Each year, after the holidays wrap up, and the long, deep freeze of winter takes hold, Michiganders tend to go into bear-like hibernation, only emerging from their cozy homes long enough to go to work, go to school, or run necessary errands.
But in recent years, the small town of Milan has given locals (and visitors from farther away) a compelling reason to actually come out and play in the snow.
Let’s Chill Winter Fest – coming up on January 31 and February 1 in 2020 – is a two-day celebration of all things winter.
“The very first year (2014), … it was in Wilson Park, and it was really just broomball games, with different groups making up the teams,” said Milan Main Street executive director Jill Tewsley. “It went so well that the next year, we made it a more family-oriented event and extended activities into our downtown. The idea was really about getting people out of their homes in the middle of winter – finding a way to kick the winter blues and do something that would be good for the community’s sense of connection and health, and provide something families could do that was affordable.”
Let’s Chill Winter Fest kicks off on Friday evening with the Big Freeze, an indoor event (at The Center, 45 Neckel Ct. in Milan) that features live music, food and drinks, and an ice luge.
“It’s largely a ‘thank you’ to our sponsors, but it’s also open to the community, so they can participate in it as well,” said Tewsley.
In the past, Let’s Chill hosted this event (as well as an artisan market on Saturday) inside a heated, large tent, but because of the exorbitant costs of that arrangement, Let’s Chill organizers will try something new this year: Winder Garden Igloos.
That’s right. Five greenhouse-like, transparent igloos – furnished with blankets, pillows, tables, a Bluetooth speaker, lighting, and yes, heat – will be erected on Tolan Square, and you can rent one (with seating for 8) for two hours on either Friday or Saturday. In the evenings, three-course meals will be served in the igloos (including a tasting flight of either wine, whiskey, or beer for all), so participants must all be 21 or older.
During daylight hours on Saturday, though, igloo rentals will last just 45 minutes and be more family-friendly – from the more affordable rental price to the hot chocolate bar and board game offerings.
But there will also be a pancake breakfast, as well as lots of outdoor fun in Wilson Park on Saturday, including a bonfire, food trucks, and a 9 hole mini-golf course with some pretty unique features.
“One of the staples of the festival is the live ice carving demos,” said Tewsley. “Last year, we started asking kids in the schools to submit their designs for the mini-golf holes, and the ice carvers took nine of them and ended up making pieces based on the pictures.”
Though 2020 will mark Let’s Chill Winter Fest’s sixth year, organizers have made a point to not get stuck in the habit of doing the same things again and again – which is to say, though a “Frozen” singalong screening and a chili cook-off were on the event’s schedule in the past, they’re not part of this year’s lineup.
This shows that Let’s Chill’s organizers are always open to new, innovative ideas; but one thing that will likely always be on the bill is LCWF’s tremendously popular Wine Walk, wherein a series of Milan businesses invite visitors in for a glass of white or red wine and an appetizer. (Attendees can walk to each destination or use shuttles provided by Golden Limousine.)
“That’s our signature event of the whole thing,” said Tewsley. “ … It sells out every year. We just recently put tickets up for sale, and out of 500, there’s already only about 125 left.”
According to Tewsley, about half of the Wine Walk’s attendees are local (from Milan, Saline, etc.), but the event also draws from Ann Arbor, Ypsi, and Chelsea, as well as Ohio and Northern Michigan.
An estimated 2,500 people total participate in the larger LCWF celebration itself – a big number for a town with a population just over twice that number – and Tewsley has some thoughts about why people are willing to temporarily break out of their hibernation habits to attend.
“There’s just something really fun and appealing about it,” Tewsley said. “You could either be sitting at home again, or you could, for this one day, be walking around from location to location, all bundled up and walking the streets, with people running into each other, all in this historic downtown, with its beautiful old buildings. It just makes you feel nostalgic.”