Steamboat Springs The air was turning frigid and a wall of snow moved down Mount Werner on Wednesday afternoon as Brent Christensen and his crew mulled over three quarters of an acre of dirt.
The piece of land in Ski Time Square once was a bike pump track, but that playground recently was leveled to make way for a playground of another sort: a striking natural ice sculpture that will tower 40 feet into the air.
But on Wednesday, it was just dirt and nearly a mile of irrigation piping — the skeleton of what will grow day by day into a glittering white and turquoise ice castle of intricate tunnels and towers.
Like snowmakers, Christensen and his crew will be working in the harshest of weather. But Christensen is used to making friends with the cold for the sake of his art and the joy of others.
“It’s just coming up with something far fetched,” he said about his motivation for building an ice castle in Steamboat Springs this winter. “It’s creating something that’s never been done before and watching it come out of the ground. “
Christensen and his partner, Ryan Davis, will be overseeing the creation of the ice castle, which will be open to the public at the base of Steamboat Ski Area for tours sometime in mid-December.
The pair, who operate the Ice Castles company are making only one other public ice castle this year at Mall of America.
Christensen and Davis have built public ice castles for four years, starting in Utah and expanding to Silverthorne last year.
This season, they had planned to stay in Summit County by creating the sculpture in a parking lot in Breckenridge. But that didn’t pan out, and another opportunity was emerging in another ski town 1 1/2 hours Northwest of the site of their Colorado debut.
A winter wonderland in Steamboat
Steamboat Ski and Resort Corp. always is looking for ways to upgrade the mountain’s base area and saw the ice castle as a glimmering opportunity to enhance the ski vacation experience for visitors.
“Steamboat identified that the ice castle was an attraction that would round out the experience here in Steamboat,” Ski Corp. spokeswoman Loryn Kasten said. “We approached the Ice Castle company and decided it was a really good partnership that would work if we all contribute.”
The first location the group scouted fell through, but Kasten said making the Ice Castle a reality in Steamboat was a priority.
Ski Time Square is managed by the Atira Group, which tore down buildings there in 2008 with plans to redevelop the area. But according to Atira Vice President of Development Garrett Simon, the economy had other plans. While Atira waits for the market to turn around, Simon said Atira’s goal is to help facilitate attractions that will elevate the base area experience. And this is a big one, he said.
“We’re looking in the interim at uses to keep the lights on in Ski Time Square,” he said. The ice castle, which likely will keep hours of noon to 10 p.m., will glow at night and draw more eyes and foot traffic to the area.
“With this, and marketed appropriately with Ski Time Square, the retail at Torian Plum and the Tugboat Grill and Pub, it’s all going to have a different feel to it,” he said.
Growing a castle
The ice castle will be made from 100 percent water. About 50 sprinkler heads already are set up around the site, ready to begin spraying in a circular pattern.
But the real magic is in the icicles, thousands of them, which the crew will grow and harvest on the site to be fixed onto the growing sculpture, creating the lattice for the water to freeze onto.
Christensen said the structure will grow about 1 to 3 feet per day once the process begins in mid-November. As the weather and conditions evolve throughout the winter, so will the castle, making it truly a product of the Yampa Valley environment.
Cory Livingood, who will live in Steamboat Springs this winter to manage the ice castle, said the structure was a magnet for special moments. The place was crawling with photographers capturing the frozen ice formations day and night, and there were more than a few marriage proposals. The castles were a popular spot for engagements and other photo shoots, and it was the backdrop of a music video that has more than 32 million views on YouTube.
Livingood will be living in Steamboat Springs all winter to operate the attraction, and Christensen said the plan is to hire about 10 people to guide tours and sell tickets. Ticket prices have not been set.
Christensen and Davis will be traveling between their two creations this winter and will be on hand for the crucial parts of the growing process.
Davis said the creation of the ice castle requires a lot of water — as in millions of gallons. They will be buying water from the city of Steamboat Springs, Davis said.
The castle weighs thousands of tons, but the pounds-per-square-inch pressure on the ground is less than that of a pickup, Davis said.
The footprint of the castle is smaller this year, but Davis said they learned from the Silverthorne castle, and the design will be better this time around.
“Every year we experiment with the layout,” Davis said. “There’s no one we can go to and say, ‘How do you grow your ice castles?'”
To reach Nicole Inglis, call 970-871-4204 or email ninglis@ExploreSteamboat.com