Iceworm Festival: Annual festivities fill the streets of Cordova

From flying oyster shells to a sun-soaked parade, say goodbye to Aloha Iceworm

The parade Iceworm makes its way down Main Street on Saturday, Feb. 3, 2018. Photo by Emily Mesner/The Cordova Times
The parade Iceworm makes its way down Main Street on Saturday, Feb. 3, 2018. Photo by Emily Mesner/The Cordova Times
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The air was frigid, the water was chilly and the roads were packed as the last day of the 2018 Iceworm Festival commenced on Saturday, Feb. 3.

Out on the docks, hundreds were dressed head-to-toe in heavy winter gear. Others braved the cold in nothing but a t-shirt and shorts as they ran down the snowy dock to the warmth of their waiting survival suit.

Cheers of encouragement filled the air, followed by laughter and the splash of the first survival suit racer hitting the bone-chilling water.

Across town at the Arts and Crafts Fair people flooded in for warmth with a view. Colorful quilts hung behind nearly every table as vendors sold soaps, quilted water bottle holders and more. Lego structures rested carefully along the front wall and opposite them sat the Iceworm-themed desserts ranging from cakes to macaroons.

By noon, people started trickling onto Main Street as food vendors began assembling their stands.

Festival-goers filled both sides of the street as the highly anticipated parade began.

Baby Iceworm made frequent stops along the crowded street for photos, waves and hugs, stopping to hold 11-month-old Max Lohse as his mom Kristina Lohse took their picture. Lohse estimates she’s been to 23 Iceworm Festivals and was excited to bring Max to his first.

She held him as she talked with friends, occasionally pointing out parade floats to baby Max. Children collected candy tossed during the parade while tiny tots sat bundled in their strollers.

Jim Casement, riding down Main Street in the Citizen of the Year vehicle, waved and smiled as the warm sun hit his face during the parade.

“I really thank you for the honor that you have given me,” he said of his Citizen of the Year award. “I get a lot of help and these people deserve the credit because this is what we do here. A good idea or project is presented and then folks just pitch in and help get her done.”

“I would really encourage all to get involved in our local activities because each one of us has something to give and if we don’t contribute, then who else will?” he said.

At the Powder House, shells and oyster juice flew in the air making the room smell like saltwater.

Amber Christensen-Fox, from Port Heiden, anxiously waited in the corner by the windows, her eyes glued to the table in front of her.

A cardboard box filled with a dozen raw oysters was eventually placed on the table.

“I like to do things that scare me,” she said.

This was Christensen-Fox’s first Iceworm Festival. She decided to compete in the Powder House’s Annual Oyster Shuck and Suck competition, downing 12 oysters in minutes as her partner, John Williams, shucked them with impressive speed.

“Oh, it’s so much fun,” she said of the festival. “Every event you go to you meet somebody new.”

“It is the perfect mid-winter celebration,” Cathy Sherman said. “Gets us out of our homes, gets us to enjoy the winter, gets us visiting and laughing. It’s tradition. Cordova is very good at traditions.”

Sherman, who is originally from Pennsylvania, has attended 33 Iceworm Festivals, noting that she’s sported all kinds of gear, including full rain gear during her first festival. “I thought, ‘Well, this is interesting.’”

Sherman said she much preferred this year’s weather and enjoyed seeing everyone out and about and smiling.

She and her husband came to Alaska 37 years ago on their honeymoon and never left, deciding to make roots in Cordova.

“We will never leave here,” she said. “The people, the environment, who could ask for more?”

Around 8 p.m. the Fireworks Extravaganza show, by Michael Bowen, began. A voice from inside the Reluctant Fisherman told the crowd that the show may have started. People turned and looked out the windows. Within seconds, splashes of reds, blues, whites and purples filled the night sky as people made their way outside to the deck.

The boom of the fireworks sounded like a canon as they bounced off the mountain sides, echoing in the inlet.

As this year’s festival comes to a close the Iceworm Board and others already are planning for 2019. “The energy of the young committee will bleed into the next generation when they tire, and the next generation after that and after that and after that,” Sherman said.

Contest Winners

  • Beer Mile
    • 1st — Royce Landeen (Budweiser) 9:46:95
    • 2nd — Neil Durco (Denali Brewing Company Single Engine Red) 11:47:76
    • 3rd — Josh Hernandez (Budweiser) 11:56:30


  • Alaskan Hotel and Bar Cribbage Tournament
    • 1st — Per Nolan
    • 2nd — Erin Cole
    • 3rd — Jason Platt


  • Powder House Ping Pong Paddle Battle Doubles Tournament
    • 1st — Anne Schaefer and Pete Schaefer
    • 2nd — Rich Rogers and Kristy Andrew
    • 3rd — David Rosenthal and Sharon Ermold


  • Powder House Ping Pong Paddle Battle Singles Tournament
    • 1st — Bobby Q
    • 2nd — Rich Rogers
    • 3rd — Tom Prijatel


