JACKSON — Murray Long was discussing the hazards of ice carving Monday morning as he waited on the porch of The Wentworth for his block of ice to be wheeled over from the delivery truck.
"You start out to make a swan. Then it turns into a duck. Then it turns into a lump. Then it turns into cocktail ice," he said of sculptures that can fail for a variety of reasons, including sculptor error.
Long, however, doesn't produce much cocktail ice these days. He's been carving ice way too long. He was one of nine ice carvers who lined the porch at the upscale inn in Jackson Village for the 19th annual ice carving competition.
To the hum of short-bar chain saws, drills and other power carving tools, the carvers went to work before an audience of guests and diners who observed their efforts through the inn's front windows.
Most, if not all, of the contestants either are or have been chefs at one time. Long, 53, turned out top-flight meals at resorts and casinos in Las Vegas for 20 years, including at Caesars Palace.
These days, he works strictly with the frozen blocks and took third place in Monday's competition. He's one of the artists and sculptors at Wicked Good Ice in Rochester. They usually make their own ice, he said and are busy year-round. Next month, he'll be at Dartmouth College in Hanover to coordinate a two-day ice carving competition for 20 teams of students at Winter Carnival.
Weather conditions were far from ideal for carving. Temperatures that hovered just a degree or two below freezing were nevertheless too high to let sculpture sections fuse together properly, and the carvers were forced to work harder.
For some, travel to Jackson wasn't easy, either. Freezing rain that started late Sunday turned the North Country's roads into an icy challenge throughout the day Monday. Traffic on Route 302 in Crawford Notch was down to 20 mph.
But there was good news later in the day for The Wentworth's owner and general manager, Fritz Koeppel, if not for motorists and pedestrians. Temperatures headed back down as Monday progressed. That meant once the competition ended, the moose, birds, clowns and assorted other sculptures out front would survive longer in the coming days to delight his arriving guests.
David Soha of Ice Breakers was glad. He said Koeppel treats the competing carvers very well at his inn, and he hoped the sculptures would survive for a while.
When Koeppel heard the weather report, he was glad, too. "I'd rather have it this way. Usually we have good weather for the sculptors, but then the sculptures melt in a short while. I know this is tougher for carvers, but they're handling it well."
Although seven of the nine contestants were from New Hampshire, Long was the lone Granite Stater to finish in the top three, according to a local panel of judges.
Tim Pierce, a chef at the Samoset Resort in Maine, took first place with his carved swordfish, and Shawn Grenier, of the Woodstock Inn in Vermont, finished second. He carved a sea horse.