Festival celebrates Iron Dog, honors Mueller’s memory
The Big Lake Winterfest is a time to celebrate all things winter – that includes snowmachining, dog mushing, hot food and live music. In its third year, this event promises even more fun than last and is the perfect accompaniment to the launching of the Iron Dog Snowmobile Race.
But haloed around the event will be the memory of Big Lake resident Scott Mueller, who perished Aug. 30, 2013, in an airplane crash southeast of McGrath. He left behind bereaved friends, family, and his wife, Ina, the mother of the Big Lake Winterfest.
“At first, I didn’t have the strength and I’ve pretty much made myself continue,” said Ina Mueller, of the planning that has gone into this year’s third annual event. “I told myself, ‘Scott would be disappointed if I didn’t do it,’ because he loved this (event).”
There will be plenty of loving going on in Scott’s memory too. Well-loved in the community, he spent his life mountain climbing, skiing, hiking, hunting and flying throughout Alaska.
“He could point to any peak or river and tell you its name just by looking at it,” his obituary reads. “Scott’s love for Alaska and its rugged beauty was something he shared with anyone he could, and he frequently gave flight-seeing tours to visiting friends and family.”
To honor his love of the outdoors, the highlight of the festival will be named in his honor: “The fireworks are going to be called the Scott Mueller Memorial Display,” said Ina, choking up with the words. “We thought that was a good idea.”
Ina Mueller knows there will be a pall on the event without her husband of 36-some years by her side, but she also is intent to keep the fun coming. The Big Lake Winterfest is one of the largest community events of the year, and last year’s festival brought more than 500 people out to take helicopter rides, enter contests – such as decorating their Bunny Boots – and going for dog sled rides.
“New this year is our Frozen T-shirt Contest,” Mueller said.
Now, before you get all excited about the details of the event, she went on to explain: “T-shirts are going to be frozen into a block of ice and it will be timed,” she explained. “The first person to get their shirt out of the ice and put on wins.”
Back by popular demand is the Bunny Boot bling contest, a 2 a.m. revelation Mueller had last year in which contestants are challenged to bedazzle their Bunny Boots into the most whacky and imaginative designs. She already has received entries for that event, she said.
There’s going to be a dog weight pull demonstration, as well as sled dog rides, and the return of the Big Fungus Concert and Beer Garden on Ice.
“That is always very popular,” she said of the concert.
Another event that proved popular this year were the Jayhawk helicopter rides. This year, there’s a new twist, Mueller said. Tanalian Aviation is sponsoring the event, and will not only give rides, but also host a contest to see who is the best flyer.
“You actually have a chance to fly a helicopter,” she said. You take the helicopter up with the instructor and he centers it over a circle and turns the controls over to you. You try to keep it within that circle for 15 seconds.
“I’m going to set that event up waaaay away from everything else,” she joked.
Amid all the activity will be the beginning of the Iron Dog Snowmobile Race, Mueller said. The Trail Class racers will have left Feb. 14, the day before the Winterfest begins. The Pro Class racers leave Feb. 16, the second day of the festival.
“Saturday (Feb. 15) will be our busiest day, and Sunday (Feb. 16) will be a little slower with people out watching the Pro Class leave,” she said. “But after that, instead of them getting in the traffic jam on the highway to leave, they can just come over and check out the festival. It should be a lot of fun.”
The Scott Mueller Fireworks Display is set for 7 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 15. For a complete schedule of events, visit the Winterfest site at biglakewinterfest.com.
Big Lake Winter Fest
Festival runs Feb. 15 and 16
Hours: 10 a.m. until right after the concert ends, around 7 p.m.
Sunday, events start at 10 a.m., with the Iron Dog Pro Class riders leaving at 11 a.m.
Questions? Festival director Ina Mueller, email@example.com or 230-0935