Friday, March 21, 2014


   Fairbanks is home to the BP World Ice Art Championships, one of the largest ice sculpting competitions and exhibitions on earth. Held every year since 1988, the BP World Ice Art Championships has grown to a month-long event featuring more than 70 teams from around the world. 45,000 visitors come to the Ice Park to see these intricately carved masterpieces. The theme for the 23rd Annual BP World Ice Art Championships is “Dreams Come True” and promises to deliver over one- hundred, larger-than-life sized sculptures.
   This year, the event is moving to its new home at the George Horner Ice Art Park. The new Twenty-seven acre park is centrally located and contains a large on-site pond which will produce over four million pounds of "Arctic Diamond" ice—exceptionally clear, thick ice used by the sculptors. Near the pond there is a large designated Kid’s Park which features a whimsical set of slides and sculptures. In addition, there are ice mazes, a skating rink, an “ice stage” for various performances and a concession area. Ice carving competitions include the Single Block Classic, the Multi-Block Classic, the Amateur Open Exhibition for novices to try out their skills, and the Youth Classic for high school students.
   The 2012 BP World Ice Art Championships will be open daily 10am-10pm, February 28 through March 25, 2012.


   Founded in April 1990, the Ice Alaska organization is truly volunteer driven. It is powered by over 90 committees, a nine member board of directors, and over 450 volunteers. The 2011 event will host over 100 ice artists representing upwards of 40 countries. The result will be over 100 competition and exhibition pieces and the ever-expanding playful ice attractions in the Kids Park.
    Who volunteers? Individuals from the communities around interior Alaska, neighborhood businesses, and major corporations. Every year, as many as 25 volunteers travel up from the lower 48 states and have come from as far away as Australia. Volunteers provide the talent and energy to put on the largest sculpting competition in the world. The contribution of time and energy by volunteers is an integral part of Ice Alaska’s successful presentation of the BP World Ice Art Championships. The over 90 committees manage everything about the event from the ice harvest, communication, registration and feeding the visiting artists, to the financing, marketing and publicity for the event. Ice Alaska conducts year round fund­raising in support of the event.


   The BP World Ice Art Championships are an important celebration of spring in interior Alaska. Such gatherings, in March, date back to the thirties, when residents emerged from the long winter with an eye for having some fun. Current residents differ little from their winter weary predecessors, but with the advent of airline transportation – visitors from all over Alaska and the World can join thecelebration.


   Ice Alaska is in its 22nd year hosting one of the largest annual ice art competitions and exhibitions worldwide. The Fairbanks event, the BP World Ice Art Championships, has grown from a one-week, 8-team competition in 1990, to a month-long attraction involving over 70 teams from all over the world. The competitions, and the accompanying kids park, attract more than 100 ice artists and approximately 45,000 visitors from Alaska and all over the world. The efforts of more than 400 volunteers, and support from over 100 local businesses and community organizations have made all this possible.
   In 1995, the event moved to its current venue at Ice Park–a perfect size and location for the sculpting event and kids park. The park includes O’Grady Pond, where volunteers harvest the large blocks of exceptionally clear ice which the artists have nicknamed “The Arctic Diamond.” Ice Park also has enough large trees scattered throughout the acreage that it divides easily into multiple sections of beautifully shaded sculpting sites for everything from the huge Multi-Block sculptures to small slides suitable for 5-year-olds. The tall trees provide a lovely backdrop for the ice sculptures and the shade that is so vital to protecting the sculptures from the sun.

   The BP World Ice Art Championships provide an opportunity to appreciate breathtaking art and learn about many cultures, since typically one-third of the sculptors and many visitors are of international origin. Ice Alaska has developed programs for teaching ice sculpting in the local schools, and the interactive ice culptures in the kids park are often designed to provide an educational benefit. The Ice Park is a common destination for school field trips and art classes.
   The entire Fairbanks community benefits from the increase in winter economicactivity and tourism during the month of March. Ice Alaska alone spends about $600,000 locally, for equipment rental, fuel oil, gasoline,  food, lodging, printing booklets, chain saw servicing, and other commodities. Ice Alaska has also become an exporter of ice. Fairbanks has the cold temperatures which grow thick, natural ice and has invented impressive harvest techniques. Locally grown ice is exported annually to Anchorage and has been shipped to the Bahamas and as far as Israel. Involvement in Ice Alaska’s activities at the BP World Ice Art Championships as a sculptor, a volunteer, or as a visitor to the park and kids park, provides healthy, family-centered outdoor activity.

Harvesting The Ice

   When ice sculpting was revived in Fairbanks in 1988, organizers bought ice from Seattle and had it shipped to Fairbanks for an ice carving exhibition. In defense of those who purchased the ice from Seattle, the “ rest of the story” needs to be told.

   In 1988 professional ice sculptors from China and Chicago were brought to Fairbanks to display their craft. The organizers were trying to revive interest in ice sculpting and make it an annual event. Not knowing if the ice found in great abundance around Fairbanks was adequate for sculptors, and to make sure the invited sculptors had proper ice to carve, commercially prepared ice was purchased from Seattle. When the sculptors were shown samples of the local ice, they were impressed. From that early inauspicious beginning, we have gained a reputation for having the best ice in the world.


