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North House Folk School's Winterers' Gathering & Arctic Film Festival draws in over 1750 winter-loving people

Nov 24, 2023 01:55PM ● By Content Editor

There was a long line for the Deep Freeze Chili Feed on Saturday, November 18, 2023, for North House Folk School's Winterers' Gathering & Arctic Film Fest. All photos by Tyrg Solberg unless otherwise noted

By Tryg Solberg and Laura  - Boreal Community Media - November 24, 2023

Last weekend's warm and sunny weather provided a perfect opportunity for attendees of North House Folk School's (NHFS) Winterers’ Gathering to move seamlessly between activities on campus from Friday through Sunday. “Well over 1750 participants were part of WG this year,” reported Sarah Beggs, North House Program Manager.

Late November, or fall’s “stick season”, kindles important connections between humans and travel to the world’s coldest and most remote places. This time of year typically marks the beginning of winter in Minnesota’s Arrowhead region, and the series of events prepares attendees for adventures and reflection that can only come in the winter season. 

Storytelling was an important component of the weekend with many presentations, speakers, and films covering wintery and Arctic travel topics. Tours of the North House campus showed guests the impressive building in the works that is replacing the old “Yellow Building.” 

 The new NHFS building in the works. Photo by Laura Durenberger-Grunow

North House has raised $3.5 million dollars for its future development which includes the current timber-framed "Yellow Building."

In true NHFS fashion, there were also 10 different open demonstrations on skilled crafts ranging from boot making to trout fishing, including some for youth. Jessa Frost, Program Director, said, “Skill shares this year included two sessions specifically for local youth, and participants filled up the Blacksmith Shop classroom. We are working hard to ensure opportunities like this and our After-School Club are available to all.”

A snowshoe making course occurred in the Red Building throughout the weekend

Guests left the packed weekend with full hearts after the camaraderie that can come from meeting new & old friends with common interests. Wright noted, “Seeing local community members on campus is one of the things I relish. A Gunflint Trail group was key to the energy in the Winter Tent Camp. Over 30 community members volunteered for the event, doing everything from popping popcorn to moving tables to making steaming pots of chili. Half the people on our two campus tours were neighbors. My thanks to everyone for making the event so successful.”

Annual gear sale & swap, meet the plow truck

 Attendees scope out the offerings before the official 10:30 am start time. Photo by Laura Durenberger-Grunow

The annual outdoor gear sale and swap event drew in many hopefuls looking to grab new or upgraded items for the upcoming winter season. The beginning of the event provided an opportunity for people to drop off items for the sale, and shoppers to scope out the offerings and make plans of what to buy. No one was allowed to grab or hold any of the items until the event started at 10:30 am. A couple of minutes before start time, attendees are asked to stand behind a rope until the clock officially strikes 10:30 am The rope falls, and the mad dash begins to the items. 

Attendees scope out the offerings before the official 10:30 am start time. Photo by Laura Durenberger-Grunow

 Potential shoppers must wait behind a rope before the event officially starts. Photo by Laura Durenberger-Grunow

 The dash begins! Photo by Laura Durenberger-Grunow

Additionally, one of Cook County's finest - in the form of a snow plow - was in attendance and provided an opportunity for kids and adults alike to check out the impressive piece of machinery. 

 Cook County snow plow. Photo by Laura Durenberger-Grunow

Film AMKA (Eva Capozzola, 2023) and Q&A with Lonnie Dupre

 Lonnie Dupre, the featured explorer of the film, is a resident of Grand Marais

North House’s Blue Building filled for the second showing of Eva Capozzola’s 2023 film AMKA, featuring local legend and explorer Lonnie Dupre. After 5 years of completing the only circumnavigation of Greenland with his partner John Hoelscher, Dupre returned two decades later to document the significance of the relationship between sled dogs, the Inuit hunters, and the ice cap that provides food for the Greenland natives. 

The threat of climate change on the stability of the ice puts their hunting traditions at risk. Dog sled teams are still the most reliable for traveling on rough, frozen terrain. Further dependence on imported food takes away the purpose that the Inuit hunters have had for thousands of years and could become a financial burden. 

 The audience filling in all the chairs in the Blue Building at North House on Saturday's afternoon showing of "AMKA"

Dupre’s recurring connection with the people of Greenland has allowed a window into a rarely-seen culture. It also highlights the immediate impact that shorter and warmer winters have had on their way of life. Two full-house showings of the film show the interest that attendees have in Greenland and Dupre’s interaction with the Inuit Hunters. 

