I recently attended the Fire & Ice Chili Cook Off and Craft Beer Festival in downtown Blue Ridge and what an amazing time we had!

Thousands of people had the same idea as the streets were literally filled with wall-to-wall people. But that’s okay because the “Gladiator” and I arrived early and didn’t have to wait in line too long but even so it was a beautiful sunny day with just enough chill in the air to keep those beautiful carved ice sculptures from melting too quickly.

It seems like the lines for chili melted into one big line with plenty of samples waiting ahead. Several businesses and non-profits were participating in the cook off and after stopping by the tent that was organizing the event I was told that in order for them to participate they had to cook up 20 gallons of chili, with 10 gallons that could be prepared at the place of business but then 10 more gallons had to be prepared at the event. They also had several craft beer tents set up where adults could purchase beer and also handed out voting cards to vote for their favorite chili.

The event was held at the local park downtown not far from the Blue Ridge train station and there was also a live band, Rick Stone, playing at the square. Tickets to taste chili and pick your favorite were just $10 each, and there were many samples to choose from.

Dozens of beautiful ice sculptures were also in and around the chili booths, but there were also many more within the town scattered in front of shops and displaying different themes or business logos.

One of the more interesting focal points in the heart of the park was the demonstrations by the ice sculptors themselves. The sculpting company that was used this year was “Ice Mill,” and owner/sculptor Patrick O’Brian did a fantastic job of carving up some really beautiful ice sculptures right in front of everyone’s eyes!

On hand also were several other businesses and private facilities and churches handing out some goodies and even homemade tortilla chips as given out by the Faith Presbyterian Church of Mineral Bluff.

And if visiting the chili festival wasn’t enough to do, one could also maneuver their way along the crowded sidewalks and visit some of the artsy boutiques and unique shops Blue Ridge has to offer.

Then of course there were many different eateries where one could stop by to rest a bit and grab a bite to eat.
I especially loved all the unique ice sculptures along the sidewalks and in various positions alongside the shops. It was truly amazing what such beautiful pieces were sculpted by the ice artist and how unique each and every piece was.

I also enjoyed visiting many of the craft and antique shops as well as the consignment shops where one could really grab a great deal.

After returning home from the festival I found out that “The Parade of Homes” won the People’s Choice award and my favorite non-profit “Chimps Rock” won first place in the chili cook off contest.

All in all it was a great day if anything just to be outside and enjoy the bright sunny weather and have a lot of fun. I understand this is the 11th anniversary of the Blue Ridge downtown Fire & Ice Chili festival as last year’s had been canceled due to the covid pandemic.

Ice sculpting as an art is not a new idea and has been around for thousands of years. It originally dates back to 60 B.C. when in northwest China Shensi Warrior farmers would flood their fields with water in the winter to freeze where they could later cut the ice into blocks and store it in icehouses to preserve the fish they would catch. Ice sculpting later progressed, and in the 1600s hunters and fisherman would freeze water in ice buckets then remove the frozen ice and place candles in the center to make a sort of primitive lantern so they could see at night. Even in Russia in the mid-1700s Empress Anna Ivanovna had her house built from ice from the frozen river Neva and used for special events.

Today tourists pay hundreds of dollars to spend a night in one of Sweden’s Ice Hotel where they can experience the lighted ice furniture and drink from the authentic Ice Bar.

Well I say to each their own but just give me a warm comfy bed any day!