LAKE GENEVA—Forget Van Gogh. Never mind Monet. When it comes to creating spectacular artwork, few compare to Mother Nature.
Consider the icicle. An amalgamation of science and season, this textured piece of permafrost is simultaneously strong and fragile. Directed by climate and light, the transparent stalactite continuously evolves before it inevitably succumbs to spring’s early thaw.
And that’s the magic of just one icicle. Put tens of thousands of them together, and their collective beauty is a sight to behold.
These organic miracles will be on display as part of Ice Castles, an annual winter exhibit being hosted on the grounds of Geneva National Resort. The frosted fortress is one of four being constructed nationwide, with others set for Utah, Colorado and New Hampshire.
According to the group's website, the castles will be open to the public starting Friday, Jan. 22. Hopes are to keep the castles open through the end of February—or at least until Mother Nature determines otherwise.
“This year has been consistently colder than past years, so I don’t see us having to rebuilt it all again,” said Alberto Huerta, a 25-year-old from Delavan who is an assistant site manager for the local project. “We’ve gotten used to some melting here in Wisconsin, so we’ve had years where we’ve rebuilt the castles five or six times. But the weather so far has been awesome this year.”
Huerta and his fellow crew members—many of whom have knowledge of electrical systems, plumbing and irrigation—have been working for weeks to get the castle ready to open. From the ground up, the painstaking process requires near-constant applications of water and mist to maintain growth and structural integrity, and man-made icicles are created and harvested daily to enhance stability and sheen.
“To build the castles, we build racks, run water lines to those spots and spray them to freezing temperatures,” Huerta explained. “We harvest more than 10,000 icicles a day. Guys come in each morning and put them in a bag, and then builders just grab all the bags and start placing them. At night we run water on the icicles again. On a good night, they get massive growth.
“Nothing is really carved. It’s pretty much just Mother Nature doing the work.”
Weighing in at nearly 10,000 tons and reaching upwards of 20 feet tall, the sub-zero structures are reminiscent of clouds on Earth—or a place Superman might occupy in times of indecision.
Designed for interactivity, the castles boast a series of ice slides and tunnels along with fountains and thrones.
“The spot we are in this year is kind of more a hill than anything, so we have implemented some ideas to activate that hill,” Huerta said. “It’s going to be great.”
At night, the castle ups the ante with color-shifting LED lights throughout.
According to Huerta, the illumination plans for the cold cathedral is meticulously mapped out before any water is sprayed or icicles placed. As the lights become encased in ice, they evolve into a series of glistening prisms that guide visitors through the structure.
“Once you enter an Ice Castle, it is a magical experience,” he said. “You’re leaving the world behind for a bit. It’s something unique, and it’s not comparable to a lot of stuff in the real world.
“It’s meant to be an escape ... something for families to look forward to in winter besides being locked indoors all the time.”