Ice Art Alaska
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Ice Sculpture with Ice Art AlaskaIce sculpture of an ice cathedral in Fairbanks, Alaska

Fairbanks, Alaska is the site of the World Ice Art Championships every March.

For the event, Fairbanks provides the largest natural ice blocks in the world, allowing the sculptors an opportunity to work on a pure and transient medium. 

While there are other ice sculpting competitions in the northern hemisphere, none are like the World Ice Art Championships. 

Watch the Sculptors
If you are visiting in March, you will get a chance to see these international sculptors carving ice at a special park just for displaying the results of the championships. Because the water is so pure and the Alaskan Interior's winter temperatures so cold, the ice forms quickly and densely,  which gives it a slight glacial blue tint. It is so clear that a person can read a newspaper through a four-foot block of ice.  Sculptors have pronounced Fairbanks’ ice as the best in the world for sculpting.

Olympic Competition
Only a few years ago Ice Sculpting was added to the Winter Olympics as a cultural competition.  The World Ice Art Championships has served as the U.S. Olympic Trials in both 1993 and 1997, sending Kevin Roscoe of Kirkland, Washington and Steve Brice of Fairbanks, Alaska to Japan in January, 1998 to represent the United States of America.

While most other competitions use ice blocks commercially manufactured to about 2’ x 4’ x 2’,  the World Ice Art Championships use gigantic blocks of naturally formed ice, harvested from local ponds. The blocks measure 3’ x 8’ x 5’ and weigh over five tons.  The final creations in the Multi-Block Classic can weigh up to twenty tons and measure up to 25 feet in height.

Technique
Sculptors in most competitions are chefs creating decorations of a few feet in height on banquet tables.  They build by gluing ice pieces together using a slushy mortar of ice chips and water and their creations seldom last more than a few hours or days.

During the competition, most of the ice is sawed, chipped and brushed away as if it were a block of wood or stone, but because it is done in ice, this process takes only a few days.  The mortar of slush is still used to join pieces together but fewer joints are needed in comparison to the smaller ice sculpting competitions, which gives pieces greater clarity.

Events
The World Ice Art Championships consists of three separate events:

bulletSingle Block Classic
Two person teams work on blocks of 3’ x 5’ x 8’ for 60 hours in the single block Classic.
bulletMulti-Block Classic
Four person teams work on twelve blocks of 3’x3’x4’ blocks, which are stacked by forklifts as the artists direct. Scaffolding is provided and artists are given 110 hours. Some artists work around the clock to complete their work, adding intricate details with dentist drills or hand chisels.
bulletFairbanks Open
The Fairbanks Open has amateur artists working side by side with world ice sculptors.

Ice Park Display
An average temperature between ten below zero and twenty degrees above zero Fahrenheit in early March it makes the ideal sculpting and viewing environment.  While some fine details on the sculptures may melt during the month, the pieces hold up well for three to four weeks after the competition at a specially designed "Ice Park" located near the banks of the Chena River, which makes use of the spruce trees as protective shading and background for the ice sculptures. The park also usually contains ice sculptures designed for children to enjoy – alligators to slide down, twirly-tops to spin in and elephants to crawl on. The World Ice Art Championships are sponsored by Ice Alaska, a non-profit membership organization based in Fairbanks, Alaska.

Lighting and Viewing
When the competition is done, the carvings are lit up with Jousting Ice Carvingcolored theatrical lights, prompting many visitors to wait until 8 p.m. or 9 p.m. to view the carvings a second time. In 1997 and 1998 viewing was cut short by unseasonably warm weather melting the carvings sooner than expected.

So if you happen to visit when the carving is going on, do not wait too long to view the statues. See our calendar page for dates of competition or visit their Ice Art Schedule.

[There is a very nominal charge for admission to help support the park, with more expensive season passes available for those who want to watch the progress of the carvers. ]

But if you miss being in Fairbanks in March, do not despair. Some ice sculptures are retained in cold storage year 'round for the enjoyment of visitors and locals alike. They can be seen downtown at the Fairbanks Ice Museum in the former Lacey Street Theatre building. There is a small charge. For a lot more pictures, go to Julie Coghill's page on the World Ice Art Championships.

Charles Newman has written an excellent history of ice carving in Fairbanks, which is posted at Ice Alaska's Web Site. You can also get a look at the carvings of past winners by checking out this link. Email them at iceart@ptialaska.net.

There is a grade school in Fairbanks which did a project on the ice carvings in 1995. They published their project on the internet - it is full of pictures of the carvings and makes fascinating reading, so we give you the link to their site here. Since then, the carving competition has grown considerably. 

 

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