Ice Castle Imaginings

Ice Castles. Photo: Mark FoxThis water, frozen yet shape shifting in time, transforms into anything you want it to be. It is dangerous, sensual, magical, psychedelic, opulent, gruesome, cold, hard, melting, warm. The longer you look, feel into it, the more it becomes.

I enter through the thick archway, shards of hanging icicles dangle over my head, glass glistening, calling me deeper into its mystery. It becomes a place where I lose myself for hours, watching the clouds sift over Buffalo Mountain and darken this man-made ice castle in Silverthorne, Colorado. Shadows shift among the nine towers of 20-foot ice columns, which will continue to grow throughout the season, until they stand 40 to 50 feet high by April, leaning into one another and forming tunnels through their deep turquoise colors. Until then, I witness streaks of thin cloud mist play in perpendicular shapes with upper icicles reaching to form ceilings — and eventually caves — and I look up to the icicle-dotted sky and spin around, until I’m dizzy with diamonds.

Then, I regain footing as my boots sink into the 2-3-inch depth of ice cubes as castle co-creator Brent Christensen explains how he and his crew manually pick or jackhammer the few inches of ice buildup throughout the castle’s walkways every day. Each night, as they enlarge the nine towers by funneling more water out of 90 sprinkler heads spouting out of PVC piping that measures about a mile in length as it coils through the acre-sized castle, the overspill freezes on the pathway. They chop the walls back 2-3 inches a day, but, eventually, the castle will become a matrix of tunnels without daylight shining through, so it will feel like you’re in the middle of a glacier, within a honeycomb of eight entrances and exits, surrounded by glossy, layered ice patterns feathered, flocked and daggered upon one another.

“It’s not to where you’ll get lost, but you may feel like it,” Christensen said.

Christensen and his partner, Ryan Davis, have never constructed a castle of this magnitude, but they’ve built two in their hometown of Midway, Utah (just on the backside of Deer Valley). Christensen began playing with the idea, building ice forts with his kids, a few years ago and he got hooked. He started with a wooden structure that became a springtime mess to clean up, which led him to PVC pipes.

On the outer edge of the Silverthorne castle lies an extensive “ice farm,” where employees harvest 3,000-5,000 icicles every 24 hours. Every night, they step into crampons, squeeze into the belly of the towers, climb icy “stairs” and meticulously place long, thick icicles, first horizontally, building structural hangers on which to hang vertical icicles. The horizontal ice pieces literally become scaffolding, able to support someone after about a day, Davis said. As water softly spouts out of the 90 sprinkler heads, it fuses with the horizontal and vertical icicles, creating strong tower walls, which eventually will morph into the ice-castle cave.

The castle opened Dec. 8, and as of mid-December, Christensen was working 12-16 hour days (or more accurately, nights, due to unseasonable warm weather), and his team had placed about 65,000 individually farmed icicles and used 2 million gallons of town water.

Ice Castles. Photo: Mark Fox

At night, 100 white lights, frozen in the towers, illuminate the natural colors within the formations. The thicker the ice, the more aquamarine the color. While the pure light brings a crispness to some of the columns, highlighting the swirls in long, thin posts, reminiscent of barbershop poles stripped of color, other configurations take on eerie, nether-world appearances: suddenly, it seems as though hoards of bloated jellyfish encapsulate the towers, their long tentacles hanging loosely down the 20-foot rises, and surrounding the perimeter of the “castle,” ghostly ships sit frozen, their masts dripping with icicles that threaten to unleash themselves in a fury if a stranger dares set foot upon this haunted territory. In the land of the living, two five-year-old boys stay up past their bedtime, wielding frozen swords they pilfered from the icicle farm.

I hear muffled voices in another passageway as I lean back against a wavy wall, surprised at how it feels like a muscular being, only more solid. I begin to rub my trapezius muscle against one of its protruding, icy spines as it penetrates my coat, relaxing my body.

As I listen to the droplets of water tinkle down windows of the caverns, it’s impossible to think this grand structure will sink into the ground. But I know nothing remains frozen in time, especially not a kaleidoscope of turquoise — a fantastical temporal world, living and evolving.

