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A warm embrace for winter

The Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul have devised ingenious ways to fend off a long, antisocial winter. Both cities have built elaborate elevated ''skyway'' systems linking downtown buildings so shoppers can browse from store to store in hearth-warm comfort. Minneapolis has several innovative underground buildings - one an ''earthscraper'' that burrows ten stories down - to take advantage of the constant 55-degree temperature below ground. St. Paul is pushing an ambitious project to heat downtown stores with the ''wasted'' energy from local power plants.

But at least once a year the area lowers its defenses and calls a truce - even embraces - nature's wintry intrusion. The occasion: the St. Paul Winter Carnival, one of the country's oldest and most enthusiastic rollicks in the snow. The 11-day event, which ended Feb. 5, drew more than a million people taking part in 110 events held throughout the frost-crowned capital city.

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There were parades - three of them. There were ice fishing contests, balloon races, speed-skating exhibitions, and treasure hunts. Drivers tested their talents racing on frozen lakes. Goose-downed golfers teed up colored balls on drifted fairways. Snowshoers shuffled around a seven-mile twisting trail against the clock. It was St. Paul's own Currier and Ives scene.

And for those interested in outdoor artistry, there was ice sculpturing. With chain saws and bulky chisels, cold-weather carvers created delicate birds, penguins, bears, and objects in all shapes and sizes that twinkled like crystal in a late afternoon sun.

John Raak is a local technician who, appropriately, notched out a pair of skates draped over a hockey stick. A few shavings here, a few cuts there, and the boot of a skate emerged out of a tombstone-size piece of ice.

''It's a fun medium to work with because the sculpture changes with the weather,'' the ice-carving hobbyist said.

Terry Schupbach and Judy Stone Nunneley, two area printmakers, improvised as they went along. What started out as a chair became a totem pole of bears.

''This is our first time competing. You might be able to tell by looking at it,'' said Ms. Schupbach, a recent transplant to the Twin Cities from Kentucky, with a laugh. Ian Bradshaw was more precise. He frequently checked a palm-size clay model of the speed-skater he was trying to sculpture.

''If you get the right texture, you can make the ice look like glass,'' this chemist said. ''People like to come down and watch us work, and I enjoy participating.''

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Which, in a shaving of wisdom, is why St. Paul has been putting on this festival for 98 years.

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