   For the year 2011 event, over 1,500 tons of ice will be used! The harvesting of these hundreds of tons of ice is a huge undertaking. It requires countless hours of volunteer time, the use of heavy equipment and constant thought about how it can be done better. In 1998, for the first time, ice was harvested from O’ Grady pond - right adjacent to where the event is held at ICE PARK. That in itself was a great improvement. No more long hauls with flatbed trucks!


   The ice harvesting experts of ICE ALASKA are continually refining their methods for cutting and lifting heavy blocks of ice. Many saws have been developed for harvesting and cutting the ice once it arrives at the park. The most efficient method of harvest utilizes chain saws. A few years ago, a sled developed by Tom Gullickson was added. Pictured above, it not only makesthe harvest more efficient but, also, less “ backbreaking.” So far, the 1998 ice, which measured a record 54” thick, holds the record for thickness. Cutting this ice required a 60-inch bar on the chainsaws!
   Another efficient modification for the harvest was also added several years ago. It involved the addition of the extendible boom forklift to the harvest process. (Pictured left) These large forklifts are able to remove the huge ice blocks, weighing from 3,000 - 7,500 lbs from the water, and later to transport blocks to the ICE PARK site area. Every year harvest techniques improve, allowing for the harvest of more ice to keep up with increased demands as the event grows. The one thing that never changes is it remains a lot of work. The dedication of the all volunteer harvest crew, their ingenuity, and just plain hard work for long hours at extreme cold temperatures is what makes it all happen.

About the Competition


   Teams are composed of one to two members. Each team is given one block of ice. Block dimensions are approximately 5ft x 8ft x 3ft (1.5m x 2.4m x 0.9m). Each block weighs about 7,800 lbs. Once the ice block is positioned to the sculptor’s satisfaction, the sculptors are on their own. No additional mechanical or power devices can be used to move and/or lift the ice. Artists can request the assistance of competing team members when more people power is required to move/lift the ice into position. Teams may work around the clock. Most work long hours in order to complete their sculpture on time.
   The competition starts at 9 AM on a Tuesday and ends 60 hours later on a Thursday at 9 PM. The finished pieces are then judged under white lights. After judging is completed, the finished sculpture will be illuminated with colored lights for the public to view. The awards are presented at 8 PM on Friday about 24 hours after the pieces are completed. The judges and lighting work fast to make this happen! The results are spectacular!



 Teams are composed of two to four sculptors. No more are allowed. Four-member teams are encouraged. Each team is given 10 blocks of ice. Each ice block measures approximately 4ft x 6ft x 3.3ft. (1.2m x 1.8m x 1.0m). Each team will be sculpting a minimum of 46,000 pounds of ice. Teams use hand and/or power tools to cut and shape the ice and may work around the clock if they choose.
   The sculptures created sometimes attain heights of more than 25 feet. Therefore, Ice Alaska provides heavy equipment and operators to lift and position the ice. The equipment operators, all volunteers, work with the sculptors to delicately move the ice into the artist’s desired location. Without the help of the operators, the final product would be impossible. The artists fully realize this, and give high praise to the operations crew. The final ice sculpture is teamwork at its best.

  The Multi-Block Classic begins at 9 AM on Sunday and ends at 9 PM on Friday or 132 hours later. The artists are then given an additional hour and a half to clean the sculpting site. The finished pieces are judged under white lights. After judging is completed, the finished sculpture will be illuminated with colored lights for the public to view. The awards are presented at 8 PM on Saturday night.


   With a grant from Fairbanks Youth Sports and money provided by Clarence Beers for the Ivalie Cox “Sculpting the Future Program,” Ice Alaska artists have developed an ice sculpting curriculum that can be taught in local schools.
   To encourage the students to continue to use their sculpting skills in competitions, the Frances and Clarence G Beers Youth Classic is held the week following the Multi-Block competition. The youth competition was held for the first time in 2006 with six, two person teams from four area high schools. We hope to grow to 10 teams drawn from throughout Alaska and the world. Juniot High Students were recently allowed to compete.
   To qualify for the competition team members must be students enrolled in Jr. High school up through High School age or equivalent curriculum. Teams are provided one ice block, 3’ x 5’x 4,’ The block weighs approximately 3,600 lbs. Once the ice block is placed, the sculpting team may not use motorized tools or equipment to move the block. Experienced artists are on hand to answer questions and offer technical assistance allowed within the competition guidelines.
   Awards are given for 1st, 2nd and 3rd place. Award medals and gift certificates.


   The Amateur Open exhibition is an opportunity for artists to try out some ideas on a block of ice without the stress of competition. Contestants can register and sculpt on a flexible schedule. The exhibition tends to be more relaxed, because artists are working at their own pace with smaller pieces of ice, but official photographers make every effort to document the progress of each sculpture.
   Teams usually consist of one to two sculptors, but since it is an exhibition the only hard and fast rule is - safety first. Participants under 16 years of age must have parental permission and be accompanied by an adult while they are working. The Amateur Open starts on the day after the Single Classic and ends on the same day the Youth competition ends on a Friday in the middle of March.
   Twenty spaces are set aside for the Amateur Open Exhibition. The finished sculptures are illuminated with colored lights for the public to view. Amateur Open teams are recognized at the Youth Ice Art Championship Awards Ceremony on the Saturday night after the sculpting time ends.

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