, Mich., will play host to one of the first ice festivals of the 2014 season, and the city has a lot of experience with this sort of event.

“This will be the 10th one,” said Lisa Croteau, program manager at Niles DDA Main Street, the organization sponsoring the event.

The Annual Hunter Ice Festival takes its name from deep within the history of Niles, commemorating the Hunter Brothers Ice Company. The Hunter brothers were responsible for forming what historians believe may have been the first commercial ice harvesting company in Michigan, using Barron Lake ice to supply the region with ice beginning in 1898. Later, the family opened an ice cream company as well.

From Jan. 17 through 19, Niles will be all about ice, with a variety of outdoor activities for area residents who are looking for something to do.

One new addition to the weekend’s slate of events is the Ice Ball.

“We have some wonderful sponsors to help us put on a wonderful evening for our guests,” said Tyanna Weller, president of the Four Flags Area Chamber of Commerce. “We are looking to help the Hunter Ice Festival raise some funds, so we will be sharing some of the proceeds with them.”

“There will be lots of great things happening that evening,” Weller said. “Dinner will be catered by Katharos, a new catering company here in Niles.”

Event-goers will also be treated to pre-dinner cocktails and an ice luge. There will also be an opportunity for dancing, and those guests who wish to brush up on their dancing skills need not worry.

“We’re going to have a dance lesson. Kate Gassman and some of her assistants are going to be demonstrating and teaching some dances,” Weller said of the lesson that will take place just before the dancefloor is opened up for all the guests.

Taking place at the Bell Building, 305 N. Third St. in Niles, the party will begin at 7 p.m. and last until midnight. Inside, a red carpet entrance will welcome guests.

“We will have some photographers on hand and a sort of a photo booth set up, so we can print the pictures that evening,” Weller said.

The black tie (optional) event includes a silent auction benefiting local non-profit organizations, including the Hunter Ice Festival. Tickets for the Ice Ball cost $40 per person or $70 per couple, and they can be purchased by visiting or by calling (269) 683-3720.

Saturday’s events will include the Frigid 5K Run, an exhibit featuring the history of ice harvesting and carving at the library, a warming center, a kids’ craft area, an interactive family-fun ice park and a Chillin’ Ice Bar at Massimo’s Backside Bar. Downtown merchants will be offering free, hot refreshments in their warming stations along with special festival sales and promotions.

“Our Hunter ice cream is one of the highlights of the festival,” Croteau said. “Zingerman’s, a local artisan food company from Ann Arbor, will be making it this year using a 1904 recipe.”

The festival will feature world-class ice carving masters, who are expected to carve more than 27 tons of ice into beautiful — but temporary — pieces of art.

Among the artists will be “Team Texas,” made up of Buddy Rasmussen and Reverend Butter. Both ice sculptors have been featured on TLC’s “Chainsaw Ice Sculptor” show. On Saturday evening, they will be presenting Texas Ice Fights at the Riverfront Park Amphitheater. Other guests will include former National Ice Carving Association champion Aaric Kendall and master carvers Andrew Thistlethwaite and Dean DeMarais. Niles’ own Danny Bloss will also be at the festival.

Sunday will provide more opportunities for the public to view the ice sculptures as well as sample many chili recipes during the Chili Crawl. More information about these events can be obtained by visiting or by calling (269) 687-4332.

“You’re going to see some of the best quality ice carvings by master carvers that you’ll ever see in your life,” Croteau said.