Saturday afternoon, two honks sounded in the forest just off the Tanana Valley State Fairgrounds. They were followed by the excited whoops of teams from around the world who immediately set to work carving the temporary masterpieces that will take shape over the next four days. Light filtered through the trees, illuminating a scene somewhere between a construction site and an art studio, as the World Ice Art Championships kicked off with the Multi-block Classic.
Chainsaws ripped through ice blocks as tall as the sculptors. A giant forklift rumbled through the maze, and spectators whipped out their phones to watch as snow flew from the blocks as competitors made their first cuts. The sculptors measured and chatted, wasting no more time now that it was finally warm enough to work on ice.
According to organizers, using the equipment at temperatures under 20 below was risky to hoses and other parts of the machinery.
Ice harvesting and hauling began weeks ago and while the blocks for the multi-block competition were ready to go Saturday, more blocks will be moved onto the fairgrounds in anticipation of the other two parts of the competition.
The competition is being held at the Tanana Valley State Fairgrounds this year. There are 11 teams from five countries: Russia, Canada, Latvia, Japan and the United States. Each team has four members, many of whom have been carving ice for decades.
The youngest competitor is Samantha Moore from Indiana, who is 20. It’s her first time competing in Fairbanks. She says the experience is “exciting and nerve-wracking.”
Each team was given nine blocks of ice to carve. The blocks each weigh 15,490 pounds and are 6 by 4 by 3 feet.
That much ice gives the teams plenty of space to make art that is both large and ambitious. For example, the Latvian Team will create a “heart of the universe” piece, which team captain Karlis Ile described as minimalistic.
A team from the U.S. is also making a heart-themed work, which former Fairbanksan and team captain James Stugart says spectators will be allowed to interact with the piece by walking through it.
The Texas team is creating an Egyptian-themed work. The Beasty Boiz are making a lumberjack chopping down a tree with an eagle’s nest. The Japan Team is making a temple guardian.
They will have 132 hours to finish and can work around the clock, if they choose. By midnight Thursday, the teams will put down their tools and await judgment.
Winners will be announced the following evening. The top three teams will receive medals and the top five teams will receive a monetary prize. The grand prize for the multi-block competition is $8,000.
Organizer Joan Foote encouraged the public to come out to the park often, as it will be open until March 31. In addition to watching the work of the sculptors, Foote said visitors might enjoy watching the ice change as the days wear on, sometimes cracking, sometimes feathering and sometimes melting.
“It’s not over just because they’re finished,” Foote said.
Contact staff writer Cheryl Upshaw at 459-7572 or find her on Twitter: @FDNMcity.