Ice castle slated to return next winter to Lincoln's Hobo Railroad
By JOHN KOZIOL
Union Leader Correspondent | April 17. 2017 8:29PM
Although it closed nearly three weeks earlier than hoped, and, as shown here on April 10, has been reduced to large pile of slushy rubble, an ice castle will return to Lincoln's Hobo Railroad for the winter of 2017-2018. (John Koziol/Union Leader Correspondent)
“We definitely plan to come back” to Lincoln, said Ryan Davis, CEO of Utah-based Ice Castles LLC, on Thursday.
Ice Castles was founded by ice sculptor Brent Christensen, who in 2008 discovered a way to “grow” icicles, and from them walls, towers and castles when he was making an ice cave in his family’s backyard for his daughter.
In the winter of 2016-2017, the company built ice castles in Lincoln as well as in Eden Prairie, Minn.; Midway, Utah; Wisconsin Dells, Wis.; and Edmonton, Alberta, Canada.
Four years ago, the first ice castle on the East Coast was built at Loon Mountain and drew some 50,000 visitors.
The following year and ever since, the venue moved west to the Hobo Railroad, which not only has more space for an even bigger castle but is located a mere stone’s throw from Exit 32 off Interstate 93.
The proximity to the highway is important, said Davis, because so many ice castle visitors come from far away.
Davis declined to say exactly how many visitors came to the ice castle this year, but said it was in the tens of thousands. Davis noted that “over 60 percent of them drove more than 100 miles one-way. So we’re pulling heavily from Massachusetts,” and in equal parts from Maine and New Hampshire.
“The number that we’d like people to know is what New Hampshire sees in economic revenue” from the ice castle, said Davis.
“Most of our guests stay about 1.6 nights,” he said, and as a result, they will patronize many local businesses, including hotels, restaurants, gas stations and retail stores. In the process, they will generate upwards of $7 million in secondary spending.
That kind of spending “is great for the area and especially Lincoln,” said Davis, and it brings people to town who “want winter but they don’t ski.”
As to the past season, “We did alright,” he said, but “we did better two years ago than we did this past winter and that’s entirely due to the early close.”
That close came on Feb. 23 and it hurt, Davis explained, because typically the ice castle is “very busy” between the New Hampshire and Massachusetts winter school vacations and “we only got half of the Massachusetts break” and none of the Granite State break, which was a week later.
The warmer-than-normal temperatures in February were “a disappointment on one hand,” said Davis, “but the weather is going to be the weather so when you do what we do, you have to plan that it’s not going to work out the way we planned.”
Nonetheless, there was good news, Davis said, in that “we had really good weekday traffic which was better than last year. It didn’t make up all the ways for the early close, but it helped to soften it.”
Mid-March is usually when all his company’s ice castles close.
Although the opening of the Lincoln ice castle usually lags behind that of the other ice castles, it usually “stays open the longest,” said Davis, and this year, “We were open later in New Hampshire than we were in Edmonton.”
Making the best of the situation, the Lincoln ice castle “tested out some new features and they came out great,” said Davis, putting Ice Castles LLC “in a position to build the coolest experience that we’ve had so far” in Lincoln in 2018.
“We’re pretty excited.”