×

To build a castle out of ice, start with 5,000 icicles – or maybe more

  • Sherri Covell of Ashland fuses icicles to the top of an in-progress ice tower at the ice castle display in Lincoln on Tuesday, Dec. 19, 2017. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff) Elizabeth Frantz—Monitor staff

  • The construction of the ice castle display continues Tuesday, Dec. 19, 2017, ahead of the scheduled Jan. 1 opening day near the Hobo Railroad in Lincoln. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff) Elizabeth Frantz—Monitor staff

  • The construction of the ice castle display continues Tuesday, Dec. 19, 2017, ahead of the scheduled Jan. 1 opening day near the Hobo Railroad in Lincoln. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff) Elizabeth Frantz—Monitor staff

  • The construction of the ice castle display continues Tuesday, Dec. 19, 2017, ahead of the scheduled Jan. 1 opening day near the Hobo Railroad in Lincoln. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff) Elizabeth Frantz—Monitor staff

  • The construction of the ice castle display uses icicles upon icicles upon icicles to form a solid structure Tuesday, Dec. 19, 2017, ahead of the scheduled Jan. 1 opening day near the Hobo Railroad in Lincoln. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff) Elizabeth Frantz—Monitor staff

  • The construction of the ice castle display continues Tuesday, Dec. 19, 2017, ahead of the scheduled Jan. 1 opening day near the Hobo Railroad in Lincoln. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff) Elizabeth Frantz—Monitor staff

  • Sherri Covell of Ashland fuses icicles to the top of an in-progress ice tower at ice castle display in Lincoln on Tuesday, Dec. 19, 2017. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff) Elizabeth Frantz—Monitor staff

  • Icicle building materials sit in sleds during construction of Ice Castles ahead of opening day near the Hobo Railroad in Lincoln on Tuesday, Dec. 19, 2017. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff) Elizabeth Frantz—Monitor staff

  • An icicle frame promotes more ice growth during construction of Ice Castles ahead of opening day near the Hobo Railroad in Lincoln on Tuesday, Dec. 19, 2017. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff) Elizabeth Frantz—Monitor staff



Monitor staff
Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Building castles in the air is said to be a fool’s game. Building castles out of ice is much more down to earth – quite literally.

“You have to build it right on the ground. ... If you were to put down a substructure and freeze on top of that, it’s immensely weaker than building out of solid ice. You can’t get ice that adheres really well to other substances,” said Brent Christiansen, the founder of Ice Castles, the Utah firm that is building the annual ice castle display in Lincoln.

With frozen arctic air over the region this week, everything is on schedule for a New Year’s Day opening. This is the fifth year that the walk-through structure, complete with internal lights and a plumbing system that keeps the walls supplied with their basic building material, will be near the Hobo Railroad. Construction takes up to two months and requires as many as 40 workers, and the resulting castle can weigh 25 million pounds, according to the company.

Ice can be a surprisingly good building material as long as the weather isn’t too warm. In polar regions, oil companies spray ocean water to create ice islands that can hold entire drilling operations, while multistory ice hotels have become popular tourist destinations in winter.

Christiansen notes that those hotels are actually built out of snow, which has been packed into forms and compressed to create solid building blocks. The Ice Castle, however, lives up to its name, built entirely of frozen water pumped in from a hydrant.

The castle invites visitors to walk through its halls and under its arches. At night, the ice is lit with various colors in tune to music.

“I come up with a design. We lay out all of the plumbing, the pipes that deliver the water on the ground, as well as electrical lines for the lights, and when the weather turns cold – which it has now, thankfully – work begins,” Christiansen said.

The structure is built with 5,000 to 12,000 large icicles, each 18 inches to 3 feet in length, some grown naturally and some frozen within pipes, that form the basic structure, like an internal scaffolding.

“We place icicles in formations, day by day, to promote the ice castles to grow in certain directions,” Christiansen said. “We stand some up, like rebar – we put them vertically, horizontally, as we build a castle.”

Spraying water at controlled rates over the icicles slightly melts the surface before the water freezes, fusing it all together into a solid mass. The water doesn’t even have to be very cold; Christiansen said that in Utah they use water heated naturally by geothermal systems to almost 50 degrees.

“Ice is amazing – as we add these layers, we put icicles out where we want the next layers to be and spray. ... It’s like a welding process – it will both melt the existing ice and then freeze to it, so the layers are actually fused,” he said.

Christiansen said the company is always looking for improvements.

“We’ve experimented with a few variations, but nothing drastic – but we always come back to icicles,” he said. The company is also looking into technology used by ski resorts, which sometimes add bacteria to their snowmaking water because it causes the liquid to freeze more readily.

The firm builds ice castles in a half-dozen locations – in Utah, Colorado, Minnesota and two central Canadian provinces as well as New Hampshire – and has learned a lot of tricks.

“When we’re building a tower, for example, we never want to be climbing on the tower, we prefer to be climbing inside the tower,” he said. “We don’t try to build the whole thing really tall – maybe 15, 20 feet – although there are certain parts we like to stress.”

Design elements change, too.

“Years ago we introduced the first slide – since then you’ve got to have slides, better slides, more slides!” Christiansen said. “This year, the fountain is a little bit more animated.”

In the future, the exhibit may add other attractions, like ice-skating.

More information, including ticket prices and updates, is available at the company’s website, icecastles.com.

(David Brooks can be reached at 369-3313 or dbrooks@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @GraniteGeek.)