INFO

Castle hours: Noon to 8 p.m. Monday through Thursday, noon to 9 p.m. Friday, 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Saturday and noon to 7 p.m. Sunday

Admission: Adults $10, 12 and younger $7.50 (under 3, free), adult season pass, $30, family season pass $50 (includes 2 adults; add $10 for each child 18 and younger) www.icecastles.com

From the time Kimberly Nicoletti first stepped onto the frozen swamp in her backyard with double-bladed ice skates at age two, she has been fascinated with all things ice and snow, even though she abhors cold weather. As an ex-competitive skater, she doesn’t think the 1978 version of “Ice Castles” is cheesy and might just have to buy a bumpersticker that says, “I love ice castles” from the guys who have created this ice castle in Silverthorne. She lives and writes professionally in Summit County, Colo.

Harvey Edwards, Eclectic Filmaker and Author, Died on October 10, Aged 82

Harvey Edwards (autumn 2011). Credit: Peter Miller (www.petermillerphotography.com)
Harvey Edwards (autumn 2011). Credit: Peter Miller (www.petermillerphotography.com)

Curiosity was Harvey Edwards’ mainspring. As his college-educated postwar generation settled into conventional lives, he went to Europe in the mid-1950s. There he witnessed the rebuilding of the war-torn continent, including its ski areas and Alpine resort towns, to which he felt drawn. He reported what he saw, in dispatches to the New York Herald-Tribune and in articles for SKI Magazine.

A chance encounter in the winter of 1963 prolonged his stay. In the cabin of the precipitous Brévent cable car in Chamonix, he struck up a conversation with Suzanne Rahmat, a Parisian engineer. She was bilingual, French and English, and well educated, a graduate of École polytechnique féminine. Harvey had met his challenge. He responded. They were married in Paris in June 1965, settled in Chamonix soon thereafter and had two sons, Freddy, born in 1966, and Stanley in 1969.

Their home in Chamonix reflected the history of the agrarian valley. It was a solid masonry farmhouse, built ca. 1750, originally with two stables in the back, one for a donkey and one for a cow, and a hay loft above. It was within walking distance of the center of the city, and in it Harvey set up a small office with a view of Mont Blanc. At first he wrote books, six in all. Three of them were on Scandinavian topics, as he had travelled in Scandinavia and had come to respect the ways that the Scandinavian social democracies care for their citizens. He also started writing for Skier’s Gazette, the predecessor of this magazine. He continued after it became Mountain Gazette; his first article, “To Be Elite, Or Not To Be,” appeared in issue #3 (November 1972 — recently posted in Flashback). His next story for MG, “A Rescue on the Eiger,” appeared in #5 (Jan. 1973), followed by “Running for the Marcialonga” in #7 (March 1973). He had by then also seen a new challenge. Surrounded by mountains and near the Valée Blanche glacier, he expanded into film.

Filming is more demanding of resources than book or magazine writing, so, in 1973, he set up Edwards Films to do it properly. Though a capable photographer himself, he knew that professionals were better, and, thus, brought in some of the best, including Fletcher Manley, Fletcher Andersen (both one-time MG contributors) and Pierre Boulat (known for his photography for LIFE magazine). Other audiovisual experts filled in other skills. Within a decade, he had produced 15 films on skiing and backpacking themes.

But another challenge arose. Despite its status as mountaineering and skiing center, Chamonix remained a provincial city. Harvey felt that his two teenage sons should benefit from better educational opportunities back in the USA. So, in July 1982, the family resettled in upstate New York. Edwards Films then refocused on softer themes, though the humor that lurked in all his films remained. “The Rabbi’s Dilemma” looked at the Jewish faith in the chainsaw culture, and “The Biologist, The Poet, and The Funeral Director” dealt with the fundamental questions of life and death. In all, he produced more than 30 films. His last effort was his first novel, “Road Show,” finished the week before he died last October 10.

M. Michael Brady writes MG’s Dateline: Europe column.

The Lost Art of Treating Animals Like Animals

Charles Clayton's Great Grandfather and neighbor butchering a cow in Fraser circa 1918 or so.
Charles Clayton's Great Grandfather and neighbor butchering a cow in Fraser circa 1918 or so.

