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Chill out during the NC Smokies Ice Fest Weekend

Jan. 15—From winter-themed beverages to interactive ice games, from skiers blazing downhill with torches to a penguin flotilla on the Pigeon, the upcoming NC Smokies Ice Fest is set to turn Haywood County into a polar paradise Jan. 26-28.

Ice Fest guests can embark on their own uniquely cool weekend by exploring the Interactive Ice Map on the Visit NC Smokies website, which lists events, dining and shopping that will take place over the weekend.

"The most exciting thing about this is that we've had so many businesses and so many community partners join us for the weekend," said Corrina Ruffieux, executive director of the Haywood County Tourism Development Authority. "It's just so fun to see the local energy and enthusiasm for working together and collaborating to pull off a three-day event. There's just so much to do that I don't even think anyone, local or visitor, could experience everything that's on the table."

The Ice Fest was curated as an extension of the overwhelmingly popular inaugural Maggie Ice Fest last January. Held at the Maggie Valley Festival Grounds, the one-day event brought over 10,000 visitors — and over 2,000 of them traveled more than 50 miles.

Ruffieux considered the positive response but knew there was no way that the festival grounds could contain a crowd like that every year. That's when the idea spurred to conduct the Ice Festival over three days and spread it over the whole county.

"It's awesome to see the whole county coming together from a business and partner perspective because the visitor doesn't see us as separate entities — they see us as one destination," Ruffieux said.

The weekend will kick off with a Downtown Waynesville Ice Stroll on Friday night of the Ice Fest weekend when guests will be greeted by sculptures at participating businesses.

"We have 19 sculptures for the Downtown Waynesville ice stroll on Friday night," Ruffieux said. "That's just going to be an amazing kickoff to the whole weekend."

Downtown Waynesville Director Beth Gilmore said the ice stroll will set the stage for the weekend spectacle.

"We're really excited that downtown Waynesville is able to share in this weekend of events and bring something special to Main Street during a slower part of the season," Gilmore said. "It will be a beautiful backdrop for a night of shopping and dining, with the lights in the trees and ice sculptures shimmering on the sidewalk below."

Merchants have been asked to sponsor the ice sculptures along the street. The Town of Waynesville led by example and jumped on the bandwagon by sponsoring a six-foot-tall Plott Hound, Waynesville's mascot, for $700.

Waynesville Town Council Member Julia Freeman lauded the idea of bringing the whole county into the fold of Ice Fest this year.

"My friends in Maggie were overwhelmed last year. They thought there might be 1,000 people who showed up, and there were thousands. If we can engage our local businesses to be a part of that, it's a win-win for all of us," Town Council Member Julia Freeman said.

Those wanting to let off some steam can gear up for the Frosty 5K on the trails that wind through the Haywood Community College campus or set off on a winter hike with Haywood County Recreation & Parks.

"HCC is excited to participate in this year's Ice Fest with the Frosty 5K. The event features our new Dahlia Ridge Trail, which showcases the beauty of winter right here in our own backyard," said HCC president Shelley White.

Wine and dine your way through Ice Fest

The weekend's weather calls for everything from inside frills to outside chills.

Bear the cold with some frothy beverages during a self-guided pub crawl through the county or indulging in a food frenzy. Stop into any BearWaters Brewing location and sample the Ice Fest Winter Warmer Beer, get a taste for an Ice Fest stout at Boojum Brewing Company or shake things up with a Winter Ice Martini at J Arthur's Restaurant or snow-themed cocktail at Valley Cigar & Wine Co.

Adventuring around the county can work up an appetite. Savor Ice Fest food specials like the Pork Quesa Birria at Sauced or "Chilly" specials, including a "Chilly" cheeseburger and mac at The Scotsman. A full list of restaurants serving up special Ice Fest dishes and drinks can be found at the Ice Fest website.

Metzger's Burl Wool Gallery on Main Street in Waynesville will join the Ice Fest action by serving up Nordic Cookies and traditional dishes like lefse and lutefisk. Sip on some glogg while enjoying live music.

The Ice Fest festivities are an accumulation of special events, shopping, lodging, dining and drink specials that elevate. And while the signature extravaganza is the Maggie Valley Ice Festival... there are plenty of events heating up for one cool weekend.

Ice Fest Events

Downtown Waynesville Ice Stroll: Kick off the weekend's chills with decorative sculptures lining the streets on Friday evening, Jan. 26. Local shops will greet guests with hot cocoa.

Maggie Valley Ice Festival: Carve out time for the Maggie Valley Ice Festival extravaganza. Marvel at mesmerizing live ice carving demonstrations. The ice slide will send shivers down your spine as you glide into other ice games like ice cornhole and ice hockey. Take home icy memorabilia from local vendors. Guests can take a break from the cool activities by resting in the warming tent or getting toasty with s-mores by the fire.

Penguins on the Pigeon: Witness the release of adorable rubber penguins into the river at the Canton Recreation Park from 1-3 p.m. on Saturday, Jan. 27. The penguins will be released at 1:30 p.m., and each penguin is available for $5 or wage $20 for a group of five. While visitors watch the unique spectacle, they can indulge in hot cocoa and other yard games like corn hole. The remaining proceeds will be dedicated to the All-Abilities Playground.

Canton's Ice Skating: Lace up your skates and get ready to glide on a glistening sheet of artificial ice at Canton's new ice skating rink at Sorrells Street Park.

Cataloochee Ski Torch Run: Ski area staff will hold a lighted torch parade down the slopes of Cataloochee Ski Area at 10:30 p.m. on Saturday, Jan. 27. Cozy up on the lodge deck or at the bottom of the slopes to witness this stunning spectacle.

Frosty 5K: A 5K on the trails at Haywood Community College will be held from 10 a.m.-noon Sunday, Jan. 28. There will be a surprise at every kilometer. Take your time getting toasty at the start line with a cup of hot cocoa and go at your own pace, stopping at surprise stations, including a ring toss for a street treat. Activities will be available while supplies last, so be sure to get there early.

Winter Hikes with Haywood County Rec: When you aren't participating in frosty fun at the fairground, delve into the natural beauty of Haywood County. Join Haywood County Recreation for an Ice Fest Weekend Winter hike along the picturesque Blue Ridge parkway. Hikes range from 3 to 6 miles long and offer views and changes to see ice formations.

For more information, visit www.NCSmokiesIceFest.com