Name recognition is the holy grail of marketing for resort towns, but the reason for recognition can be controversial. Consider Fraser’s historic slogan, “Icebox of the Nation”. Does a resort town want to be famous for being frozen? This issue was re-opened by National Public Radio on Jan. 15 when the national news program interviewed Fraser Mayor Phillip Vandernail, along with International Falls, Minnesota Mayor Bob Anderson and Georgia Wenz in Big Piney, Wyoming. As usual, the addition of Alaska to the union as a state was not recognized in this discussion.
It was not that many years ago when traveling far from home I could tell a person I was from Fraser, expecting the common reply – “Oh, the Icebox of the Nation!” An entertaining conversation on “dry” cold versus the biting bitter cold of the Midwest would ensue – along with bragging about how our cold kept the snow on the Winter Park ski area as fluffy as a down pillow.
We “lost” this title and name recognition for obscure legal reasons, but also because our truly saintly weather lady finally retired from her long-lived task of rising every 3 hours to manually read the temperature – reading results were often broadcast in far flung weather reports (equaling name recognition). Edna Tucker, postwoman extraordinaire, served many sacred roles in our community – not the least of which led former Fraser resident Peter Colley, owner of the SilverCreek Steakhouse to tell me “We didn’t need a psychologist in Fraser, we had Edna.”
A morning trip to the post office always included a conversation with Edna. If there was even a crumb in your approach to another cake day in Fraser, she would recognize it and would not allow you to carry your mail out the door until your foibles had been at least discussed and often placed on the path to a solution.
Several battles were undertaken with International Falls Minnesota over the trademark, “Icebox of the Nation.” We offered compromises and a few suggestions as to a real test of who was coldest. During the crux of the battle in 2008 then Fraser Mayor Fran Cook and Manager Jeff Durbin prepared a nice box of Fraser nick-knacks, sending the box off to the International Falls Board as a peace offering.
When a box came back Fran and Jeff excitedly opened it, only to find the proffered package returned unopened. Along with this came the threat of legal action if Fraser chose to defend its “title”. Fraser officials rightly agreed legal fees spent on such a ridiculous battle would be ill-spent.
In the NPR interview, Mayor Vandernail suggested “an icebox throw down” between the two towns. International Falls Mayor Bob Anderson suggested a popular sport in that berg, frozen turkey bowling. Perhaps there is a Minnesota trip in Phillip’s future.
Who is coldest? Regular weather reports have not been made in Fraser since 1974, when our mean temperature was 32.5 degrees, barely keeping us out of the permafrost zone. International Falls current mean is 37.4, Big Piney is about the same, 36.4 – well above Fraser. We have certainly warmed up with the rest of the planet, but I hope we have not warmed up 5 degrees. We are not surrounded by Birch trees which are certainly prevalent in northern Minnesota.
Is there a better reason for name recognition? Steamboat Springs has earned fame and its title of Ski Town USA because of the number of Olympians produced by the community. Sitting upstairs in the Howelsen Hill warming house you are surrounded by pictures of Olympic medalists – many of who were trained on the town ski hill (some moved from Winter Park to take advantage of the community’s larger jump hills there). The City of Steamboat invests heavily in Howelsen, understanding the true value of having your name mentioned within the news cycle.
Should Fraser reclaim name recognition, possibly by re-establishing regular weather readings? Hard to say, but we should consider there is a critical difference between “famous” and “infamous”. Summer does find the large majority of the planet seeking a cool respite from increasing heat. Many of us endure winter just to enjoy our all-to brief summers.
Summer business continues to be a bigger part of our economic pie, but winter will continue to (pending a climate crisis) be our main earning season. Our cold is certainly easier to deal with, but to the uninitiated any subzero temperature – no matter the quality of the bluebird day – just sounds scary.
International Falls anxiously hangs onto this trademark to keep its cold weather industry testing industry vibrant. It has been many years since Fraser looked to this very small niche for income. Some historical remnants remain; US 40 through Fraser is still Zerex St. after the antifreeze – a street name reportedly earned after town residents received a free winter dose for their vehicles. Fraser also was “The Town Goodyear Put on Spikes” after residents received fresh winter shoes for their ride.
Fraser should hang on to the whimsical part of our nom-de-plume. Igor Guziur and Cara McDonald still entertain the idea of creating a huge winter icicle out of their adventure tower at the ball fields. Perhaps we can create this seasonal ice climbing/town icicle as a part of the Cozens open space park project. Colored lights could enhance the town’s frosty reputation.
We should continue to seek fame through the hard work of enhancing the many gifts the Fraser Valley offers – trails, Nordic skiing and of course the best ski area in Colorado. If we build it correctly they will enjoy our field of icy dreams when they come. Innovative community building will ensure Fraser earns the title of being the “Coolest Town in America”.