ITHACA, N.Y. — The dropping temperatures and longer nights that are a sure sign of winter’s arrival may not be cause for celebration, but Ithaca always softens the season’s arrival with an annual celebration of ice.

The Downtown Ithaca Ice Festival begins Thursday in Downtown Ithaca and ends Saturday with the Chowder Cook-Off. For three days, the Ithaca Commons will be filled with ice carving competitions, music, performances, fire demonstrations, sled dogs and some new activities like a silent disco.

The centerpiece of Ice Fest, a fully functional ice bar will be carved Thursday. Visitors can grab a seat at the icy stools and order local Bacchus beer, Treleaven wine and hot cocoa from 5 to 9 p.m. The ice bar will be open from 5 to 9 p.m. again Friday and from noon to 5 p.m. Saturday.

Ice bar at the 2016 Ice Festival. Sam Scott/Ithaca Voice

The silent disco was not a mistype. Featuring DJ Ha-MEEN, there will be a disco party with tunes audible to participants but seemingly silent to everyone else on the Commons.  Here’s how it works. Anyone interested in taking part will get a pair of comfy, high-quality wireless headphones with volume control. (Using the headphones are free, but people will have to check them out with an I.D. or credit card) The music will be transmitted from the DJ’s equipment to the headphones. To all the people listening, it will seem like a regular dance party but anyone not wearing headphones won’t hear a thing. The music will include disco, funk, house, classic Hip Hop, 80s and 90s throwbacks, salsa and more.

“To everyone else not wearing (the headphones), it will just be a bunch of people dancing to silence,” Scott Rougeau, special events associate for the Downtown Ithaca Alliance said.

Rougeau said there are 160 headsets available. There will be a check-in table and the event takes place near the Bernie Milton Pavilion.

On Thursday, there will also be fire performers like Nate the Great and Cosmic Karma.

The festival brings ice carvers from across the country for a National Ice Carving Association sanctioned event. Beginning Friday from 5 to 9 p.m., there will be a speed carving competition. It’s a one block, single elimination competition. Each participant will have about 20 minutes to create a sculpture.

“This is part of the national ice carving competition. It’s a traveling competition. We’re pretty luck to get them. They’re the best ice carvers in the nation,” Rougeau said. He said there are 10 carvers coming to Ithaca this year.

Sam Scott/Ithaca Voice

The speed carving competition is the warm up for even more ice carving on Saturday. From 9 a.m. to noon, there is a carve and deliver competition where carvers will have to carve and deliver an ice sculpture to a downtown location in just three hours. The main ice carving event will follow from 2 to 6 p.m. Saturday with a two-block showpiece challenge.  Competitors will have four hours to produce their best sculptures using two large blocks of ice.

Meanwhile on Saturday, the 8th annual Chowder Cook-Off will be taking place with chowders cooked up by 25 local restaurants and businesses. The cook-off will take place on the Ithaca Commons as well as surrounding streets, including Aurora, Cayuga and the Dewitt Mall from noon to 5 p.m. If you want to skip the line Saturday, purchase tickets ahead of time at the Downtown Ithaca Visitors Center. Tickets will also be available on the day of the Chowder Cook-Off.

While sampling chowders Saturday, don’t miss the Fall Creek Brass Band from 1 to 2 p.m. and the Next Generation Dance troupe at 3:30 p.m.

So far the weather looks good for the festival. Warm enough to enjoy being outside, but not too warm for all the sculptures to melt. On Thursday, there may be isolated snow showers and it will be mostly sunny Friday and Saturday. The temperature will be around 35 degrees all three days, according to the National Weather Service.

For more information, visit the Downtown Ithaca Alliance website.

Featured image: File photo. 

Jennifer Wholey is a feature writer and Head of Dining Partnerships for the Ithaca Voice. Contact her at