  • Photo Show in the Copper River Gallery at the Cordova Museum
    • PEOPLE
      • 1st — Jim Fritch
      • 2nd — Grace Collins
      • 3rd — Wendy Ranney
    • PLANTS
      • 1st — Wendy Ranney
      • 2nd — Janet Lebold
      • 3rd — Stefanie Tschapat
      • 1st — Lauren Padawer
      • 2nd — Jim Fritch
      • 3rd — Vivian Knop
    • ALASKA
      • 1st — Wendy Ranney
      • 2nd — Stefanie Tschapat
      • 3rd — Janet Lebold
      • 1st — Jeff Buchholz
      • 2nd — Janet Lebold
      • 3rd — Loren Banks
      • 1st — David Little
      • 2nd — Janet Lebold
    • HAWAII
      • 1st — Kristy Andrew
      • 2nd — Kristy Andrew
      • 3rd — Milo Burcham
      • Lauren Padawer


  • Powder House Chili Cook Off
    • 1st — Mark Frohnapfel
    • 2nd — Amber Wasson
    • 3rd — Kim Wilson


  • Powder House Salsa Cook Off
    • 1ST — Kim Wilson
    • 2nd — Gary Graham


  • Moose Lodge Beer Brewing Contest
    • 1st — Martin Faulkner (Spruce Tip Brown Ale)
    • 2nd — Dixon Sherman (Stinky Hermit Stout)
    • 3rd — Dixon Sherman (Nut House Brown Ale)


  • Lego Show
    • Best of Show: Jonas Fajardo


2018 Survival Suit Race Teams and winners

  1. What are you sinking about?

Fastest Team Time: 1:43.96

Mike Towle — Fastest Male: 1:21.74

Melanie Towle — Fastest Female: 1:38.58

Kate Arduser

Alex Arduser


  1. Nautical Narwhals

Third Fastest Team Time: 2:40.71

Jesse Smyke

Billi Howard

Hosea Burke

Ron Wallace



Michael Jahrig

David Mesdag

Miles Nye

Dan Christendsen


  1. #Pounders#

Finn O’Toole

Gunnar Davis

Jason Davis

Sara Parker


  1. Naughty Mommies

First Artistic Impression: Score 55

Erica Clark

Ellen Sheriden

Lara Whissel

Chelsea Haisman


  1. Thick Skulls and Hollow Bones

Second Fastest Team Time: 1:59.15






  1. US Coast Guard Cutter Hickory

Charles Bowman

Jason Palec

Caleb Metroka

Hunter Shults


  1. jwax (Boy Scouts!)

Jacob Raney

Wyatt Sorenson

John Misner

Zavior Russen


  1. Interceptors (Boy Scouts!)

Cody Shaw

Jaqui Kinsman

Jason Lee

Floyd Witsoe


  1. “The Ladies” — 2nd Artistic: Score 54

Soren Kokborg

Dane Eckley

Elias Hanson

Cole Hanson


  • Iceworm Parade
    • 1st — Children’s Palace
    • 2nd — U.S. Coast Guard Spouses’ Association
    • 3rd — Mt. Eccles Student Council


  • Citizen of the Year
    • Jim Casement


  • Powder House Oyster Shuck and Suck Doubles
    • 1st — Micah Renfeldt and Rob Campbell (1:20:49)
    • 2nd — Denna Francischetti and Trey Lohse (1:25:00)
    • 3rd — Ted Velasco and Leif Savig (1:38:13)


  • Powder House Oyster Shuck and Suck Singles
    • 1st — Matt Piche (1:47:00)
    • 2nd — Rob Campbell (1:50:38)
    • 3rd — Jimmy Paley (2:35:14)


  • Alaskan Hotel and Bar Del Wickham Memorial 9ball Tournament
    • 1st — Hank Carlson
    • 2nd — Jason Platt
    • 3rd — Jeff Field


  • Bidarki Iceworm Classic Volleyball Tournament
    • 1st — Odd Man Out
    • 2nd — Eyak Outlaws
    • 3rd — Motley Crew


  • Bidarki Iceworm Classic Basketball Tournament
    • 1st — Ace Hardware
    • 2nd — Edwards Team


  • Variety Show Beard Contest
    • 1st — Justin Ryan


  • Miss Iceworm
    • Winner: Samantha Vargas
    • First Runner-Up: Amanda Taitano
    • Second Runner-Up: Ria Smyke
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Emily Mesner is a staff reporter and photographer for The Cordova Times. Reach her at Emily graduated from Central Michigan University, earning a degree in photojournalism with a cultural competency certificate. She first visited Alaska in 2016, working as a media intern for the National Park Service in Kotzebue and Denali National Park and Preserve, and has been coming back ever since. To see more photos, follow @thecordovatimes and @emilymesnerphoto on Instagram.