Undeterred by the icy roads and travel warnings on Saturday morning, over 500 people made their way to the new pavilion at Staring Lake Park in Eden Prairie to enjoy the annual Winter Blast on Jan. 18.
Fresh powder from Friday’s storm made the sledding hill a popular destination, and the newly-renovated warming house provided room for indoor activities like puppet shows, arts and crafts and a meet-and-greet with Disney characters Elsa and Anna, from the movie “Frozen” and “Frozen 2.”
Many of the attendees were first-timers, like Sohil and Deepti Goorha. Their daughter, Cira, is 2 1/2 and welcomed Princess Anna (played by Annie Tilletson) with a big hug and smile.
“She’s getting to that age where we can be more active,” Sohil Goorha said.
Tilletson is a teacher and acts professionally across the Twin Cities, but playing a Disney princess with the Princess Party Pals group is a different experience than acting onstage, she said.
“It’s not about you putting on a show,” Tilletson explained; it’s about making each child feel special and bringing the dream of meeting their favorite character to life. One of her favorite parts of the role is “the look on their face when their favorite princess remembers their name,” she added. “It makes their day, their year.”
While Tilletson entertained in the pavilion, Jonathan Osters and his family opted to spend their time at Winter Blast enjoying the outdoors. They’ve lived in Eden Prairie for several years, and the new pavilion drew them out to the event for the first time, Osters said. He waited at the top of the sledding hill while two of his sons hurtled down the slope again and again.
“They were sledding in the blizzard last night,” he said with a laugh.
“When we were told there was a winter storm coming, we were like, ‘Perfect,’” said Nicole Weedman, the city’s senior recreation supervisor. The timing worked out perfectly, with the worst of the storm passed by the time Winter Blast began at 11 a.m. on Saturday, she added.
Parks and Recreation employees like Audrey Holcomb were busy supervising the hill and skating rink. Upon request, the city lends free inner tubes and ice skates to the public any time the pavilion is staffed, Holcomb said; all a visitor has to do is ask.