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Ice Becomes Art in Fairbanks

A Guide to Fairbanks, Alaska

    Stroll down a Fairbanks street on any day in March and you're likely to run into a dragon, a mermaid, or possibly a smiling Buddha. Aided by chainsaws, chisels and drills, sculptors turn huge 8-by-5 foot chunks of Fairbanks ice into everything from abstract art to wild animals each winter during the city's annual ice sculpting competition.

    The World Ice Art Championships, an international sculpting competition and exhibition, produces dozens of frozen sculptures around the city and at the Ice Park located near the center of town. Fairbanks has become a hotbed for ice carvers because of the superior quality and abundance of ice.

    The 2000 World Ice Art Championships will take place March 1-12, and will host carvers from around the world. Nearly 200 international sculptors compete in Ice Art, coming from as far away as Japan, Germany, Poland, Sweden, Mexico and Korea.

    The Championships feature three different ice sculpting events. In the single block classic event, each 2-person sculpting team is given two days and a 7,200 pound block of ice, measuring 5-by-8-by-3 feet. In the large sculpture classic event, teams of 4 or 5 sculptors are given 12 blocks of ice measuring 4-by-4-by-3 feet. Each block weighs 3000 pounds. In the open event, beginning sculptors or interested locals wishing to try their hand at sculpting are given a 2,700 pound block of ice measuring 3-by-5-by-3 feet, and three days in which to complete their sculpture. The artists craft the blocks into abstract, representational or realistic sculptures, and the top three winners in each category receive gold, silver and bronze medals.

    In addition to hosting the annual World Ice Art Championship competitions, Fairbanks is a key site for Olympic ice sculpting. The 1997 Ice Art Championships served as the U.S. Olympic ice carving trials for the 1998 Winter Olympic Games in Japan. Fairbanks was the site of the Olympic Ice Carving Trials in 1993, when U.S. carvers were chosen to compete in the 1994 Olympic Arts Festival in Norway, held in conjunction with the 1994 Winter Olympic Games. Local sculptor Steve Dean was chosen to compete with the U.S. Ice Sculpture team at the 1994 Olympics and brought a bronze medal back to Fairbanks.

    The volunteer workers who harvest the enormous blocks of ice deserve medals of their own. To promote the growth of ice, workers regularly clear snow off the surface of a local pond. Without the snow's insulation, the pond is able to freeze faster and deeper. Circular saws and a 48 bar chain saw are used to free the ice, then an extendible boom fork-lift hauls the blocks out and onto waiting trailers. This local pond produces great quantities of clear, sediment-free ice, giving Fairbanks ice the reputation as the Arctic diamond. Each year demand for the ice grows as the word about the event spreads.

    Summer visitors to Fairbanks can still view ice sculptures despite the 70-80 temperatures that the Midnight Sun brings. The Ice Museum, located in the heart of downtown Fairbanks, features life-size ice sculptures in temperature-controlled glass displays. Visitors can also watch a multi-media slide presentation and follow the transformation of pond ice into giant works of art during the World Ice Art Championships.

    Whether you're an Olympic ice artist or a mesmerized viewer, Fairbanks is the place to be for ice sculptures. And with good reason -- Fairbanks has the ice, the weather and the spirit to provide a home for this flourishing art. Visitors whose only experience with ice sculptures has been the occasional buffet-table centerpiece will be amazed with the larger-than-life sculptures produced in Fairbanks.

    The ice artistry decorating the city each year is just one more good reason to visit Fairbanks in the winter. You'll also discover aurora viewing, dog mushing, cross country and downhill skiing, snowmobiling, hot springs soaking and more.

    For more information, visit the FCVB web site at www.explorefairbanks.com.

Copyright Fairbanks Convention and Visitors Bureau. Used here with permission.