Still going strong: Winter Carnival weathers COVID-19 restrictions

HOUGHTON — As far back as last spring, it was clear this year’s Winter Carnival would need to be different in the era of COVID.

“As soon as Tech, in the spring of last year, decided to do online (classes), we were like ‘We cannot in good faith plan an event that did not have (safety) at the forefront,” said Scott Sviland, president of Michigan Technological University’s chapter of Blue Key, the honor society that organizes Winter Carnival.

The snow statues are still being built, albeit with more restrictions in place. Some events, such as Wednesday’s all-nighter, were modified to reduce crowds or safety risks. Other activities went online, or were canceled for the year. Events will continue through Saturday.

Students in the month-long statue-building contest are required to wear masks, stay six feet apart and work in groups less than 25. They also complete a monitoring check for symptoms before coming to campus.

“The nice thing about it is a lot of these groups, particularly in Greek life, especially the houses that work on statues by themselves, they’re in their house groups already, which mitigates a lot of risk right off the bat,” Sviland said.

Some popular parts of Winter Carnival won’t take place, such as sleigh rides, dogsled rides or fireworks. Wednesday’s all-nighter has also been pared back to a more “student-focused” event, Sviland said, with no food vendors.

“I’m very happy to say we have filled up all of our spots for the all-nighter statues, so we’ll have great groups out there,” Sviland said.

One of the customary hallmarks, a giant dance party with snow-covered speakers, will be there in modified form. To discourage crowding but maintain the carnival atmosphere, smaller DJ stations with various genres will be spaced throughout campus.

After Wednesday’s all-nighter, the campus is often filled with community members wandering around to see the statues in their final forms. They’re still welcome on campus, but should wear masks, Sviland said.

“If you’re in a group and it’s getting kind of big — 25 or more — please just take a step back and separate your own personal group from the larger group,” he said.

Those visiting campus should also use the MTU Flex monitoring form for COVID symptoms, found at banweb.mtu.edu/owassb/visitor_symptom_form.p_form.

The usual Winter Royalty competition has been replaced for this year by the Ambassador competition, in which three Ambassadors will be chosen out of 11 competitors to preside over the Carnival events. The winner will be chosen by student vote, ending at midnight during the allnighter.

“We thought it would be a really great idea this year just to highlight some students who are doing amazing things for this community, whether they participate in volunteering, or they’ve done amazing stuff for their organizations,” Sviland said.

Some outside events have still gone on as usual, like snow volleyball and potentially curling. The all-night broomball competition won’t happen, but they’re looking at a skills challenge.

“It’s completely non-contact, so people can still participate in some form of broomball,” Sviland said.

This year’s obstacles also spurred the emergence of new virtual events, such as trivia, e-sports and online rap battles. Instead of full-length skits at the Rozsa Center, groups will film short comedy videos, which will be posted on YouTube.

“We knew that whatever we decided to do it would have to look pretty different,” Sviland said. “So we had a really great idea: Let’s use this to get creative and see what we can do.”

None of the old events will disappear next year. But if new ones prove popular, they could be added permanently, Sviland said.

Blue Key members prepped for contingencies, drawing up different plans based on what safety levels would be in effect during Winter Carnival. Most of the variations came in what crowd sizes would be permitted, Sviland said.

Sviland praised the 25 Blue Key members, who put the festival together as volunteers.

“It has been amazing to see the level of effort, just the great planning and leadership from these students,” Sviland said. “I am really proud of all their work.”

The full Winter Carnival schedule is at mtu.edu/carnival/2021.


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