The art of Ice Carving

The ice used at the World Ice Art Championships in Fairbanks, Alaska, is often referred to as the “Arctic diamond,” and for good reason. Thick, crystal clear and glistening with a slight tinge of aquamarine, its gemlike qualities have garnered the attention of ice sculptors from around the world who make the annual trek to east-central Alaska to test their skills carving it into intricate swordfish, dragons, polar bears and anything else that sparks the imagination.

The high-quality ice comes from a pond near the North Pole, Alaska, located just southeast of Tanana Valley State Fairgrounds, where the annual competition is held. On average, volunteers from Ice Alaska, the organization responsible for executing the championships, harvest more than 4 million pounds of ice in preparation for the event, which has been taking place since 1990 and is one of the largest events of its kind in the world. Last year alone, more than 11,000 spectators came to watch as nearly 100 artists sawed and chiseled blocks of ice into gallery-worthy masterpieces.

“[The ice] is so clear that you can read newsprint through a 30-inch thick ice block,” says Heather Brice, a local ice sculptor, and multi-time world championship winner.

While ice is the star of the show during the multi-week event (this year is scheduled for February 15 through March 31), the creativity and talent of the artists elevate it from a giant ice cube to a crown jewel.

Many of the sculptors have built their careers around ice carving, including Brice and her husband Steve, who combined have won 26 awards at the world championships. (They are also the artists responsible for the sculptures at the year-round, 25-degree Aurora Ice Museum, located 60 miles outside Fairbanks.) When they’re not competing or working on commissioned pieces, they run a successful online shop that sells ice carving tools of their own design.

“They’re the leaders in their field,” says Heather Taggart, project and volunteer coordinator for the World Ice Art Championships. “They’re so talented in what they create as well as innovative in creating tools. If they don’t have a certain burr orbit, they’ll fabricate their own.”

Some years the couple will join forces and compete together in either the two-person or multi-block classic categories, where teams receive either two or nine 6-foot-by-4-foot ice blocks, respectively, each with a thickness of between 26 and 35 inches. Other times they’ll compete against each other in the one-person classic category where each sculptor receives a single ice block. Their most recent win as a team was in 2017 with an ode to the Mad Hatter's tea party from Alice in Wonderland called "March Madness."

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