Loon Mountain unveils towering Ice Castle

Special to the Union Leader
December 29. 2013 9:29PM

Loon Mountain is once again home to an Ice Castle, a frozen structure people can walk through. The structure, open through March weather-permitting, is one of only three in the United States. Shown above is an Ice Castle from a previous year. (COURTESY)

LINCOLN - About 1,000 people attended the Dec. 27 debut of Loon Mountain's Ice Castle - a frozen structure people can walk through. Visitors can immerse themselves in the wonder of beautiful crystal walls and be inspired as they pass under 25-foot archways of frozen illuminated ice.

The artistic architect behind the frozen fortress is Utah-based artist Brent Christensen from Ice Castles, LCC. Loon's Ice Castle is the first on the East Coast.

Measuring nearly an acre, the 12,000-ton castle has taken shape over the last three weeks. Ice Castles are created from nothing more than a vast sprinkler system yielding a latticework of icicles. Ice artisans grow icicles at night with sprinklers and then strategically arrange them for the desired effect, and the process starts over the next evening.With continued cold weather, the castle will grow even larger in the coming weeks. By mid-January, its glacial walls and archways could reach 40 feet or higher.

By day or night, the Ice Castle takes on a different appeal: In the daylight the ice glows a glacial blue and beckon adventurers to explore the icy strongholds while at night multicolored embedded lights in the ice transform the castle into a fairy tale setting.

"I was amazed the first time I saw the Ice Castle at night. The dozens of red, blue and green LED lights embedded in the ice give the castle a fairy tale-like quality, almost like you've been transported to Narnia. We expect the castle to attract and inspire a lot of people, even those who have never skied or snowboarded a day in their lives. The Ice Castle is a great reminder of how beautiful winter really is," said Greg Kwasnik, Loon's media director.

Ice Castle Manager Cory Livingood said, "We grow icicles in metal racks and hand pick them and hand place them around sprinklers and turn on the sprinklers, and the ice accumulates around the icicles we placed. When those are strong enough, we place more icicles on top of those. We can build about a foot to a foot and a half a day on average."

"Our ice is blue because of the density, and it's very heavy ice, very beautiful, temporary art," said Livingood.

The majority of the towers are close to 12 to 15 feet tall and will continue to grow all winter long.

"We want the tallest tower to reach at least 40 feet tall," added Livingood.

Their previous ice castles used town water, but the amount of water usage was a concern to the town of Lincoln. Brook water was the resolution, but it clogged the fine filters on the pumps. In the end, water from the snowmaking pond was used. When the water melts, it will go right back to the brook.

"We are happy to be able to recycle the water," said Livingood.

It takes about 3 million gallons of water over the course of a season. In comparison, a restaurant uses the same amount of water in the same time period, and a golf course uses the same amount in about a week to water their lawns. The mountain uses the same amount in one night of snowmaking, said Livingood.

At the end of the season, Ice Castles will tear down the structure and remove the lights, sprinklers and pipes, which are buried about 15 feet under ice. The pile of ice melts back into the original water source. All their Ice Castles are built beside a natural water source.

"We are happy we are recycling the water this year … . We always build near a steam so water has some place to go after," said Livingood.

Ice Castles, LCC has built castles in Steamboat Spring, Midway, Utah, The Mall of America in Minnesota. This year's projects are at Loon Mountain and Breckenridge, Colo.

Tickets are $10 a person, with group rates available. The Ice Castle will also be available for private rental and photo shoots. For updates on the construction of the Loon Mountain Ice Castle, go to loonmtn.com.

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