How Giant Castles of Ice are Made in New Hampshire

Jan 26, 2018

One other-worldly entrance to the Ice Castles in Lincoln, N.H.
Credit Mary McIntyre / NHPR
 

Ice Castles in Lincoln -- a giant ice structure spanning over an acre and weighing over 25,000,000 pounds -- has become a popular winter attraction in New Hampshire.

But how is this giant structure made, and maintained over the winter season? Morning Edition Host Rick Ganley spoke with site manager Tayler Christensen who gave him a behind the scenes tour.

 

(Editor's note: this transcript has been edited lightly for clarity.)  

How tall is that, about 30 feet or so? That archway?

About 20-25 feet. They'll range anywhere from 20-30 feet at this point in the season.

Yeah, and it does. It changes over the course of the season?

Absolutely. We get hit with rainy weather and sunny weather. So we're constantly building to kind of counteract that. Typically it won't get much larger, but we just take what we can get.

And you've got this very deep blue hue and blue color in this archway we're about to walk through. And all of the ice walls that I can see beyond here have that bluish tinge. Where does that come from?

So the blue you see is just the natural glow of the ice. It's just like the ocean or the sky. When the white light hits it, the whole color spectrum is absorbed by the ice except for blue, which is refracted back out. So the thicker the ice, the deeper that blue will get. So it's the same kind of blue you'll see in glaciers. And these towers, there's no substructure. There is solid ice all the way through. So where we're standing right now the light is behind us. So you're getting a lot of that light refracting out, just that blue color. And yeah, it's very beautiful.

So as we walk through here, can you walk me through the process of how you build something like this up? This takes months to actually come to fruition, doesn't it?

Yeah absolutely. So planning is done year-round, and I myself start in October. And there's about two months of prep work as far as doing all the electrical, all the plumbing. Everything has to be absolutely perfect before we start spraying and building with the ice, because it's very hard to fix things once they're covered in 12 feet of ice. And then once all that's squared away, we will start spraying the water. And the way we promote the water to freeze in the directions that we want, instead of just making a giant blob of ice, is we hand place icicles and the ice builds off of that.

So like I said before, there's no substructure in the ice except these icicles we place. So we actually grow tens of thousands of icicles on the side of what we call icicle farms. Essentially it's a rack that we spray and it grows icicles. We harvest those icicles, put them in bags, and with that and a bucket of slush, we slush those icicles together, and then kind of stitch up this framework of icicles. And then we spray on that, and that's what makes the towers.

You have a fountain.

We do. In our upper courtyard we have what we call the Colosseum, which is a ring of towers. And then in the center of them is a large room with a fountain in the center.

That's really impressive. Now you have to keep that water running all the time to keep it from freezing?

Yeah, we have a pump, which acts as an agitator, which kind of circulates the water and keeps it from freezing.

You've put all of this work and effort into building and maintaining this thing, but it's temporary.

Yeah, I mean one day hopefully in the future we'll have the eternal castle, where it lasts forever, but you know that might just be in our dreams. However, it's not as tough as you might think. It's a lot of labor, and by the end of it we're exhausted. And you know it's almost like a celebration we get to come in and knock it all down. And that kind of concludes our work for the season, and that's when we really get to, you know, let our shoulders down and relax. And winter's over. Spring's coming, and we'll get to build another one next year. It's almost a good thing that we're not married to each castle we build, because we can learn from our mistakes and start from scratch every year, and make it better every year.