We think, perhaps rightly so, of our animals as extensions of our families, and we treat them like people. For my entire life, family dogs have slept on the beds, the couch and the recliner, never spending a single night outside unless we were camping. They licked the dinner plates clean, gobbled expensive dog food and occasionally received thousands of dollars in veterinarian care, even when they were approaching the natural end of their lifespan.

Such attitudes would have been almost unthinkable a century ago. My Grandma grew up with a series of dogs named Shep, short for “shepherd” of course, which is what they were used for. Shep, all of them, slept with the animals in the barn; the very same barn where cows were slaughtered, strung up by their hindquarters and butchered; the same barn where elk hunted in surrounding mountains were turned into steaks; and where thousands of local trout were cleaned — knife in the asshole, slit the belly, guts thrown to the dogs. I’m sure the family loved Shep, and they certainly valued the vital role he played in keeping the cattle in line, but they still made him sleep in the barn.

There were horses in the barn as well, used to supply HORSEPOWER: the power of a horse, which, for thousands of years, was how people and goods moved upon dry land. It sounds idyllic, until you remember the brute animal force needed to pull tons of freight, drag the plow, the hay rake, the logs — and the crack of the whip required to get the beasts to carry your burden. Indeed, it would have been difficult to have been too soft hearted toward animals in those days, because you would have been in tears much of the time — during the late-19th century, for example, 700 horses were worked to death in New York City every day just to pull street cars.

When I was eight years old, I had a friend in Tabernash, a tiny town not far from Fraser. There were a number of Hispanic families there who had come up from southern Colorado decades earlier to work on the railroad. Many of them still kept chickens, and slaughtered them, cut their heads off right in front of us. I had never seen that before, haven’t seen it since — the chopping block, the sharp hatchet, the frantic fluttering, and the final crazy dance of a bloody headless chicken. Later that afternoon, we happened to have chicken salad sandwiches for lunch. I ate my sandwich, reluctantly, but not without pondering, for the very first time, the animal I was chomping between my teeth.

Not long ago, customers of Whole Foods market decided that the live lobster tanks behind the seafood counter were cruel, and they successfully demanded the tanks be removed. Just imagine what those folks would have thought of my Tabernash chicken experience. Had that chicken been slaughtered in front of a Whole Foods market anywhere in America, especially in front of children, irate customers would have called for a boycott of the chain, and the ouster of the CEO. Just like those poor lobsters suffering in the tank — peering through the dirty glass, claws banded shut, waiting to be boiled alive — the sight of a headless chicken would have ruffled some yuppie feathers. Blood. Guts. Death. A terrible tragedy. Yet those same consumers, vegetarians notwithstanding, have no problem snapping up shrink-wrapped free-range chickens, ground-up grass-fed cows or filets of various fish, not to mention a bit of lobster tail when it suits their fancy, provided they don’t have to see the actual living creature beforehand.

My daughter and I recently watched “Beverly Hills Chihuahua” — a horribly cute movie that features a surprisingly harrowing scene where dogs are kidnapped and forced into an underground Mexican dog-fighting ring. It was a short scene, with no actual violence, but it made my daughter cry and her daddy cringe. I think we can all agree that folks involved in that sort of thing are among the lowest scum of the earth, and in my mind there is a special place reserved for them in hell, but at the same time, on some bizarre level, I have more respect for blood sport spectators gambling on vicious pit bulls than I do for sensitive do-gooders trying to ban live lobster tanks from grocery stores: at least the dogfighter vermin are witness to the carnage they’re responsible for.

We smugly think we’ve evolved into a kinder, gentler people, who treat animals in a civilized way, but really we’ve simply relegated the killing floor to some unknown place far removed from our daily lives, out of sight and out of mind, leaving the dirty work to immigrants whose names we’ll never know, and whose lives are as abstract to us as the meat that ends up on our plate. We don’t whip horses anymore — now we use refineries to whip energy from barrels of crude oil, and the trusty sheep dog has been replaced by soldiers (backed by billion-dollar weaponry), who herd petroleum into secure stock pens. Not to mention related externalities: drowned polar bears, poisoned groundwater, failed blowout preventers … we’re not kind, and we’re not gentle — we’re in denial.