 Lonnie Dupre answers the audience's questions about his experiences in Greenland

Winter Tent Tour

The caravan of visitors peered into a group of tents being presented by the owner

On Saturday afternoon, a winter canvas tent tour branched out of the North House campus into the Grand Marais Municipal Campground. About 15 tent owners gave tours of their canvas tents spaced throughout the campground. Winter camping is a niche activity and learning about the basics of the setups from an event like this can be a rare opportunity. 

Another tent by the owner has a canvas awning for additional protection from the elements

A simple and classic tent design for winter camping. An ultralight titanium stove can weigh less than 10 pounds

Most of the tents are heated with small and portable wood-fired stoves. The tents work well for winter travel in the nearby areas of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. They offer a more comfortable alternative to typical four-season tents that can’t be safely heated. Canvas is less flammable than synthetic alternatives and sufficient venting prevents lack of oxygen from the stove’s combustion. Tent setups have a wide range of prices and weights that can make them more or less portable while pulling on a sled. 

Northern Nights, Starry Skies

Mark Morgan and Caroline Torkildson answered questions from the audience about local light pollution 

Saturday afternoon’s screening of Bob Foucault’s 2023 film Northern Nights, Starry Skies brought in a full house of intrigued guests. The film highlights the local significance of dark skies with featured astronomer guests and local photographer and Grand Portage Band of Lake Superior Chippewa member Travis Novitsky. His nighttime sky images and time-lapse videos play a crucial role in the imagery of the film and provide a visual example of the importance of the Dark Sky Sanctuary that the Boundary Waters is a part of.

 Mark Morgan and Caroline Torkildson answered questions from the audience about local light pollution 

The film has partnered with Hamline University’s Center for Global Environmental Education to continue pushes for warmed-colored lights in urban areas. Nearby metro areas in the Iron Range, Duluth, and Minneapolis/St. Paul can have an effect on a wide radius of previously dark sky. A Q&A with Dark Sky advocates Mark Morgan and Caroline Torkildson connected the audience to further information about local light pollution.

This film is free for the public to watch. Check it out on PBS’s YouTube channel here: 

Deep Freeze Chili Feed

 The cooking crew was responsible for the huge batch of Chili in front of the wood-fired oven

 A massive cauldron of chili stirred with a wooden paddle in front of the Red Building

Camaraderie at the Deep Freeze Chili Feed

 The Blue Building filled with visitors enjoying their chili

 Bonfires helped keep people warm at the chili feed

A line of people waited outside for North House’s Deep Freeze Chili Feed. The Red Building was filled with hungry folks who enjoyed excellent homemade chili offerings and then crowded around fires in the outdoor courtyard. The chili was self-topped with cheddar, sour cream, and green onions. It was paired with gluten-free cornbread topped with butter. 

North House served about 175 bowls of chili throughout the night before running out.

Featured Speaker 50 Years of Adventure Travel, Tim Cahill

Over 150 people attended Tim Cahill’s presentation, which was standing-room-only, where he highlighted his journey of over 50 years of adventure travel. While introducing Cahill, North House’s Program Director Jessa Frost described the importance of storytelling while settling down into winter.  

 North House's Red Building filled to the brim with visitors to Tim Cahill's presentation

 Greg Wright, the Executive Director of North House, welcomed the crowd and described the 22 year history of the Winterers' Gathering event

Cahill, 79, is now living in Livingston, Montana, in the heart of the mountains and near Yellowstone National Park. His career took a significant turn when he became one of the founding editors of Outside Magazine, which has since become one of the most popular outdoor publications in the world. Outside now owns apps such as GAIA, Trailforks, and numerous other outdoor-related publications. He talked about the state of outdoor writing in the 70’s and the stereotype of low literacy in the outdoor community. It was Cahill’s faith in the demand from the outdoor community for quality, literate articles that helped spark this source of entertainment 45 years ago. 

 Tim Cahill, the featured speaker, began his recollection of a 50-year career in outdoor writing

His talk included stories of skiing through Yellowstone National Park, using feisty pack camels in Kenya and his heart stopping for a few minutes on a Grand Canyon rafting trip when he was 71. Fifty years of writing for the outdoors and conservation has increased the awareness of endangered wildlife and fostered significant recreation investments and involvement with communities across the country. Along with the other speakers, films, and events at The Winterers’ Gathering, he inspired visitors to remain curious and open to adventures of all kinds. 

To learn more about North House Folk School, visit:

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