MIDWAY — The only thing better than seeing the spectacular frozen ice formations, the tunnels, archways, caverns and slot canyons that make up the Ice Castles near Midway, is to see Brent Christensen’s creations at night with lights and sound.
“Personally, I like it a little better at night,” Christensen said. “But it’s pretty cool right now (in the daytime) with the sun shining through the ice. It’s good either way.”
The 2016 Ice Castles in the Soldier Hollow area, which opened Jan. 8, boasts an acre of frozen walls, arches and tunnels.
There’s a water fountain in the center, a waterfall on the side, a maze and an ice block slide plus a synchronized light and music show.
Christensen said the 50-foot slide is new and requires a visitor to climb up and then to squeeze through a narrow passage. There’s also a fairly lengthy wait for the slide, and visitors in ski clothes go much faster than people in jeans.
Susan Strayer brought her young baby and 4-year-old daughter to the castles on Jan. 7. She’s already planning a return visit to bring her son and husband.
“It is visually stunning,” Strayer said. “It reminded me of stalactites in a cave. To walk under the ice is cool. It is beautiful.”
Gracie Strayer pretended she was Elsa from Disney’s “Frozen” and ran all over the castles. She even got lost for a few minutes, but her mother said she didn’t seem worried.
Susan Strayer said she was assured the ice will hold together and there’s no danger. “When ice is frozen to ice, it’s frozen well,” she said.
Plus, there are Ice Castles employees constantly checking and rechecking the formations, Strayer said. “That’s comforting,” she said.
Brett Lee took four children between the ages of 7 and 13 to the venue. They love it, Lee said. “They were all just running around. They loved the slide. They went on it easily.”
Lee said the falling snow added another layer of magic.
“It blew my mind,” he said. “It looks kinda short from the outside but you get in and there’s all kinds of features. It was an amazing experience and cool with the lights and the music.”
The Ice Castles are the work and brainchild of ice artist Christensen, who with CEO Ryan Davis and a crew of trained workers has built four large ice creations in Utah, Minnesota, New Hampshire and Canada.
Utah is the toughest site, Christensen said, because of the unpredictable weather shifts.
“We would be OK if you could take the weather risk out of it. Out of the last six to eight years, it’s only been conducive to do this three or four years,” Christensen said. “There’s nothing we can do but hope Mother Nature cooperates.”
This year, the results of 2,000-3,000 hours of intensive hard work in the cold with water and ice are impressive.
Christensen is happy about the success he’s having with the castles and hopes to keep building the large ones as well as to add a number of smaller venues in places such as Jackson Hole, Wyoming; Banff, Alberta; and Breckenridge, Colorado, similar to one he did in New York City recently.
He’s diligent about making sure the results are visually interesting with a mixture of delicacy and strength.
His ice castles have been used as the backdrop for a number of video and music shorts, including Alex Boye and Lexi Walker performing “Let It Go” with One Voice Children’s choir; The Piano Guys’ “Let It Go”/Vivaldi's “Winter”; and Lindsey Stirling's “Crystallize.”
In Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, tickets to the venue are already sold out.
Since the castles’ origins, more than 750,000 people have toured an ice castle.
In Utah, Christensen said he expects 2,000-3,000 visitors a day.
“I like to do the hands-on work. Normally, now, I don’t get to do as much,” Christensen said. “But we have some really solid crew members who know the techniques.”
He expects the castle to be open for visits into late February and possibly into early March.
“March is always a bonus for us,” he said. “So people probably shouldn’t wait.”
If you go ...
What: Ice Castles in Midway
Where: Soldier Hollow Cross-Country Ski Resort, 2002 Soldier Hollow Road, Midway
When: Open through March, weather permitting, Monday-Thursday, 3-9 p.m.; Fridays, 3-10 p.m.; and Saturdays, noon-10 p.m.
Tickets: Monday-Thursday, $9.95 for general, $6.95 for children ages 4-11, free for children under 4; Fridays and Saturdays, $12.95 for general, $8.95 for children ages 4-11, free for children under 4. Closed Sundays. Tickets must be purchased in advance at icecastles.com/midway.
Sharon Haddock is a professional writer with more than 35 years' experience, 17 at the Deseret News. Her personal blog is at sharonhaddock.blogspot.com.