Perhaps we need some blood on our hands. Not metaphorical blood — we’ve got plenty of that — but actual blood, warm and fresh from the animal we’re about to eat. Or maybe a whip in our hands, a mule in the driveway and an urgent need to get to work on time. Not so we can be cruel to animals, but so we can remember how utterly dependent we are on them (and their TEMPORARY petroleum substitutes) for our collective survival. Life feeds on life, and, for now, we’re at the top of the food chain, which makes us the biggest feeders of all. It would behoove us all to remember this next time we’re snuggled up on the couch with the family dog.

Frequent contributor Charles Clayton, a native of Colorado’s Fraser Valley, lives in Taos, NM. His last story for the Gazette was “New River, Arizona: Three Glimpses,” which appeared in #181. His blog, “Pagan Parenting,” can be found at mountaingazette.com.

Cowsmic Justice

Cowsmic JusticeI’m running through a high pasture north of Nederland and east of the Indian Peaks. There are thirty or forty brown cows up here for the summer. If I were of an agricultural bent, I could name this type of cow, but to be truthful, one cow is pretty much the same as another; they are simply ambulatory meat delivery systems to me. These aren’t exactly “show-quality” cows or even “companion-quality” cows. You know what I mean, like those insufferable light brown bovines in Switzerland with absolutely clean coats and brass bells hanging from their necks. These are just a bunch of scruffy, raggedy-looking cows.

This brute with a line of drool hanging out of his mouth is standing next to the trail. He stares directly at me and asks: “What you looking at?”

“Who’s asking?” I counter.

“Fred Praeger.”

“That’s your name?”

“Yeah, what of it?” asked the cow.

“That can’t be your name. Fred Praeger was a self-proclaimed genius book publisher. Besides that, how did you learn to talk?”

“It is possible that you are simply imagining that I am talking,” suggested the cow.

It is at moments like this when I carefully review my mental and chemical state. There are a good number of benefits to trail running. In my case, sanity is one of those benefits. Should I not run for a week, I tend to get grouchy. A clear indication that I need to go for a trail run is when Blue Eyes moves my moccasins up close to the front door so that she doesn’t have to look around when she wants to toss them out into the front yard.

I’ve been running for an hour or so. I had a full charge of oatmeal with maple syrup and fruit for breakfast. I’m well-hydrated and most of my parts are painless. So I pass the mental checklist.

The chemical checklist is a tad bit more vague. Endorphins from running can do some fairly strange things to my chemical makeup. They tend to make me smile and act unreasonably cheerful. However, they don’t usually tend to allow me to hear a cow talking.

Full disclosure requires an admission of youthful experimentation with known controlled substances. There is the possibility that this talking cow is due to some level of flashback. And then again, this is a mountain cow, he could actually be talking to me. Stranger things have happened up here.

Not one to ignore the possibility of a new experience, I stop running and talk to the brute,

“I can’t believe you are the same Fred Praeger. He would have at least come back as a bull.”

“How about Ambrose Bierce?”

“No way, he had to come back as an eagle. You are just a steer.”

“Great, you don’t even know me and you’re making fun of my sexual orientation,” he says and starts to walk away.

“Wait, wait, wait,” I say, “So who are you really? And how did you end up as a steer?”

“Okay, so my real name is unimportant. I’m here because I invented the Master of Business Administration degree.”

“Wow, tell me more.”

“It’s not a pretty story.”

“So how did you come up with the idea?”

“There were these moderately smart kids at the university, not smart enough to be engineers or dentists, even though they thought they knew everything. We needed to do something with them to increase our enrollments in the business school.”

“Yeah, that sort of makes sense.”

“We knew that we had to put their arrogance to work, so we started telling them that they could become masters of the universe if they would apply a few simple principles to their work.”

“Yeah, let me guess what the principles were?”

“OK, give it a try.”

“You taught them that optimizing profit at any cost was their sole reason for existence.”

“Right, you are almost smart enough to have an MBA,” said the steer.

“You taught them that that lowering the quality of a product, demanding greater productivity from the workers and thinking only of short-term gain were all roads to success.”

