Ice sculpture

Ice sculpture is a form of sculpture that uses ice as the raw material. Sculptures from ice can be abstract or realistic and can be functional or purely decoration. Ice sculptures are generally associated with special or extravagant events because of their limited lifetime.

The lifetime of a sculpture is determined primarily by the temperature of its environment and thus, a sculpture can last from mere minutes to possibly months. There are several ice festivals held around the world, hosting competitions of ice sculpture carving.

The raw material

Sculpting ice presents a number of difficulties due to the variability and volatility of the material. Ice must be carefully selected to be suitable for the sculptor's purposes and should be free of undesired impurities. Typically, ideal carving ice is made from pure, clean water. However, clear, transparent ice is a result of the freezing process and not necessarily related to the purity of the water. Clear ice is mostly the result of slow freezing that allows impurities to escape. The water molecules are allowed to line up into the typical crystal lattice while impurities remain in the unfrozen water. Certain machines and processes allow for slow freezing and the removal of impurities and therefore are able to produce the clear blocks of ice that are favored by ice carvers. However, not all blocks that are carved are clear ice. White ice blocks look like snow and are sometimes carved. Colored ice blocks are produced by adding dyes to the ice and can be carved as well. In some instances, clear ice and colored ice are combined to create a desired effect.

There are various sizes of ice blocks that are produced artificially. Naturally made blocks can be cut to almost any size from frozen rivers or from "ice quarries," which are essentially lakes or ponds that have frozen over. Large ice blocks must be moved by heavy machinery and are used for large ice sculpting events or as part of an ice hotel.


The temperature of the environment affects how quickly the piece must be completed to avoid the effects of melting; if the sculpting does not take place in a cold environment, then the sculptor must work quickly to finish his piece. Some sculptures can be completed in as little as ten minutes if the carver is using power tools such as chainsaws and specialty bits fitted to a die grinder.

Ice sculptors also use razor-sharp chisels that are specifically designed for cutting ice.

As various technologies are adapted for use with ice carving, many sculptures are now created largely by machine. CNC machines and molding systems are now commonly used to create ice sculptures and complicated logos from ice. Color effects are also possible by a number of techniques, including the addition of colored gels or sand to the ice.

This art form is traditionally taught in culinary schools using text books such as "Ice Sculpting the Modern Way", Joseph Amendola's "Ice Carving Made Easy" and Mac Winker's "Ice Sculpture: The Art of Ice Carving in 12 Systematic Steps". There are also small schools that teach ice carving.


Ice sculptures feature decoratively in some cuisines. When holding a dinner party, some large restaurants or hotels will use an ice sculpture to decorate the table. A popular theme involves a pair of swans, often representing the couple in a wedding celebration.

Ice sculpture around the world


In China, Heilongjiang Province is the most significant region for ice sculpture. The most famous event is the increasingly popular International Ice and Snow Sculpture Festival held annually in Harbin. The festival has consistently increased in size over the years, with more talented artists involved and more impressive techniques and pieces on show. Ice sculpture decoration ranges from the modern technology of lasers to traditional ice lanterns. The climate of Heilongjiang is very cold and ice is plentiful. Objects of all sizes appear, up to and including building-sized pieces.

United States

Since 1989, Alaska has hosted the annual World Ice Art Championships. Nearly 100 sculptors come from around the world to sculpt large blocks of pristine natural ice. The event is run almost exclusively by volunteers.

In a typical year, more than 45,000 spectators pass through the gates of the Ice Park home of the World Ice Art Championships. The competition is broken down into two main categories: Single Block and Multi-Block and each competition is further separated into Abstract and Realistic sculptures. One of the most popular attractions is the Kids Park where children of all ages can glide down ice slides or spin in ice twirly tops.

Typically held the last week of February and the first week of March, spectators may view the sculptors at work during the championship competitions. In the Single Block Classic, teams of up to two persons work on a 3'×5'×8' (90 cm × 150 cm × 200 cm) block of naturally formed Alaskan ice, weighing roughly 7,800 pounds (3,500 kg). In the Multi-Block Classic, teams of up to four persons each receive ten blocks of approximately 6'×4'×3' (180 cm × 100 cm × 90 cm) each weighing about 4,400 pounds (2,000 kg). to create their crystal masterpieces. Teams that compete in both the Single Block and Multi-Block events must handle a total of 50,000 pounds (23 t) of ice. Power tools and scaffolding can be used in both events: assistance from heavy equipment is only permitted in the Multi-Block Classic Competition. Thus, participation in the event requires exceptional strength, endurance, and engineering skill as well as mastery of basic ice sculpture techniques and artistic vision.

