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Ice Castles to open in Breck December 26: behind-the-scenes photos and giveaway

Ice Castles in progress at Breckenridge
Ice Castles in progress at Breckenridge

The Ice Castles have arrived in Breckenridge for the 2013/2014 season and will open next week, December 26, 2013. Read more about how they’re made, the unique features coming this season, and how you can win tickets to see them yourself.

Rachel and I had the distinct pleasure of visiting the Ice Castles in Breckenridge and checking out the work-in-progress before it opens to the public next week. We met with Red, one of the head icicle creators and experts, who showed us around the icy playground. Check it out:

How Ice Castles Are Made

The ice creators set up an icicle farm with pipes and water dripping constantly just a few yards beyond the structures themesleves. The farm creates about 10,000 icicles per day and the finished products are hauled up, by sled in carpet bags, to the castles to be attached throughout. Yes, tons of the icicles break in the process. The icicles are attached, by hand, using a paste of snow and water. The more delicate and tricky sculptures, such as arches spanning overhead, are created using this process.

Future site of arches
Future site of arches

The castles have LED lights throughout that will illuminate the structures at night. You’ll notice the ice is a clean blue during the day. This is not because of the lights but because the compressed water means there’s no air to create the lighter white we’re all used to.

Sprinklers spraying water to grow the Ice Castles
Sprinklers spraying water to grow the Ice Castles
The remainder of the structures are created using pipes and a complex irrigation system that is constantly spraying water. As the structures grow, more vertical piping is added to spray over the castles. The ice is entirely weight-bearing to allow the crew to climb up. Red said something like 4 inches of ice can support a person and 12 inches can hold a vehicle and you can see for yourself, some of these walls are many feet thick.

So far the team of 5 – 10 have spent about a month building what we can see now. The crew will keep working, full time, through the entire season. When its time for the castles to come down, they actually demolish the structures and water them down. Otherwise, the team says the sheer density of the castles could allow them to say in place all the way through the summer.

Maintenance and Features

If it’s not clear, there’s no underlying infrastructure (no supporting beams or initial walls), the structures are made entirely of ice forming on top of more ice. Given that, approximately 7 millions gallons of water will be used to build and maintain the ice castles. The water is always flowing and the sprinklers are set to run all night (in case you think you can sneak in, you’d be soaked within seconds).

As the water falls you’ll see plenty of unique formations: in some cases icicles grow upwards, some water drips down and the wind blows it sideways to twist the path in a spiral, and you’ll likely see a bunch of bubble-like surfaces where a water drop falls and creates a round bulb. The team intentionally builds from the outside walls towards the inner, taller surfaces allowing for a good distance between visitors and the taller, more complex and fragile structures (for safety reasons).

Chainsaw cutting ice pathways
Chainsaw cutting ice pathways
Right now the team is cutting out all the pathways, creating the maze and cleaning up the floor to make it safe and walkable for visitors.

Over the coming months you’ll be able to watch the entire structure and features evolve. Hopefully by February a second floor with a ramp will wrap around the middle of the structure. A tunnel slide will then lead down from the second floor. Plenty of arches and complex ceilings will sit high above visitors. A pair of thrones are being erected for visitors to sit and take photos on. Even a tall fire pit is planned to be built which will make for an excellent fire-and-ice scene.

Future site of two ice thrones
Future site of two ice thrones

The world’s tallest ice structure is 52 feet or so and the team is also aiming to break that record this season in Breck. Fingers crossed the days and nights stay cool to allow this to happen!

Visiting the Ice Castles

You’ll find the Ice Castles in Breckenridge off Adams road, just west of Main Street and behind the Riverwalk center right off of the bus line. It’s in the park adjacent to the parking lot where the annual ice sculpture competition happens (talk about a lot of ice this year!).

  • Address: 150 W Adams Ave, Breckenridge, CO
  • Dates: December 26, 2013 through the spring
  • Hours: Monday – Friday from 2 PM – 10 PM and Saturday and Sunday from noon to 2 PM
  • Tickets: $10 for ages 4 and up, free for kids 3 and under

Happy Icicles!