It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year at Great America’s WinterFest

Story by Cynthia Cheng and Photos by Larry Sacks

On Nov. 24 at 5 p.m., California’s Great America’s second annual WinterFest opened to the general public. Park guests ice skated on Snowflake Lake in front of Carousel Columbia, snapped their holiday card photos at Candy Cane Lane, shared their holiday wish list with Santa, and sang along to their favorite holiday jingles with the Cool Yule Christmas performers at the Celebration Plaza.

“This is an awesome and beautiful event; we came for the tree lighting and we’re going to ride some rides and enjoy the festivities,” said Joe Staley, 49ers starting offensive tackle and the evening’s celebrity tree lighter of the park’s 60 foot tree. Staley brought his seven-month-old-daughter, his three-year-old daughter and his wife Carrie.

“We brought back everything the guests enjoyed last year, including the ice rink and the nightly tree lighting,” said Roger Ross, public relations manager of Great America.

Live entertainment from last year’s WinterFest returning for this year’s WinterFest include the Peanuts-themed “It’s Christmas, Snoopy,” an ice show held at the Great America Theater. Set to popular holiday songs such as “Winter Wonderland” and “Silent Night,” the show features performances of highly skilled ice skaters.

Sean Lee, entertainment manager of Great America, explained how the ice rink was created inside the Great America Theater.

“It’s a three week process to go from a normal stage to the ice rink,” Lee said. “In our summer show, we have a decking and underneath that decking are the ice coils and a layer of sand. So the ice rink chiller is off during the summer.  It’s just plain sand with the decking so we can have our normal show. Once the summer is over, we tear the decking out. We soak the entire bed of sand with as much water as we can and we turn on the chiller and the stage starts freezing. We take a special ice paint and mix it with water and spray it onto the ice to make it the white that you see. Once we do several layers of that paint so that it’s nice and pure white, we start adding thin layers of water on top of the layers of paint. We had to add thin layers of water a quarter of an inch, a little bit at a time. We added a bunch of water so the ice would be about three quarters to an inch thick above the paint and be ready to skate on.”

According to Lee, this show was first developed at Knott’s Berry Farm which, like Great America, is owned by Cedar Fair. Lee credited Woodstock Ice Productions’ Karen Kresge for being the show’s original choreographer and for working with the performers, who had only two weeks to learn and rehearse their moves for the entire show. Although the principal performers in the show’s pair team have been practicing their stunts since the summer, they, too, had two weeks to learn the show’s choreography.

“One of the most popular tricks that they do in the pair team is the bounce spin; that’s where he holds her by her two feet and bounces her up and down so that her head is inches above the ice,” said Lee of some of the sophisticated moves among the show’s performers. “The jumps are all in there, such as the double axels and double toe loops.”

For more information about show times for “It’s Christmas, Snoopy,” other live entertainment, attractions and activities at WinterFest as well as WinterFest’s open dates and hours of operation from now through Dec. 30, visit www.cagreatamerica.com/play/winterfest.