The National Ice Carving Association (NICA), based in Oak Brook, Illinois (in the Chicago metro area) is an organization of ice carvers and those interested in ice carving. NICA sanctions and supports various ice sculpture competitions around the United States and in Canada and has held a yearly National Championship since 1991. NICA also was responsible for managing the ice carving competition held in conjunction with the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City and provided support for the most recent 2006 event in Italy. In 2007 they created the "TOUR OF CHAMPIONS" which is awarded annually to the ice artist with the highest scores in individual competitions. Amongst the many prizes for this award, the recipient's name is engraved on the traveling trophy.

Perhaps even more important than its to role in ice sculpture competitions, NICA also holds tradeshows and seminars that are designed to educate and inform those interested in ice sculpture. NICA offers resources and information for the business side of ice carving as well. NICA has an elected board of directors and an executive director and produces a newsletter (On Ice) and maintains a website ( Many of the world's best ice sculptors are members of NICA and NICA is a valuable resource for those working to be the best.


The Japanese city of Sapporo on the island of Hokkaidō is famous for its winter carnival, in which teams compete to create ice sculptures. Some of these creations are the size of multiple-story buildings.


In Canada, Quebec City, Quebec holds an ice sculpture festival each year during the Quebec City Winter Carnival. The sculpture festival lasts about three weeks. For the sheer variety of ice sculptures and the number of visitors, the Quebec festival is regarded by some as the best in the world. Each year about twenty teams are chosen to participate in the competition. Half of these teams come from Canada and the others come from other countries. Ice sculpting started to become important in Quebec in the 1880s, as traditional sculptors like Louis Jobin turned their skills on this less permanent medium.

Each year Lake Louise, located in Banff National Park holds a 3 day event called Ice Magic in the 3rd weekend of January. Sanctioned by the National Ice Carving Association, Professional carvers are invited to compete in this event staged in the shadow of the glacier-clad Mt. Victoria. Twelve teams of three carvers are given 15 blocks of ice, weighing 300 lb each, which they must transform into ice sculptures in three days. Weather permitting; the sculptures will remain on display through March.

In the National Capital Region of Canada the Crystal Garden international invitational ice-carving competition starts every February, as part of the Winterlude winter festival of Ottawa. The competition site has been located in Confederation Park in Ottawa and also on the shores of Leamy lake in Gatineau, across the Ottawa River. There is a solo category, a pairs category and a one-bloc challenge. In addition to the sculptures done in the competition many ice sculptures are made to decorate the many Winterlude sites.

In Kingston, Ontario, the annual FebFest snow sculpture competition in Confederation Park in features snow forts by Royal Military College of Canada and Queens University. The snow fort must not only be pleasing to look at but also safe for children to play on. In 2008, Royal Military College of Canada's snow fort was modelled after the MacKenzie Building in the Second Empire style with a Mansard roof and a central tower incorporating a working clock, flanked by projecting end towers and a slide. Both teams worked through the night, filling rectangular recycling bins with snow. In addition, ice sculptures of hockey players were made in memory of the first hockey game between Royal Military College of Canada and Queens University.

About 10 km East of Quebec city, near Montmorency Falls and within the grounds of the Duchesnay winter resort the first Ice hotel in North America is erected each January. Small and medium sized ice sculptures are used to decorate the interiors.


An annual competition is held at Moscow's Gorky Park.


Not traditionally known for Ice sculpture, Ireland has produced some well respected sculptors, winning The International Ice Sculpture Festival in Jelgava, Latvia, two years running. See also Duthain Dealbh.

ee also

*Ice palace
*Ice hotel
*Snow sculpture
*Snow castle

External links

* [ The National Ice Carving Association (NICA)]
* [ CNC CAD/CAM Automation for carving Ice]
* [ Lainio Snow & Ice Village, Finland]
* [] Ice Art in Virginia

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