Pretty Cold: Brent Christensen’s Ice Castles

January 15, 2014 — I wanted to open this post with a joke about White Castle, but there’s no way this text is competing with the photos (and I doubt you’re even reading this), so I’ll get right to the point.

A few years ago, a Utah man named Brent Christensen discovered he could do cool things with a sprinkler in freezing weather. So he started a business making what he calls “ice castles.”

This winter he made three, one in Utah, one in Colorado, and one in New Hampshire, just an hour and a half north of my house.

It was at Loon Mountain, a ski resort in the town of Lincoln, so we arrived to a strange world of people sliding down white peaks and clunking around in plastic boots and generally pretending that snow is best experienced outside instead of as a way to make the windows of a cozy fireplace-heated den prettier.

And snow was intermittently sifting down when we arrived, although I guess that could’ve been fallout from snow-making machines higher up the mountain. The temperature actually wasn’t too bad…cold enough that we knew that we’re experiencing deep winter, but not so cold that we wanted to lay down and close our eyes “just for a little while.”

The ice castle was immediately apparent as we drove up. From the outside it looked like some kind of natural formation, lumpy and without plan. Beautiful. Unfortunately, the wonder was wounded somewhat because it was contexted by a wooden shack and a parking lot and dominated by climbing walls and a zip cord just outside its sparkly perimeter.

But inside, it was easy to forget all that. Layout-wise, it’s more of a fort than a castle, with large, crowd-accommodating spaces and walls that ranged from 15-50 feet high. But it’s hard to call it a mere fort because the walls, towers, and features are made up of gorgeous accretions of elegant icicles. Hence the name ice castle, which, I guess, is halfway between “ice fort” and “ice palace.” I don’t know.

Inside, there was a small ice cave with long stalactites that it was impossible not to crane our necks to stare up at, regardless of the threat to our camera and eyeball lenses. There were a couple archways, a short tube slide, a thin water fall, Luke Skywalker hanging upside down, Pauly Shore pick-axing some dude out of the ice, holograms of an old Kryptonian guy.

We could see the sprinkler systems in use at the tops of towers and outside the walls, throwing out short streams of water that would freeze in clumps and strands. Christensen and his crew would hand-manipulate icicle growth like bonsai trees to help Jack Frost out. The water was pumped in from the adjacent Loon Brook, which roared by icily just below the castle.

We arrived at noon, with the temperature above freezing, and that made everything in the castle melt slightly to a glistening sheen. Obviously, we saw it in the cold light of day, when the ice took on various shades of aquamarine, turquoise, and white. At night, colored lights inside the ice formations turn the edifice into a solid aurora borealis...a whole different kind of pretty.

Mostly, I just remember unfocusing my eyes and wandering around like I’d just discovered my own planet or pretending to be an Abominable Snowman and chasing my daughter through its spaces. It was great, but I do admit that the pictures seem to have come out much more majestic than the experience…probably because we cropped out all the other visitors and cherry-picked the more striking details. You can see more cherry pics at my wife's photography site.

I’ve seen the experience described as “being in a glacier” and, until I’ve actually been in one, I think it’s the best descriptor for it. But you only have a limited window to find out for yourself. According to the website, they’re expecting to shut it down on March 1st, although I assume it could come down earlier if spring decides to cut its vacation short.

I’ve gotta thank Michael J. Curtiss for this one. He pointed it out to me when I farsightedly posted an article about the Utah ice castle on the OTIS Facebook page, not realizing there was one I could see first-mitten. Thanks, man, for giving me the excuse I needed to leave my house this winter.