“You got it,” said the steer.

“And you taught them to treat all their colleagues with sarcastic contempt, as if their ideas were useless.”

“You could have been a dentist.”

“Wow, that’s amazing. And for developing the MBA, God turned you into steer?

“Yup, she did.”

“What about all these other cows? They are just cows, aren’t they?”

“Nope,” he said looking around. “They were all professionals at one time or another.”

“You’re kidding?”

“Nope. See the cow over there with the really short legs?”

“Yeah, he’s a weird-looking cow.”

“That’s Steven Nordski from Seattle. He was the engineer for Boeing who invented the middle seat.”

“Wow, and who was that cow over there who looks like he has lost most of his hair?”

“Oh that’s Sam. God gave him a permanent lice infection.”

“What did he do?”

“I think he was the insurance executive who came up with preexisting conditions, but he might have been in charge of policy cancellations,” said the steer.

“What about the cow with particularly big ears and eyes?”

“That’s Darryl, who came up with playing three-minute ads in movie theaters. I could go on and on.”

“Please do.”

“Okay, the cow over there with the really big tongue, he got here for his work on industrial tomatoes. The cow who looks like a pig and has really ratty looking ears used to be a Senator.”

“You’d better explain,” I say.

“Earmarks,” said the cow.

“And the cow who is sitting down and doing nothing?” I asked, “Let me guess.”

“Go for it.”

“Okay, I’d bet he had something to do with starting public employee unions.”

“Good” said the cow. “Take another guess. How about the cow who is moving his hooves all over his own body?”

“Easy,” I said, “he obviously invented TSA screeners.”

“And the cow who is on fire? What did he do?” the steer asked.

“Piece of cake, he invented suicide bombers.”

“More?” asked the steer.

“Yeah, who is cow up to his neck in a huge puddle of his own shit?”

“He was a partner at Goldman Sachs,” said the steer. “Any other questions?”

“No, I get the picture. What profession is most represented in this herd?”

“I was mistaken,” said the steer, “You’re not smart enough to be a dentist. Any fool would know that most of these cows were lawyers.”

“Oh, yeah, right. How could I forget that? What about women? This herd is all steers from what I can see.”

“God doesn’t turn professional women into cows,” said the steer.

“But there are a good number of professional women doing dumb stuff.”

“Professional courtesy,” said the steer, who then ambled off.

Senior correspondent Alan Stark is a principal of Boulder Bookworks. His blog, “Mountain Passages,” can be viewed on mountaingazette.com.

Gun Control: Reflections from the Shooting Range

Gun Control: Reflections from the Shooting Range
Lexi Tuddenham takes aim. Photo: Lance Waring

The burled walnut stock of the shotgun feels cool and smooth against my cheek. Flexing my knees slightly, I shout, “Pull!” From behind my right shoulder, Josh releases the spring-loaded trap, and an orange clay disc squirts across the horizon. I track it, swinging the long gray barrel in an arc. At its apex, I squeeze the trigger. The report echoes, but the clay pigeon’s flight continues uninterrupted until it bounces into the dirt.

“You were behind again,” says Josh. “You’re not leading it enough.”

“How can you tell?” I ask as I reload the trap. “Do you have special buckshot vision?”

“Sure do,” he grins, cradling his 20-gauge Ithaca Featherlite in his arms. “Pull!”

Quick as a snake, Josh uncoils, the gun roars, and clay shrapnel drops out of the sky. “It takes a while to get the hang of it,” he says. “Here, try again.” “No thanks,” I reply. “Let Laura or Lexi have a turn.”

Shooting skeet wasn’t our original plan. We had left town that morning intending to meet for a day of rock climbing. But when we arrived, Josh was cleaning his shotgun in preparation for a hunting trip and proposed an alternative expedition. Rock climbing seemed humdrum compared to the novelty of firearms. Now my Subaru, full of unused climbing gear, is parked a few miles up a dirt road at an impromptu firing range in the national forest.

When we pulled up, it was obvious this was a place where people came to shoot guns. The bare ground was littered with spent cartridges, empty shells, broken glass and other shrapnel. Josh gave us a safety briefing and showed us how to load his double-barrel shotgun. Then we popped in earplugs and took turns blazing holes in the sky.

