World Ice Art Championships
Besides the fact that the month of March is the most favorable for photographing the Aurora in Alaska, another reason to visit Fairbanks at this time of the year is the ice carving competition called “Ice Alaska”, or formally “World Ice Art Championships”. If driving the Dalton Highway in winter is a bit more too adventurous, Ice Alaska, which takes place in Fairbanks, cannot be easier to attend.
The event takes place in a large open area, full of structures built of ice which form a family-friendly park. Kids – carted around by parents in sleds instead of strollers – climb animal-shaped sculptures and enjoy slides. There is also a building where you can buy some food and warm up for a while.
The main attraction for visitors, however, is the competition itself. Carving generally takes place around the first week of March, then prices are awarded and sculptures remain all the month. If you are there early in the month, you’ll see the teams working, whereas later in the month, you get to admire all the completed works.
I learned in the informational panels next to the sculptures that there is quite an international circuit for ice-carving artists. The most prestigious event of the circuit is the Fairbanks event. The Fairbanks ice is the best in the world for ice sculpture, because it is obtained from small pit ponds in which water is not subjected to currents (unlike rivers and lakes). This gives it a crystal clear purity since there are no bubbles or white streaks.
At night the character of the sculptures is dramatically improved by colored lights that help highlight the detail in three-dimensionality. An entrance ticket is valid for the whole day, so that it is easy to revisit in the evening if you arrived early. I suppose if you are lucky, you can see the Aurora dancing overhead, but we didn’t. (Low activity, 2).
The competition is divided into two categories, single-block and multi-block. The multi-block is certainly the most spectacular. 20 4-persons teams carve 12 blocks of ice measuring 4′ x 4′ x 3′. The resulting sculptures line up two sides of a large open area.
Multiblock lends itself to group of sculptures, but since ice artists can cut and piece ice in any way, so the resulting sculptures can be considerably larger than the block dimensions, such as this almost life-size locomotive. The sculptures are fenced, but you wouln’t want to stand beneath this one in any case !
The 2012 multiblock winner, “Prickly Reception” from Junichi Nakamura, Shinichi Sawamura, Satoru Mahoe and Takahiro Sueyosh, is a leopard stalking a crested porcupine carved with incredible intricacy.
In the single block competition, 40 2-person teams carve a single block of ice measuring 5′ x 8′ x 3′, and weighting nearly 8,000 pounds. The single-block sculptures were displayed in an easy-to miss wooded area next to the main space. The 2002 single-block winner is the mermaid sculpture “Treasure Hunt Blue Marine” from Junichi Nakamura and Victor Dagatan. I imagine that Victor Dagatan practices in a room-sized freezer (like another ice artist from Mexico to whom I talked) since he is from the Philippines.
If you enjoy cold weather, besides the Aurora, this unusual event is another good reason to visit Fairbanks in March. Here is the official Ice Alaska website. Be sure to bring a tripod for photographing the sculptures at night !
See more images of Fairbanks and Ice Alaska