After working as a chemist at a biotechnology company, I enjoy writing about science, travel, and gardening.
Mayville Winter Festival
In the small town of Mayville, New York, President's Day weekend brings a festive atmosphere of winter celebration. The Mayville Ice Castle Festival (officially coined the President's Day Weekend Winter Festival) takes place alongside Chautauqua Lake in Western New York, and is filled with fun activities for children and adults. The Winter Festival was canceled in 2021 due to the coronavirus pandemic. Due to an unusually warm winter, a snow castle replaced the traditional ice castle for the 2020 event.
The Mayville ICE (Ice Castle Extravaganza) Festival contains an ice castle, polar bear swim event, ice skating on the lake (weather permitting), a kid's sledding track, a chili cookoff, snowmobile rides, horse-drawn sleigh rides, and more. My family and I try to make it to the festival every year.
The Polar Bear Swim
In order for the Polar Bear Swim event to take place, ice must be removed from the lake surface. The ice is often over a foot thick during the month of February, and the water temperature is just above freezing at the time of the swim. The depth of the Polar Bear swimming hole is 4-7 feet, so participants get a full-body soaking after cannon-balling or diving into the icy depths. Participants must register prior to taking part in the Polar Bear swim activity by filling out a form on the official Mayville President's Day Weekend Winter Festival website. The swim typically takes place on Saturday during the event.
The Ice Castle
The Mayville ice castle is formed by cutting blocks of ice from Chautauqua Lake. Chainsaws are used to cut each 22" x 48" block, and a pole is used to move the cut blocks along the surface of the water. An ice hook attached to a winch lifts each ice block out of the lake onto a chute, depositing the ice blocks on land near the ice castle.
A crane lifts each ice block onto the ice castle, where volunteers position and cement the ice blocks into place. It takes approximately 900 man-hours to complete the Mayville ice castle, and the labor force is composed of volunteers from the local community. While the ice castle dimensions change slightly every year, in 2010 the Mayville ice castle was 12 feet high along the outer walls, with a 25-foot high central tower.
A grand lighting ceremony is held on the first evening of the Mayville President's Day Weekend Winter Festival event. The castle is lit up with an automated light show, which includes several different colors.
Activities for Families with Children
There are many activities to delight families with children of all ages. The area around the ice castle is often decorated with a showcase of ice carvings and snowmen, which infants and toddlers enjoy greatly.
A kid's sled track is placed on the side of a massive pile of snow, allowing children to careen along a bobsled-like track around the side of the hill. Children who would like to participate in sledding activities must bring their own toboggans and sleds.
A cold water rescue demonstration will thrill preschoolers and older children, as the Dewittville Volunteer Fire Department uses a large hovercraft to demonstrate the rescue of a person trapped in cold water (this event takes place immediately after the Polar Bear Plunge event).
Horse-drawn sleigh rides are fun for the entire family and take riders around the perimeter of Lakeside Park in Mayville. Bundle up and let the kids experience an old-time tradition at the Ice Castle Festival!
Snowmobile rides are also available for children and adults, for an additional fee. Jr. Snowmobiles and full-size snowmobiles are available for rides around a circular track. This event is sponsored by the Chautauqua Snowmobile Club and is an excellent opportunity to learn about the sport!
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Sporting Activities at the Mayville Ice Castle Festival
The sporting activities change on a yearly basis and are listed on the official website. Past activities have included:
- Ice fishing demonstrations on Lake Chautauqua
- Ice skating on Lake Chautauqua
- Polar Bear Swim
- Ice Hockey
- Dodgeball tournament
Food and Facilities
As the Mayville Ice Castle Festival takes place during the cold month of February, several sheltered locations are available for people to warm up after having some wintry fun. Large vendor and food tents are set up with heating and tables. Apples with caramel and whipped cream, fried dough, and other treats are available along with more substantial lunch and dinner fare. Various items are also for sale, from local artisans and craft vendors.
Restrooms are available in the Lakeside Park facilities, which are plentiful and clean. A playground is also available, so if the weather is cooperative, little ones can burn off some energy while their parents have a snack!
Proper Clothing for Visitors
Visitors to the Mayville Ice Castle should dress appropriately; nearly all of the events are outdoors, and the weather is extremely variable in February (ranging from sub-freezing to a balmy 50°F). The lake is often a windy location, even when frozen - snow pants and ski jackets are recommended. Mittens and hats are a must! Be sure to dress small children warmly, and stop in the warm tents when needed.
Parking for the Ice Castle
Parking is readily available in pay lots alongside Rte. 394. The charges will vary but generally run about $5 per carload. If parking across the highway, take care when crossing the potentially slick or ice-covered highway.
Questions & Answers
Question: What time do things start on Friday at the Mayville Ice Castle?
Answer: The Ice Castle Festival will start at 6 p.m. on Friday, February 15th, 2019.
Question: Is the 2020 ice castle still going on in Mayville, NY?
Answer: The 2020 Ice Castle was converted to a "snow castle" for the 2020 season. The festival was held, despite the lack of sufficient lake ice for the traditional ice construction.
Question: Is there a parade at the Mayville Ice Castle Festival?
Answer: There is not typically a parade associated with the Mayville Ice Castle festival, though there are many fun events throughout President's Day Weekend at the park adjacent to the ice castle.
Question: When is the ice castle over in 2020?
Answer: The ice castle (or snow castle this year) ends on Sunday, February 16, 2020.
Question: My wife lost her keys there, is there a lost and found at the festival?
Answer: I would ask at one of the main festival tents set up to see if anyone had turned in lost keys. There is not an official lost and found associated with the event, but if keys were turned in, they are likely at one of the main booths. I would also contact the Chautauqua Chamber of Commerce to see if there is a repository for lost items at the festival. They are open on weekdays and you may contact them using the following phone number: (716) 484-1101
Question: When was the first ice castle built in Mayville?
Answer: The ice castle festival has been a tradition since 1987 in the town of Mayville.
Question: Are dogs allowed at the Mayville Ice Castle Festival in Mayville, NY?
Answer: Dogs are allowed at the festival, though must be leashed at all times.
© 2011 Leah Lefler