In the 1880s, ice boating came to Lake Minnetonka with the first race in 1886, featuring five homemade boats. Ward Burton, who was only 10 years old at the time, was one of the participants. Although he didn’t win, he discovered the thrill of ice boating.
Ice boats were very popular on the Hudson River in upstate New York from the 1870s to the early 1900s. At the time, they were the fastest mode of transportation and would race freight trains and beat them. By 1902, the Hudson River was being kept free of ice for commercial shipping, so several Lake Minnetonka sportsmen bought some of the iceboats. Ward Burton bought two: Northern Light, which had clocked at 118 m.p.h. on the Hudson River and was known as the fastest iceboat in the world, and Zero. It was with his boat Zero that Burton made his record-breaking run, sailing approximately five miles from Gideon Bay to Wayzata in three minutes and 45 seconds. In his memoir, Burton said sailing on ice felt similar to flying.
Ice boating still exists on Lake Minnetonka with boaters experiencing rates of speed that modern ice boats can provide.
Deanna Bunkelman is the president of the Excelsior-Lake Minnetonka Historical Society and writes about local history in her monthly column.