People have flocked to Stillwater the past two years to tour the city’s ice castle. This year, their destination will move about 50 miles west, to the shores of Lake Minnetonka.
Excelsior will offer an ice castle this winter in the city’s Commons, a public park along the lake, starting sometime around Christmas. The attraction is being moved there due to construction and infrastructure conflicts in Stillwater.
Colorfully luminous, fancifully shaped, multichambered and sprawling across an acre of land, ice castles can attract up to 100,000 visitors during the winter season. The Stillwater/Excelsior models are the creation of a 10-year-old Utah-based company called Ice Castles LLC, which builds them in six cities across the northern U.S. and Canada.
These castles are more organic in shape than the smooth-surfaced palaces that the St. Paul Winter Carnival typically assembles with blocks harvested from a frozen lake, said Ryan Davis, the company’s CEO and co-founder.
Workers with Ice Castles freeze the water to create surfaces that are bumpy, curvy, rolling and full of ice stalactites and stalagmites.
They’re made of hundreds of thousands of 3- to 6-foot icicles, arranged like studs in a wall. That framework gets sprayed with a mist that freezes to form walls, towers, tunnels, slides, fountains, mazes and other frozen architectural flourishes. Construction requires a full-time crew of about 50.
“It’s kind of a mix between a frozen waterfall, a glacier and a playground,” Davis said.
Each castle is about 20 feet high, with the top mostly open to the sky. By day, the ice glows glacier blue; at night, it’s illuminated with multicolored, ever-changing LED lights.
“It’s pretty popular on Instagram,” Davis said.
When Ice Castles proposed building the attraction in Excelsior this year, city officials there quizzed folks in Stillwater. “Their chamber said [the castle] was the best thing that could happen to them in the winter months and they were bummed to see it go,” City Manager Kristi Luger said.
Both waterside cities are lively tourist destinations in the summer but slow way down in the winter.
In Stillwater, the city estimated that the castle lured $2.5 million a year to local businesses. The city charged the company for use of its property and services, said City Administrator Tom McCarty.
Excelsior will charge the company $21,750, and city officials say they expect to reap more than $100,000 from parking meter users.
The castle didn’t return to Stillwater this year because equipment being used to repair the Lift Bridge over the St. Croix River is occupying the site. City officials considered an alternate location but deemed it too risky because the city’s main sewage line runs beneath it, carrying 2 million gallons of sewage daily.
“You can’t risk a fracture of those lines,” McCarty said. “If we had a problem, we’d have a big problem.”
The company recommends that visitors buy tickets in advance at icecastles.com/excelsior, since they often sell out at peak times.
Excelsior officials said Ice Castles will remove the structure in April. Castles can take months to melt on their own.
“When spring starts to hint, the last thing you want to see is remnants of winter,” Luger said. “You don’t want the ice castles taking over Little League soccer.”