Ice Fest coming to Downtown Ithaca Dec. 6-8

Downtown Ithaca hosting annual Ice Festival and Chowder Cook-Off next weekend

Activities include national ice sculpting contest, ice bar, silent disco, and tasty chowder sampling

Downtown Ithaca’s Ice Festival, a three-day multifaceted celebration showcasing a nationally-sanctioned ice carving competition, silent disco, live performances, a day-long chowder cook-off and more is returning to the Commons pedestrian mall for its 12th year next weekend.

From December 6-8, the Commons will be packed with masterfully skilled ice carvers using chisels, chainsaws, and blowtorches to craft exquisitely detailed multi-shaped and -sized ice sculptures. Visitors will be able to watch the ice shaping competition while savoring beers, wines, or hot cocoa from a bar made completely out of solid ice.  

The multi-day event starts Thursday, Dec. 6 from 5:00-9:00 p.m., with the opening of the extremely popular ice bar on the Commons. Guests will be able to enjoy a sampling of Bacchus Brewing Company’s frosty beers and a variety of tasty wines from Treleaven. Hot cocoa and coffee will also be served during this happy hour style activity.

While attendees sip their beverages, they may enjoy multiple forms of entertainment, including a performance from Nate the Great who will impress the masses with his firey juggling act and silent disco with DJ ha-MEEN spinning the hottest tunes. Silent discos offer guests the freedom to rock out and dance to music broadcast directly to their ears, keeping the noise down for the local residents. Bring your ID to borrow a pair of special headphones and enjoy this incredible dancing experience.
During the second day of the festivities (Friday, December 7), visitors are encouraged to view the exhilarating Speed Carving Challenge when roughly a dozen of the country’s finest ice carvers, including national and world champions will go head-to-head and race against a clock to complete detailed sculptures in just 20 minutes using a limited selection of tools. To further motivate the carvers and attendees, DJ Gourd will be spinning during the competition. This carving challenge is scheduled for 5:00 to 9:00 p.m. and the ice bar will be open during that time, too!

For Saturday’s activities, you’d better prepare your eyes and palate for a surreal experience.  From 9 a.m.- 5 p.m., the carving experts will go toe-to-toe again as sculptors compete in the final leg of the competition: the Two-Block Showpiece Challenge. This event separates the amateurs from the elites as the carvers will attempt to garner the most points by crafting intricate and dramatic large-scale pieces.

Come see if Guinness World Record holding ice sculptor Rich Daly, the Ice Wars 2016 champ from Long Island, will claim the ice carving competition title or if he’ll be bested by some of the other highly skilled competitors such as returnees TJ Neary from Staten Island, or Oneida’s Wei-Sen Liang who was the third place prize earner for his life-like mermaid sculpture at last year’s event. At least a half-dozen other legendary carvers from across the country are also slated to compete in sanctioned carving competition.

Beginning at noon, experience the 9th Annual Chowder Cook-Off, a tastebud-tantalizing experience where festival-goers can sample chowders and bisques of all varieties – seafood, meat, and vegetarian – served by many of the area’s best chefs. Recipes will range from the traditional to the gourmet and exotic. Make sure to walk The Commons, Aurora, and Cayuga streets and the Dewitt Mall to locate some of the participating establishments. Tasters will vote on their favorite chowders and one lucky chef will receive the coveted title of Chowder Cook-Off Champion.  

Chowder newcomers include downtown’s newest dining hot spots Pasta Vitto and Eat the Foood. Pasta Vitto will be whipping up a seafood chowder while Eat the Foood plans to wow the crowd with a meat and a vegetarian chowder.

Saturday’s agenda also includes a live music performance on the Commons from the Flight Voice Studio carolers from noon to 2 p.m. followed by A Taste of Commedia Dell’Arte, a holiday play featuring masked characters from the Civic Ensemble community theatre group and a Hannukah celebration. The Civic Ensemble show (starting at 2 p.m.) and the Hannakah presentation (beginning at 3 p.m.) will take place on the Bernie Milton Pavilion.

The 12th Annual Ice Fest is presented by Elmira Savings Bank, City Centre Apartments, and Hilton Garden Inn, and organized by the Downtown Ithaca Alliance. Both Ice Fest and the Chowder Cook-Off are made possible, in part, by a grant from the Tompkins County Tourism Program.

“We are thrilled to bring this amazing group of family-friendly activities to our downtown community. The ice carving contests are highly competitive and the sculptures created as a result of them are extremely impressive to see, the live entertainment is top notch, the silent disco is a crowd favorite, and the chowders at the cook-off are freshly prepared by some of the best chefs in the region so they’re going to be absolutely delicious,” says Summer Keown, the DIA’s special events director.

In addition, satisfy your holiday baked goods craving on Saturday at the Habitat for Humanity’s Annual Cookie Walk. This cookie extravaganza returns to Center Ithaca from 11 a.m.-2 p.m., the ice bar will open from noon-5 p.m. and the Mt. Pleasant Dog Sled Team will conduct a meet and greet from 2-4 p.m.

Don’t miss your chance to attend. Advance tickets for the Chowder Cook-Off are available (cash only) at the Downtown Visitors Center on Tuesday, December 4.

If you are purchasing tickets for a large group or by credit card, call the Downtown Ithaca Alliance at (607) 277-8679 or visit our office in Center Ithaca, 171 East State St. prior to the day of the event. Tickets will also be available the day of Chowder Cook-Off at the Ticket Booth on the Commons (cash only).

For day-to-day updates, visit or theDowntown Ithaca Facebook Page.