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Brunch on a frozen Minnesota lake

Braking action not recommended

Photography and story by Leonardo Correa Luna

On a frozen lake in Minnesota, plows scraped a runway that drew a crowd seeking fun and food, and it turned into a ritual 10 years old and counting.

Pilots landed on Mille Lacs Lake in Minnesota on March 4 with skis or wheels, having about a mile of plowed ice to work with. Photo by Leonardo Correa Luna.

March 4 was the date this year, skis and wheels equally welcome, along with families and aircraft of many shapes and types, from ski-shod singles to twins and helicopters.

Mark Priglmeier shared the origin story: “It was so long ago, we lived just off the Mississippi River north of Sartell, Minnesota, and I recall this picture of my father's Piper Cherokee 140 on the frozen Mississippi River next to the shoreline by our home. I will never forget that image.”

Out of eight kids, Priglmeier was the only one to pursue aviation. His father was a court reporter who used his airplane to travel to courthouses for depositions and hearings. 

"I flew with my father from a very young age, which planted the bug. Then, in the early ’90s, I won a thousand dollars at a radio station and used that money to start flight training. Well, that money went quickly, as you can imagine. So, my flying stopped”

Iceport is a family-friendly event by design. Photo by Leonardo Correa Luna. The 2023 edition of the Iceport drew nearly 150 aircraft by the end of brunch. Photo by Leonardo Correa Luna. Volunteers help keep things organized. Photo by Leonardo Correa Luna. Plenty of parking plowed over here. Photo by Leonardo Correa Luna. Photo by Leonardo Correa Luna. Photo by Leonardo Correa Luna.

Ten years later a neighbor asked to build an airstrip behind his house. The deal included flying, and eventually led Priglmeier to buy an airplane, and leave his IT job to become a full-time flight instructor and charter pilot, flying a Quest Kodiak and Cessna Grand Caravan EX, mainly serving the Lake of the Woods area in Minnesota. Thus do some of us lucky ones find our dream job.

That image of his father's Piper 140 parked on the frozen lake planted the seed for Priglmeier’s passion for ice landings. He believes that he has more landings on ice than on pavement. He loves a good challenge. That is how Iceport was born.

“I used to plow a runway just outside my folks’ house on the north side of the lake to visit Mom and Dad and play cards, and I was on wheels. And that is when I decided to share that experience with other pilots; everybody should be able to land safely on a frozen lake on wheels. And doing it in a safe environment, as you can see, the volunteers plowed a great runway (approximately a mile long by 100 feet wide). So basically, you don’t need brakes at all, and we recommend not using them.”

The 2023 edition was the tenth anniversary of Iceport, the fifth time on the east side of Mille Lacs Lake in collaboration with Amanda Brandt, owner of Da Boathouse In Da Bay restaurant. The first event was on the other side of the lake, the west side at Twin Pines. From then, the event snowballed and kept growing every year to the point that on one event, there was a call from Minneapolis Center to ask about what was going on.

  • Photo by Leonardo Correa Luna.
  • The event was held on the east side of Mille Lacs Lake for the fifth year running, providing easy access to the host restaurant. Photo by Leonardo Correa Luna.
  • Keeping the engine warm while you eat is one secret to happiness. Photo by Leonardo Correa Luna.
  • Volunteers cleared the runway and helped ensure safe operations. Photo by Leonardo Correa Luna.
  • The youngest attendee for 2023, future pilot Blaine Ritter, five weeks old, made the trip from Iowa with mom, Calla Ritter, and AOPA members Alex and Mike Ritter. Photo by Leonardo Correa Luna.
  • A rare delta wing homebuilt, the Dyke JD-2 Delta is one of an estimated 50 constructed from plans supplied by John Dyke. Photo by Leonardo Correa Luna.
  • A Beechcraft Bonanza on short final. Photo by Leonardo Correa Luna.
  • Photo by Leonardo Correa Luna.
  • Iceport has grown over 10 years into an event that gives Minnesota a credible claim to kicking off the aviation event season. Photo by Leonardo Correa Luna.
  • Photo by Leonardo Correa Luna.
  • Well-fed, happy, and likely to return next year. Photo by Leonardo Correa Luna.

I asked Priglmeier about his main safety recommendation for a pilot landing at a frozen lake: “Keep the aileron into the wind, avoid drifting, tell the airplane where you want to go and use aerodynamic braking as much as you can.”

For some pilots, the airshow season starts during the first weeks of the summer, but for Minnesota's people, the season has already begun.

A fantastic group of volunteers showed up at 8:30 a.m. for breakfast at the Da Boathouse, and from then they worked hard all day. The final count? The clicker of the official airplane counter for the 2023 Iceport edition showed 147 aircraft, including three helicopters. The count ended at 1:30 p.m., so it did not include several late arrivals.

Topics: Fly-in

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