It was crunch time Wednesday morning as bundled-up ice artisans wielding hand tools, a table saw and even a propane torch scrambled to finish Ice Castles, the massive 1-acre ice structure to be unveiled to the public this week.
The popular winter attraction, made of millions of icicles and illuminated with a thousand LED lights, is set to open Friday evening at Long Lake Regional Park in New Brighton.
It’s the latest walk-through ice display to be built in the Twin Cities by Utah-based Ice Castles since 2012, at sites ranging from the Mall of America in Bloomington to Stillwater and Excelsior last winter.
But this is the first time the attraction has gone up in Ramsey County, said Ice Castles Minnesota build manager Tim Bauman.
“It’s a really nice park. It has pretty natural areas,” he said. It’s also centrally located between Minneapolis and St. Paul and has ample parking, organizers said.
The massive ice castle, with glacial-looking shimmering blue walls, occupies nearly an acre of land, Bauman said. The walls, made entirely of ice, reach up to 25 feet.
This year’s castle features tunnels, caves, an ice slide, mazelike pathways — and, of course, concessions.
“It’s like an ice playground,” Bauman said.
Ice Castles obtained a special-use permit from the county and is paying a daily rate of $476.75 for 49 days, which will total more than $23,000. The company will pay extra for water and power consumption and put down a damage deposit, according to a county spokesman.
“The natural beauty of the park combined with the enchantment of the Ice Castles will be a wonderful event for the residents of Ramsey County and the region. We are excited to host Ice Castles at Long Lake Regional Park,” said Mark McCabe, the county’s Parks and Recreation director, in a statement.
Visitors will need to buy tickets, with prices starting at $9.99 for a child on a weekday. Advance tickets are sold online at icecastles.com.
Icicle-making started as soon as temperatures dipped below freezing last month, Bauman said. The crew sprays water through chain-link fencing, creating thin, lean icicles that can measure up to 3 feet long.
The structure is made almost entirely of those icicles, which the crews fuse together by spraying with water. Because of the delicate nature of the building material, much of the castle is constructed by hand. Ice artisans strap on crampons similar to what mountain climbers wear to navigate the ice as they work.
“We ice-climb all day,” Bauman said.
Bauman, a Twin Cities native and former commercial fisherman in Alaska, said he recruited some of his fellow anglers to work on the project. The working conditions, he said, are similar: cold and wet.
The company didn’t share exact attendance numbers, but a spokeswoman said that tens of thousands have typically visited the Minnesota attraction each year.
Ice Castles was founded by Utah businessman Brent Christensen, who came up with the concept while building an icy playground for his own children. His winter creation drew kids from all over their town of Alpine, Utah. The first castle was built in 2011 in Midway, Utah, and the company now has six locations across the northern United States and Canada.