Have an Ice Day: the World Ice Art Championships!

I have always found carving and sculpture to be a fascinating way in which artists can share their talents with the world. Artists use various materials such as clay, granite, wood… and even ice! The World Ice Art Championships is an annual competition which is held every February/March in Fairbanks, Alaska, and I was able to witness the magic in action!  

When the World Ice Art Championships began back in 1990, only eight local Alaskan teams participated, and the event was completed in just one week. Things have changed drastically as the competition has grown by leaps and bounds: it is now a month-long attraction involving over 70 teams (and more than 100 ice artists) from all over the world! 

There are several categories of competition, and the sculpting is quite organized. For example, the first 5 ½ days of the ice-carving contest are dedicated to the “Multi-Block” category. Teams of four create huge ice masterpieces with nine huge ice blocks. The “Double-Block” category consists of two-person teams who are allotted 3 days and only two huge ice blocks – – this competition begins two days after the Multi-Block competition ends. Finally, solo ice-carvers are given three days and just one huge block of ice to complete their artistry in the “Single-Block” category. There is also a Family Snow Sculpting competition (four family members/two days of sculpting/1 block of snow), and a Youth Open competition which allows solo teenagers the opportunity to show off their skills.

Judging this competition would be difficult, considering the fantastic artistry at work, so Ice Alaska (who puts on this big show) has come up with very fair and open judging criteria. Five judges score each sculpture in the following categories: First Impression, Creativity, Composition, Degree of Difficulty, Precision, Presentation, and Proportion. The lowest score is dropped, so that the maximum score given by each judge will be 100. The team with the highest combined judges’ score wins! (And yes, there is prize money!)

I had the opportunity to attend the Multi-Block competition during my trip to Fairbanks in February 2021, and although there were fewer teams competing because of travel restrictions, the competition was fierce! I arrived on the third day of carving, so some of the sculptures were well underway.

It was -15ºF/-26ºC and snowing when I arrived – – bulky gloves made it difficult to take photos with my DSLR camera, so I ended up switching to my iPhone. How were these artists able to carve in these conditions, when I could barely hold my phone?! They must have invested in hundreds of dollars of hand-warmers, which they shoved into every nook and cranny of their clothing and gloves! I watched as they used chainsaws, Dremel tools, chisels, and various other sharp tools.

Each team had a sketch of their eventual carving, and you could tell a lot of engineering and design skills were required to even get such a feat off the ground. Some artists used actual objects to model their sculptures after – – this allowed them to carve particular items with extreme detail. I enjoyed watching them at work, and would have stayed for many hours, but temperatures were continuing to drop, and my tropical blood was not having it. Negative 22ºF is where I draw the line! I headed back to my cabin to warm up, but would return a few days later, to inspect and photograph the completed sculptures. 

What I found when I returned was spectacular! I was so completely impressed, not only because of the obvious talent these artists displayed, but because they were able to tough it out in extremely dangerous freezing conditions. I have to wonder how many fingers, toes, and tips of noses might have been lost to frostbite during the competition…

I had my favorite ice sculpture, but I want to know which one YOU liked the best! If you ever find yourself in Fairbanks in February or March, I hope you’ll swing by the World Ice Art Championships to see for yourself how truly talented these ice artists are.

To learn more about the competition, visit https://www.icealaska.org. In a future post, I’ll be sharing more about other fun things to do when visiting Fairbanks in the wintertime. But for now, as they say in Alaska, “Have an ICE day!”

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