ST. PAUL — Kirstin Knutson describes herself as a “small-town girl with big-city dreams,” and one of those dreams came true in a big way Friday, Jan. 24, when she was crowned Aurora, Queen of Snows of the 2020 St. Paul Winter Carnival.

“I am so humbled and honored to represent the St. Paul Winter Carnival for 2020,” said Knutson early Saturday from the lobby of the St. Paul Hotel as she prepared to head out for a day of appearances with her new royal family. “I’m looking forward to meeting as many people out at the events as possible.”

The 25-year-old middle school guidance counselor lives in New Richmond, Wis. — candidates for the crown are not bound by geography — but she grew up in Isanti, a community located about 40 miles north of St. Paul. Earlier this month, as one of the 10 candidates for Queen of Snows, Knutson shared one of her favorite winter memories: “The endless weekend days my older sister and I would go sledding in our backyard,” she wrote. “We had a big hill in our yard and we would go sledding from the time we got up until the sun went down. We would then have sleepovers in each other’s rooms and watch movies all night.”

Later, Knutson says she learned to love ‘the energy of the Cities,” especially after moving to St. Paul to study at St. Catherine University, where she received a bachelor’s degree in psychology in 2016.

Knutson, who also has a master’s degree in school counseling from the University of Wisconsin-River Falls, had yet another dream come true after getting hired at her “dream job,” working as an academic guidance counselor at Math and Science Academy, a small charter school in Woodbury.

“I work with middle school students, so grades six through eight, and at that point in their lives, they make such a huge transformation and it is so incredible to watch them think independently and start to develop their values and belief systems,” Knutson says. “To help support them through that is really awesome.”

As of Saturday, the students didn’t even know their counselor was running for Queen of Snows, but they’ll find out soon enough — and perhaps it will be a teachable moment.

“Hopefully at some point we can have a mini lesson on what the Winter Carnival is and introduce them to the legend as well,” Knutson said, referring to the Carnival’s backstory of the battle between winter and spring.

It wasn’t so long ago that Knutson was the one learning the details behind our historic event.

“I was the first one in my family to venture out into the St. Paul Winter Carnival,” Knutson says.

Her journey to the crown began in Isanti.

“I was an ambassador for my hometown in 2011 — an Isanti ambassador for Royal Jubilee Days — so that’s when I got a taste for volunteerism, for giving back to the community,” she says. “I wanted to give back to St. Paul in the same way.”

This is how Knutson first came to be a candidate for Queen of Snows in 2018 (candidates often run more than once before being named a queen or one of the four princesses of Winter Carnival’s royal family). While she didn’t win the crown that year, she did find love.

“That’s actually how my boyfriend and I met, through the St. Paul Winter Carnival,” she says. “He was a 2018 King’s guard.”

Theirs is not the first Winter Carnival love story.

“There are a lot of them” says Knutson. “For me, it helps make the St. Paul Winter Carnival just a little more magical and a little bit more special.”

Knutson and her boyfriend, Daniel Maslowski, share another new title: homeowners. They recently built a house in New Richmond, which is about 40 miles from St. Paul.

“We’re making it our own now, which is fun,” Knutson says. “Trying to figure out how we’re going to finish the basement, getting our fence and our deck put up.”

For now, Knutson might not have too much time for DIY projects: The queen, who is sponsored by Bob and Cheryl Flood, has a year’s worth of civic appearances, parades and travel ahead of her. The folks at Carnival can’t wait for you to meet her.

“Kirstin was incredibly humble and appreciative through her entire candidacy,” says Natalka Kramarczuk, chair of the Queen of Snows Candidate Committee. “The pure look of surprise on her face truly shows how she went into this experience for the adventure regardless of the outcome — she is going to represent the festival with grace and class; we are blessed.”