Freezing fortress: Ice Castles let visitors explore an other-worldly landscape
- Created on Wednesday, 11 January 2012 16:57
- Written by Scott Rappold
(Photo by Christian Murdock, The Gazette)
By R. SCOTT RAPPOLD
SILVERTHORNE • Brent Christensen didn’t build his castle. That credit goes to gravity and the science of freezing water.
“I’m not a sculptor,” the 49-year-old Silverthorne resident said. “But I set the stage for some really cool stuff to happen, which happens on its own.
“I’m an experimenter, and that’s probably as far as I’ll go.”
His experiment, The Ice Castles at Silverthorne, is a bizarre landscape that has steadily risen since November in a strip-mall parking lot in Summit County. In its first year, the attraction is drawing hundreds of visitors a day — from tourists looking for a break from the mediocre ski conditions to Front Range residents looking to escape from a warm winter into a land of ice.
“They’re not cool, they’re amazing,” said Alexis Anderson, in Summit County on vacation. “It’s beautiful. They’ve done an amazing job.”
“I’ve never seen anything like it,” added Chuck Perry, visiting from Wisconsin. “It’s kind of like looking at clouds. What’s that shape?”
Christensen began playing with ice in his backyard while living in Utah, letting water run and freeze, building an ice rink, then an ice fort. He channeled his fascination with ice into a profession, building two smaller castles in Utah before signing on with Silverthorne to build The Ice Castles.
It starts with a schematic and clay model. Christensen and his dozen employees build structures of PVC pipes and sprinklers. Then they turn on the water, go home for the night and let the cold weather do the work.
The next morning they chip the ice on the walkways, carve out the tunnels and harvest up to 4,000 icicles from the “icicle farm.” The icicles then are attached meticulously to the various structures upwards and sideways to give an ice cave look. As the towers rise, workers strap on crampons and helmets to continue repositioning pipes and sprinklers.
“It’s tedious in a way but at the same time I’ll come out some days and be really amazed at the progress that happens in a short period of time. No doubt it’s a lot of work,” Christensen said.
The main castle is about 15 feet high, and Christensen expects it to reach 40 or 50 feet by the end of the season. The mild weather has been less than cooperative, and a hard day’s work can drip away with too much warmth.
Said Christensen, “I’m not going to say we’ve bit off more than we can chew, but it’s definitely been a lot of work this year.”
“Ice cave” is exactly what it feels like to roam the tunnels of the main castle. When the sun sets and the ice formations are illuminated by glowing lights inside the ice, it’s downright eerie, something out of “Harry Potter” or maybe where Luke Skywalker was hung upside-down in the cave on Hoth.
So far, 2 million gallons of water have gone into the castles, which cover an acre. Christensen and crew will keep adding through the winter, peaking around late March or early April.
Then the spires and towers will melt into the Blue River a few hundred feet away. Christensen will take a long summer break, and he hopes to be back next year with a new ice castle.
Though the fruit of his months of effort will be gone, Christensen said it’s worth it to share his love of the beauty of ice.
“I just want (visitors) to find some enjoyment out of the pure beauty of the really marvelous ice formations.”
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The Ice Castles at Silverthorne
Hours: 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays, 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Fridays, 10 a.m.-10 p.m. Saturdays and closed Sundays
Tickets: $10, $7.50 ages 4-12 and free ages 3 and younger
To get there: From Interstate 70, take the Silverthorne exit (Exit 205) and go north on Colorado Highway 9 for a few blocks to The Ice Castles on the right.