To fully grasp the appeal of Ice Castles at Geneva National, it’s necessary to experience the ice sculpture wonderland through the eyes of a child.
Imagine waking up in the midst of winter, when layering on sweaters as well as a jacket, snow pants, a knit cap, mittens and boots is necessary for every endeavor, be it going to school or having to tag along on the trip to the grocery store.
But then, instead of school or errands, you find yourself transported to a magical icy fairyland where you can explore, play hide-and-seek, whoosh down slides of ice and cap it all off with hot chocolate and a giant cookie.
Part of the enchantment also depends on the uncertainty of when Ice Castles will appear. Opening and closing dates are weather-dependent. The professional ice artists require approximately two months to create the sculptures, followed by continued cold temperatures to prevent premature melting. Generally, Ice Castles opens for visitors in late December or early January and can run through early March.
Ice Castles founder Brent Christensen created the first frozen structure for his own children, who did not know what to do with themselves in snowy Utah after the family moved there from sun-drenched California. Christensen’s antidote to cabin fever was to fashion an ice cave in the front yard. Soon, children from the neighborhood and across town were coming over to play in the “ice castle.”
Ice Castles’ mission of creating “happiness, laughter and unforgettable winter memories,” has grown to inspire visitors across all generations in Colorado, New Hampshire, Utah and Lake Geneva, Wisconsin.
A team of 20 to 40 ice artisans create the colossal castle by harvesting 5,000 to 12,000 icicles by hand each day, sculpting them into formations and drenching them with water. The finished castle spans an acre in size and weighs 25 million pounds.
Those figures might be a matter of passing interest, but they do not convey the awe with which young children to seniors approach the icy wonderland.
Once the formations have been created, they are in the creative hands of the elements. Air temperature, water volume and wind work together to add their own details:
new ice walls, stalactites and stalagmites. While the overall structure remains the same, each day brings out new details in the individual installations.
During the day, visitors blink at the brightness as the sun pierces the icicles, setting off rainbows of color. At night, multi-colored LED lights embedded in each part of the sculptural formations twinkle in time to piped-in music.
Little ones pass through an archway hand-in-hand to seek out the nooks in the ice where they can huddle and giggle. Next, they discover an ice tunnel – just their size – to crawl through. They tumble gleefully down one of the gently-sloped 10-foot slides. The crowning moment comes when they climb up on the royal throne to survey their icy realm and linger for just a moment for picture-taking before heading off for more investigation of the structure.
Those riders 42 inches and taller can take one of the provided thin, blue plastic sleds to zip through the blinking lights inside an extended slide with its curves and dips. Adults wander through the icy maze, delighting in observing the children, marveling at the construction and then pausing to sit on one of the fur-covered log benches around a crackling fire, sipping on a hot toddy from the Frost Bites or Hot Shotties beverage bar. Nearby, visitors toss contributions into a thermal bubbling well, where visitors can deposit contributions that are put toward digging a well in a developing country.
With so many enchanting attractions available, the Ice Castles adventure delights all ages, creates family memories and fulfills its very simple mission: “to make more people smile.”
By Susan Murray
Photos Courtesy of Ice Castles