We’re all accustomed to the hazards of ice this time of year, but what about its beauty?
This winter, Ice Castles, LLC brings a one-of-a-kind experience to Stratton Mountain as it unveils a spectacular icy forest in the heart of the Vermont ski resort. The frozen wonderland spans two acres and features giant archways, winding mazes, ice thrones, waterfalls and tunnels—crafted by nature, but manipulated by a self-proclaimed mechanic.
“Ice Castles really are one of the most unique and beautiful places on earth,” said Ice Castles, LLC artist and founder, Brent Christensen. “Visitors will feel like they’ve stepped through the wardrobe into a stunning icy Narnia when they visit Stratton. It’s magical, and what’s really special is that every visitor gets a distinctive experience since the ice is constantly melting, freezing and being reshaped.”
Christensen said it takes approximately 1,500 to 2,000 man-hours over a four-week period to construct his illuminated ice castles. It’s a business venture that keeps him and his partners busy from November to March, jetting across the continental United States to supervise multiple projects as they work simultaneously. At the time of this interview, he’s in Minnesota. The following day, he’ll be in Vermont. All this is in preparation for the real star of the show, of course that being, Mother Nature.
“I’m going to state for the record, that the truth to the artwork is really not anything manmade,” said Christensen. “I’ll design the layout of the castle and design all the lighting and the plumbing. The artwork, the beautiful part of it, is really out of my hands. That, in and of itself, is inspiring. The ice forming in its natural way that it does, is what creates the real art. The designs are done in such a way to allow people to really thoroughly enjoy, and get very close to some of these really amazing ice formations.
“So without risking breaking your neck, or traveling to the North Pole, you can take the kids and walk through these crazy-cool ice formations that don’t normally happen.”
Ice Castles is a Utah-based company, creating acre-sized, all-ice castles at venues across the United States. More than half a million guests have visited one of their castles since the company’s establishment in 2009.
“I’m not a stranger to snow, but I never lived in a snowy and cold environment,” said Christensen, who originally grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area. Today, he and his wife live in Hawaii, where the 52-year old master of ice has taken up surfing in the off season. But, before he started shooting the half curl in the Pacific, Christensen perfected his art through innocently playing in his backyard.
“Once there, we started going out in the yard and making igloos, ice caves, forts and things like that,” he said. “And just that kind of experimenting and playing, really is what it was all about. And after a few subsequent years of experimenting I was fortunate enough to stumble upon this method, of what we use now, to grow the ice castles.”
Following last year’s successful Ice Castle exhibit in Lincoln, New Hampshire, he will soon return to New England to begin building again
“Stratton is in the woods, and it will have this enchanted forest feel to it,” said Christensen.
Stratton Mountain, approximately 60 miles outside of Albany, ranks among the top resorts for snow, grooming, lifts, service, lodging, food and family programs. In addition to big mountain skiing and riding, Stratton offers a wide range of activities and outdoor adventure throughout the year.
The Ice Castle, nestled between two ski slopes and surrounded by a 30-ft tall canopy of evergreens, is made of millions of icicles that sparkle a glacial blue by day and glow multi-colored at night with the help of thousands of LED lights embedded in the ice.
“I appreciate art, and I admire artists. I’d love to call myself an artist but I hesitate to put myself in that category,” Christensen. “I know artists, and am in awe of what artists can do. I’m more an inventor. I like to invent and design. Certainly there’s some art to it – the way we design the flow and try to create, but I’m probably more a mechanic.”
The ice craftsman said if someone asked him to do a nice painting, he’d likely “fail miserably.”
Stratton Mountain’s Ice Castle will be built at the resort’s Sun Bowl Lodge. Construction on the castle began in late November and is to open to the public Dec. 26 through March 2015, weather permitting.
The Ice Castle will open from 2 to 9 p.m. Sundays through Thursday, 2 to 10 p.m. on Fridays, and noon to 10 p.m. on Saturdays. General admission tickets for ages 12 and over are $8.95 Monday through Thursday and $12.95 Friday through Sunday. For ages 4 to 11, tickets are $6.95 Monday through Thursday and $10.95 Friday through Sunday. Senior, military and group discounts are available.
Tickets can be purchased on site or at www.icecastles.com/buy-tickets.
Michael Hallisey is managing editor of Spotlight Newspapers.