The Great Northern

America is made up of its cities and the space between them. To inhabitants, these communities are an expression of cultures, values, dialect, and climate. When we visit other parts of the country, we arrive with a prepackaged set of stereotypes further perpetuated by pop culture references and collective experiences.

New York is “Center of the Universe.”
Los Angeles is forever 70 and sunny.
And it’s not always sunny in Philadelphia.

Chicago is windy.
Portland is basically that show you saw that one time called, Portlandia.
And let’s keep Austin weird with its Tex-Mex and music and SXSW festival.

What about my home state?
People say Minnesota is cold.
People say Minnesota is nice.
People say Minnesotans sound like Garrison Keillor.

They’re not exactly wrong. Except for the Garrison Keillor part. Sort of.

I didn’t grow up here. I’m from the Chicago suburbs, far away from frozen lakes and feather-haired men on skates. Though I’ve called this state my home for ten years now, the birther issue technically makes me an outsider. I don’t feel that way. I know why most people who leave, come home.

Why would someone leave New York, or London, or Amsterdam to move back to the middle of America, you readers in California may ask. Family, finances, and friendships are all compelling calls to come home, but what I noticed as I made a life for myself here, is that people come back because of its culture and its accessibility. It’s hard to put your finger on it, but I can attest from experience this state has a twinkle in its eye that can bewitch those open to indulging it.

Defining Minnesota’s culture touchpoints is as much an exercise in contrasts as it is a reflection of the interests of our community.

In my time here in Minnesota, I’ve been lucky to have worked with Eric and Andrew Dayton as they created businesses and experiences inspired by the city that raised them. Embarrassingly, I didn’t fully understand their ties to the state’s history. (For you out-of-staters, Eric and Andrew’s family started Dayton’s Department Store and Target. Today, they call Governer Mark Dayton “dad”).

When we were working on the second iteration of the Askov Finlayson brand in 2013, the team spoke about redefining the region to better reflect the culture around them. We’re the most active city in the America, notwithstanding four months of winter. We have a booming restaurant industry that has garnered national attention despite the great Grape Salad debate of 2014. We are home to thousands of entrepreneurs and innovators who found business partners while working for Target. 3M. Cargill. Or Best Buy.

We’re proud but careful to sound too boastful, as I like to say, a good old-fashioned “humble brag” is a hallmark of Midwest upbringing.

It is between the “in spite of” and “notwithstanding” examples of Minnesota culture that you begin to see the essence of our state so clearly. We’re at our best because of our climate, not despite it.

For those looking for something in between the cultural epicenter of New York and the casual hipness of LA is a collection of smaller cities who have come into their own. They’ve taken what’s best about their city and created opportunities for people and organizations to build off that foundation. This is how SXSW came to further define Austin’s entrepreneurial prowess. Now, the Twin Cities (otherwise known as Minneapolis/St.Paul) is making steps towards doing the same, with an ownable style and flavor.

Eric assembled a leadership team who saw an opportunity align Minnesota’s hallmark winter events already scheduled during the coldest weeks of the year to created a platform to support one another under a common ideal: Being out in it and embracing the cold– together.

They named ten-day festival celebrating winter The Great Northern, and it kicks off tomorrow. There will be food. There will be hockey. There will be parades and ice sculptures and lights. There will be dog races and ski races and lots of beer for those cheering them on.


The itinerary is PACKED, and there are events happening every day of the week. You can find a full schedule here.

We have a couple of events highlighted below:

For Family-Friendly Activities: St. Paul Winter Carnival Ice Carving Displays, St. Paul Winter Carnival Snow Park at the Fair

For Date Night: Pabst Winter Carnival Music Series (different bands every night), B-Lectric at Barbette

For Cat Lovers: St. Paul Winter Carnival Saintly City Cat Show
For Dog Lovers: Chuck & Don’s Skijoring Loppet
For Foodies: Surly Kraftskivan, A Winter Table

If you’re a Minnesotan reading this, raise a mitten, and I’ll see you there! If you’re reading this someplace far away and are intrigued by the idea of crazy, nice people running around in the snow, follow along on Instagram.

Joe and I will be showing August how we do winter!

  • That’s so cool!

    I’m from another ‘Twin Cities’ of sorts. I live on the Minnesota side of the Fargo/Moorhead area north of you guys. Folks in Fargo started doing something similar to this last year, they call it the Frostival! I love the idea of embracing a season that has its own magical qualities. I’m super pumped about doing the log sauna, I hear they will park it downtown for folks to use! Here is the link to check out, if you’d like:

    I agree with all that you have said of this awesome state, thank you for highlighting some of the things that make it so special. My husband and I are proud to be from Minnesota, and we don’t plan on leaving anytime soon.