At a time when many northeast cities hunker down for the season, Chambersburg, Pa. is revving up to celebrate a winter wonderland of sculptured ice and shimmering blue lights at its 18th annual IceFest, Jan. 30-Feb. 2.
While there are several ice festivals held in the state each year, IceFest is the largest. More than 10,000 people flock to the town’s charming downtown streets for the four-day festival, which draws visitors on tour buses from as far away as New Jersey, according to event co-chair Penny Shaul. Most activities are free.
“It’s unique, just due to the fact of how much ice is at the event,” she said. “There are usually 90-plus ice sculptures and a variety of fun activities. It’s truly something for everyone, at every age, and something nice to do in the middle of winter when everyone is stir-crazy.”
IceFest contracts with DiMartino Ice Company, of Jeannette, Pa. to offer live ice carving. Smaller sculptures are used to help set the scene, while larger, more elaborate pieces are carved on site to the wonderment of onlookers during the festival.
“Almost any design can be done,” said Shaul of the large sculptures, which are inspired by local businesses. “It’s incredible to see the carvers bring those designs to life.”
In addition, IceFest boasts an array of family-friendly events including a doublewide ice slide, a 5K run, cake decorating contest, chili and barbecue cook-off, live glass blowing, local artists’ displays and more. The Snowfall Ball is a popular attraction for visitors and open to attendees of all ages. Other children’s activities include two movie screenings, a scavenger hunt and an inflatable obstacle.
Presented by M&T Bank, the event is hosted in partnership by the Chambersburg Council for the Arts, the Downtown Business Council of Chambersburg and Downtown Chambersburg Inc.
For Sam Thrush, co-chair and president of Downtown Chambersburg Inc., IceFest is full of energy and excitement and downtown Chambersburg is the place to be this time of year.
“The great thing about IceFest is that it brings people to downtown Chambersburg, from all walks of life, who not only experience the ice sculptures and all other activities, but also our small businesses retailers and restaurants,” Thrush said. “This event builds community pride, but also gives us an opportunity to enjoy time as a community during winter, which is typically a time that creates a cabin fever atmosphere.”
The location of IceFest places the event at the heart of Chambersburg’s storied past and present. A downtown once burned during the Civil War is now a showcase of Victorian-style architecture. Explore with a self-guided walking tour to learn about how the town formed, the Underground Railroad and more. From there, peruse the quaint shops and thriving arts scene that help to craft the story of what Chambersburg is today.
“The event highlights our downtown and shows the wonderful work of local artists,” Shaul said. “A lot of artists offer displays, businesses offer specials and downtown is bustling with something different and fun to do.”
In Franklin Yard’s old railroad buildings, sample what’s on tap at two local breweries who also participate in the annual IceFest event.
“The breweries are humming now, and they get even busier during IceFest,” Thrush said. “Both offer live music and create specials for the event as well.”
With so many options, it can be hard for Thrush to choose just one favorite. But at the center of it all is a community inspired event that is fun for the entire family.
“I have two kids who like racing each other on the ice slide,” he said. “We’re one of the few communities with a double ice slide and it’s popular — not just for the little ones, but also for the 90-year-olds.”