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Carve Out Time for Michigan’s Big Snow Sculpting Contest

Where to eat, stay, and shop during Zehnder’s Snowfest this week.

Photo: Courtesy of Zehnder’s Snowfest

Known as “Little Bavaria” for its German roots, Michigan’s Frankenmuth, 90 miles north of Detroit, will transform into a fierce battleground for artists wielding chisels this week during Zehnder’s Snowfest 2014. Taking place from Wednesday, January 22, through Sunday, January 27, this is no Podunk fest: Considered one of the top snow sculpting competitions in North America, the family-friendly event draws upward of 150,00 visitors and dozens of professional ice and snow sculpting teams from the U.S. and abroad.

Every year features international snow carving face-offs and the National Collegiate Ice Carving Competition. This means spectators will be able to get up close and examine more than 100 detailed ice carvings and megasize snow sculptures—surely worth the four-and-a-half-hour drive from Chicago.

Wednesday starts with an apple pie contest in the warming tent (you can also fill up on other warm pies, cobblers, and crisps), a children’s snow sculpting event, and the high school, state, and World Class snow carving competitions, with teams whittling away at behemoth blocks as large as 10 by 10 by 20 feet through Saturday at 10 a.m., when judging begins. There’s live music and family-friendly entertainment throughout the fest (such as putt-putt golf and magic shows).

On Friday, watch a 100-block ice-carving exhibition with master sculptor Greg Butauski. On Saturday, celebrate the winners with a rare sight in a Midwestern winter sky: fireworks. On Sunday, ogle the winners on display and, if you stick around on Monday, attend a hot-food competition.

The Snowfest website has the most current schedule of events.

Where to shop: Most of Snowfest happens on or near Frankenmuth’s Main Street, where the town’s Bavarian-inspired heritage is on display in a superbly eclectic mix of original shops. Step into Frankenmuth Clock Company (966 S. Main St.), an authentic German cuckoo clock store, or visit the historic Zeilinger Wool Co. (1130 Weiss St.), which has been selling handcrafted good such as yarns and bedding for more than 100 years. Relive Christmas at Bronner’s Christmas Wonderland (25 Christmas Ln.), which bills itself as “the world’s largest Christmas store,” and follow it up with a tour of late 19th- and early 20th-century Christmas décor at the Museum at the Old Christmas Station (100 S. Main St.).

Where to eat and drink: Order Frankenmuth chicken or schnitzel from one of 12 kitschy dinning rooms at Bavarian Inn Restaurant (713 S. Main St.), stop at Zehnder’s Restaurant (730 S. Main St.) for more family-style eats, or sip handcrafted pilsner at the 150-year-old Frankenmuth Brewery (425 S. Main St.).

Where to stay: Spartan rooms at the 38-room Marv Herzog Hotel (501 S. Main St.; from $80 a night) are offset by its colorful European-style exterior, location on the Cass River, and a free hot breakfast, not to mention reasonable rates. And you can say that you stayed at a hotel named after a well-known polka-band leader.

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