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North Country

Ice Castles at Loon Mountain

Utah has one.  Colorado does too.  And now New Hampshire has its very own Ice Castle open to the public at Loon Mountain.  It's taken Mother Nature and 20 workers about a month to turn tons of homemade icicles into a glacial maze of frozen caverns and clear blue coliseums.  NHPR's Sean Hurley recently took a tour of the nearly completed castle and sends us this report.

Between the rushing river and the railroad tracks at the base of Loon Mountain, is a sharply rising fortress made entirely of icicles.  The 15 foot high outer walls are studded with frozen spears and enclose a mazelike acre of walking paths and tunnels.  Cory Livingood, who's in charge of the castle construction, says the central towers will continue to rise all winter long.

This area, this is our tunnels. We'll be working over the next week to start arching some of these over to close them in. This area is gonna be really cool. It's a tower we call our coliseum. It's actually a series of six towers. This is gonna be one of the areas we really build on a lot throughout the winter that'll continue going up.

40 to 60 feet high in places.  The finished castle will have waterfalls and slides, fire areas, and a throne made entirely of icicles.  At night, the castle will glow with hundreds of ice-trapped colored lights. 

I try to describe it as best as possible. We grow icicles. We hand pick them. We hand place them in a lattice around sprinkler heads. On the outside I describe it as a waterfall splashing around and forming its own ice formation. Inside the tunnels it looks more like an ice cave. Like the inside of a glacier. It's very smooth clear blue ice.

Still, words and even photographs don't capture this alien world.  The Utah man who came up with this method for building ice castles, Brent Christensen says it's easier to build a castle than describe one.

Probably the closest thing we could describe it too is like being in a glacier.

While Christensen's always loved sculpting and inventing, he never expected to find his life's work while doing the things he loved in his own backyard.

By accident so to speak. You know me and the kids would be outside playing in the snow making snow forts. We had this big mound of ice growing in the backyard and somewhere a little bit into that project I started pasting in icicles and found out that you can really direct the growth of a structure that way. And we had a lot of people stop. You know drive by and take pictures.

When the news crews and professional photographers arrived Christensen realized he was onto something.  In 2009 he built his first Ice Castle at a resort in Midway, Utah. This year, he's got nearly a hundred people in Utah, Colorado, and here in New Hampshire growing and pasting icicles one by one into towers and slot canyons, higher and higher until, as Cory Livingood says,  the sun says no.

I like that it melts. I'm a big fan of temporary art. I think it's really cool to see the thing go through its life process.

And that's how Livingood sees it.  Temporary art. Despite the hard hats on the workers and the blueprints in the construction shack, Livingood creates his castle with the obsessive fervor of an artist.

I lose track of time and I don't eat and I don't drink as much as I should. I've gotten phone calls at 4 o'clock in the morning from my girlfriend saying "Are you coming home any time tonight?"

Like all works of art it's hard not to touch the intricate icicle towers. It's also difficult, apparently, not to eat them.

Also this year we don't want people eating them. In the past we used municipal water but this year our water comes from a brook. So this year it's probably not a good idea to eat the icicles.

Another problem, Christensen says, is getting certain people to leave.

You know photographers will be there for hours, literally all day

Photographers can capture each castle’s intricate beauty and complexity—something Both Christensen and Livingood say they almost always fail to describe themselves. When they’re at a loss for words they’ll often direct people to YouTube.,

One of the things that's kind of followed us is Lindsey Stirling's YouTube video "Crystallize". It's got like 80 million views at this point. It's gone completely viral. A lot of people on the East Coast have seen that video and when I tell them we built that castle they get really excited.

From a pasted icicle fort in his backyard he made with his kids, Christensen has fashioned a cool and chilly empire of Ice Castles.  Or as Livingood puts it more plainly: 

We give ice a place to grow.

For NHPR, I'm SH


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