Winter not freezing Dubuque tourism industry - KWWL - Eastern Iowa Breaking News, Weather, Closings

Winter not freezing Dubuque tourism industry

Two teams carve snow sculptures Sunday afternoon at the National Mississippi River Museum and Aquarium Two teams carve snow sculptures Sunday afternoon at the National Mississippi River Museum and Aquarium

Some consider this time of year the off-season for the tourism industry, with the holidays over and spring break still months away, but winter festivals and events in Eastern Iowa keep visitors' dollars fueling local economies.

Dubuque is one city that has capitalized on winter tourism in recent years.

This weekend, Dubuque hosted the Midwest Meltdown youth hockey tournament at the Mystique Community Ice Center. Hundreds of kids and family members from out of town enjoyed hockey and, of course, some local entertainment.

Jay Luebbert drove more than five hours to spend the weekend in Dubuque. He's the manager of the Mid-Missouri Tigers hockey team. The players and their families joined teams from Des Moines, the Quad Cities, Dubuque, Iowa City and Waterloo, as well as Onalaska, Wis., in the three-day competition.

"We're staying just across the street at the Hilton Garden," Luebbert said Sunday in the ice center. "The casino's right there, there's a restaurant."

The Tigers brought 15 players plus family members, meaning about three dozen Missourians spent dollars in Dubuque throughout the weekend.

Saturday night, the Tigers' parents, "ordered pizza for the kids, and we all went up to the Mystique and ate at the buffet and then donated some money," Luebbert said, laughing.

Even beyond the tournament, he said, a few people, including himself, planned on staying in Dubuque to ski at Sundown Mountain Ski Resort.

"We've always wanted to do it, so we're here, so we're going to stay an extra night," Luebbert said.

He said he's sure the team will be back next year.

"You know, it's a neat little town, Dubuque is. I really enjoyed it," Luebbert said.

The Ice Fest at Dubuque's National Mississippi River Museum and Aquarium is also drawing people to the city.

Barbara Deutmeyer and her husband live in Maquoketa. She said they often visit Dubuque, but their trip to the museum Sunday was extra special.

"We have our grandson, who's visiting from Chicago, so we thought we'd take in the museum and also the movie, the Polar Express, and look at some of the ice sculpting, so we're having a fun day," Deutmeyer said, as her grandson and husband playfully lobbed snowballs at one another.

Outdoor winter fun is what prompted the Ice Fest in the first place, nearly a decade ago, according to the museum's education director Mark Wagner.

"In winter, there's not a lot going on, and so, one reason we even came up with the idea of having Ice Fest...instead of being shut up during winter, maybe embrace the winter," Wagner said.

Ice Fest features snow sculpting and ice carving.

Two teams carved snow sculptures this first weekend of Ice Fest.

One, from Dubuque, created a train for the museum's Polar Express movie. The other team, from Rockford, Ill., created a Tyrannosaurus Rex skull for the museum's dinosaur video.

It took three team members 20 hours each to complete the dino snow sculpture.

Randy Tackett has been sculpting snow for more than 25 years. He said there are certain risks to it.

"There is danger, yeah, because the snow is compacted, it's really heavy. People don't realize that, and when you start hollowing out the way we're doing and it gets pretty delicate," Tackett said. "We've been at events where pieces fall off and someone broke a collar bone."

Despite cool temperatures, both teams of sculptors had to deal with some melting snow Sunday afternoon.

"Sun's not really good for snow, because it could be, you know, 28 degrees, it's still below freezing, but when the sun's on it, I mean, it's probably 40 degrees on the surface of the snow there," Tackett said.

The two sculptures required a combined four dump trucks of snow, which was made at Sundown Mountain. They'll remain up as long as the weather allows.

Ice Fest also has demonstrations of ice harvesting.

"Of course, that was a big industry along the Mississippi River for many, many years, and so we demonstrate ice harvesting," Wagner said.

Sunday afternoon, members of the Dubuque Fire Department demonstrated for visitors how they rescue somebody who has fallen through ice.

Jan Feltes, an Ice Fest organizer, said the museum saw double its normal attendance Saturday, thanks, in part, to the Chill Out Chili Cookoff, which drew teams from throughout Iowa and as far away as Indiana.

Ice Fest continues for the next two weekends. All the wintry activities come included with the price of admission. The movies mentioned are an additional cost.

For a complete schedule of Ice Fest events, click HERE.

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