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Around Town: All paths lead to the Lake Monona igloo

Around Town: All paths lead to the Lake Monona igloo

It figures that the winter of the polar vortex spawned a real-life igloo on Monona Bay.

This cold and snowy winter allowed a core group of about eight 20-something friends to build and maintain an igloo, where many of them like to hang out on weekends. They had about 30 people in the igloo Saturday night for a party.

The so-called Lake Monona igloo is out about 150 yards from the Brittingham Park shelter, and its main chamber measures about 15 feet tall by 15 feet wide. A second chamber, dubbed “the love grotto,” has a faux bear skin rug and is about half the size of the main dome.

“A ton of people stopped by while we were building,” said Candace Stohs-Krause, who works for CUNA Mutual. “Cross-country skiers, people walking around, people walking their dogs, people who live on the bay who had seen it from their houses and want to know more.”

She marveled at the footprints in the snow coming from all directions. “It’s like all paths lead to the igloo.”

Members of the group built the original Lake Monona igloo in the winter of 2010-11 in the middle of the lake. They wanted to build another one for the past two years, but nature didn’t cooperate.

“The winters weren’t really conducive for building an igloo out on the lake, with it not being cold enough or having enough snow, either,” said Andrew Conley, whose day job is with the entrepreneurship nonprofit 100state.

The friends moved it to Monona Bay this year because most of the group live Downtown and the new location is easier to get to, said builder Nolan Johnson, who works at Epic Systems.

“Trying to get out in the middle of Lake Monona was ... about a 15-minute walk out there trudging through snow,” Johnson said.

On any given day, 10 to 15 builders assembled the igloo. In total, Johnson said, about 25 people “have gotten their hands wet out there.”

Phil Geiger, who also works at Epic, said they had to modify traditional igloo-building methods because Wisconsin doesn’t have Arctic permafrost.

“We did a lot of research into how the Inuit made igloos and promptly ignored all of that,” he said. “All of the hundreds of years of history. It doesn’t apply.”

In 2008, Geiger built his first, albeit unlikely, igloo in his hometown of Seattle after a big snowstorm, using recycling bins. Madison, he said, was the perfect place to go bigger and better. Key materials this time included big, 17-gallon moving bins.

“That’s how we form our bricks. We shovel snow, and drill a hole in the ice, and scoop water into the moving bins, to form giant slush-ice bricks that we can then cut up and stack,” Geiger said.

Johnson said their next project is to build a 15-foot observation tower connected through the main igloo. The idea is to allow people to climb a spiral staircase and get a better view of Madison.

Stohs-Krause created a Facebook page for the igloo, and the group recently listed it on Airbnb for people to rent out.

“We’re going to get a lot of hits on that for sure,” Geiger said.

Samara Kalk Derby covers events in and around Madison on Sundays. If you have an idea for Around Town, contact her at or 608-252-6439.

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