Frosty the Ice Man: Gaylord’s National Harbor ICE!

December 21, 2014 — Under normal circumstances, if you want to play with Frosty the Snowman, you expect a nipped nose. But when he’s made out of two million pounds of colored ice sculpted by Chinese artists in a tent kept at 9 degrees, well, it’s more than just your nose that’s nipped. Also, it’s less nipping than it is gnawing.

I’m talking about Gaylord’s annual ICE! event, where the convention hotel chain hosts a massive series of ice sculptures by those same guys who do the China’s Harbin Ice and Snow Festival, all based on various Christmas stories.

Four years ago, I went to see the Grinch incarnated into colored ice at the National Harbor Gaylord in Maryland and loved every eyeball-freezing second of it. So when my wife’s parents wanted to treat us all to it this year, I was in like Quinn…the Eskimo.

This year, the four Gaylord properties—Tennessee, Florida, Texas, and Maryland—were featuring ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas, The Nutcracker, and Frosty the Snowman, respectively, the latter of which was at both the Texas and Maryland Gaylords and was based on the Rankin/Bass special. As we spend much of Christmas in the Mid-Atlantic, that meant we were going to Frosty the Snowman, which, for obvious reasons, is a story particularly suited to that media.

The experience hadn’t changed much since my time at the ICE! Grinch. You don an oversized blue parka, gasp as you enter into a coldness that’s almost surreal, and then try to get through before your core temperature drops to 10 degrees south of cadaver. Basically, you have the opposite problem that Frosty himself had.

As we were heading toward the large white tent that housed the sculptures, we were passed by people exiting the event, all of whom were obviously excited by what they had just experienced, but were also just as obviously wondering what permanent damage they’d wrought to their skin and lungs.

And then we went inside.

Now, it would be easy for me to paint the crowds and the below-freezing temperature and the many white Frosty sculptures that capered maniacally like frost demons into a unique vision of hell…except that everyone was having too good a time.

And good times are enough warm the heart long enough to take in the wonders of ice manipulated and colored into beloved holiday forms. I actually skipped a hat and gloves, and my only regret comfort-wise was not wearing any long johns.

From there, it we went from room to room watching Frosty come to life that day, see how inhospitable life was to him, die, and then get resurrected and exiled. You know, the whole story that inspired/depressed me enough to write Frosty the Woe-Man years ago.

This time, I actually tried the ice slide, using my long blue coat as a toboggan. It wasn’t as fast as you’d think ice would be. I just remember it being hard. And cameoing in all the footage being taken by parents of their kids coming down the slides.

My favorite part, and the one I wondered how they were going to pull off, was Frosty’s puddly death scene. They did it straight. The hat-topped puddle of Frosty water, Karen crying into her mittens, Santa staring aghast. The way the softened it was to sequentially light it with a scene behind it of Karen and Frosty cavorting around. And then, of course, the next scene was the jolly old red Deus ex machina himself taking Frosty to where he’ll never melt and will still be fashionable after Labor Day.

Just like last time I visited, they ended with a large, life-sized nativity scene carved out of clear ice, but they also had a room called the Frostbite Factory where thy explained how the spectacle was created. They even had one of the artists live-carving in the room.

And then we exited out into 30-degree weather that felt almost Caribbean in its warmth.

Without a doubt, we had a [arctic] blast there, but I’ll never watch the scene where Karen freezes in the refrigerated box care the same again.