Josh was a crack shot. Even when we filled the trap with two skeet, he brought down both with ease. We three newbies were more hit and miss — with heavy emphasis on the “miss.” After we’d burned through a case of clay pigeons, Josh produced a couple of pistols. While I watched Laura and Lexi merrily plinking away at bottles and cans stacked in a dirt berm, I considered my uneasy relationship with guns.

A couple of years ago, I joined a friend who works in law enforcement at the shooting range. Under his tutelage, I learned how to shoot in various positions — standing, prone, etc. — but I never mastered the essential element of accuracy. For him, firing a gun was a form of yoga: Breathe in … squeeze trigger … BANG! Breathe out. For me, the anticipation of “BANG!” always made me twitch. I reckon the twitch was a result of a childhood experience.

My father owned two firearms — a single-barrel 12-gauge Winchester shotgun that he kept in the back corner of his bedroom closet, and a Smith and Wesson .38 revolver that he stored in his dresser drawer under his T-shirts.

My hometown of Corvallis, Oregon, was pretty tame in the 1970s, so Dad wasn’t worried about nighttime marauders. He didn’t store the guns loaded and he kept the ammunition in his basement workshop. Dad didn’t own guns to dole out vigilante justice; he used the guns at work. Dad wasn’t a police officer or a mercenary. He was a professor of forest science at Oregon State University. Professor Waring used his guns for scientific purposes in the field. The shotgun served as a tree-trimming tool, bringing down branches from the tops of the tall evergreens in the Cascades. He subjected those trimmings to a battery of tests, and the results revealed the overall health of the tree and thus the surrounding forest. Early in his research career, he’d determined a shotgun was the best — and perhaps only — tool for the job of harvesting samples high above the forest floor.

Dad didn’t carry the revolver in the mountains; he only wore the big iron on his hip when he worked on Oregon’s dry eastern slope during the hot summer months when the rattlesnakes were active. The pistol hung in a holster on a heavy leather belt studded with shiny two-tone bullets. As a seven-year-old, I was fascinated. The six-shooter spoke to all my boyish cowboy fantasies. But before I could draw down on the family cat, my father nipped my Wild West dreams in the bud by taking me out shooting.

I was too young to recall now exactly where we went — somewhere deep in the Oregon woods, I know that much. I remember we hiked together for a long while, and Dad’s voice turned very serious when he took the pistol from the holster. He broke open the chamber to show me it was unloaded. He showed me the safety catch and told me never to point a gun at something unless I was ready to destroy it. With those words ringing in my ears, Dad plucked six bullets from the loops in his belt and loaded the pistol. “See if you can hit that tin can on the stump,” he said.

Shooting the gun was easy. Aiming it was not. I finally knocked the can off the stump with a lucky shot. Watching it skitter across the dirt, I felt my young life had reached an apotheosis. I wanted to ride off on a horse named Silver and enlist in the army as a sharpshooter. I felt an unfamiliar surge of power, of strength, of control.

Looking back, I realize that moment was a rite of passage. Holding a loaded gun was the first major responsibility I’d ever been given — one with far more ramifications than remembering to feed the hamster or mowing the yard on a Saturday morning. Handling a gun required gravitas. For the first time, I held the control of a deadly force over all the creatures around me. In return, I had to exert absolute control over myself. Handling a gun forced me to behave like an adult instead of a child.

Dad holstered the pistol and picked up the shotgun. He broke it open to show me the firing mechanism and explained how the red plastic shells were filled with tiny pellets that created an expanding pattern in the air.

“See if you can bring down the highest branch in that Douglas fir,” he said. I lifted the heavy gun to my shoulder and pulled the trigger. Like a right cross from Mike Tyson, the recoil dropped me to the ground. Slightly concussed, I rubbed my bruised shoulder and decided that guns weren’t so enticing after all. My father, in his wisdom, was probably counting on this outcome.

My relationship with guns has remained distant ever since. I understand their utility, but I want no truck with them in my daily life. Now, whenever I hold a gun, I find myself thinking about Columbine High School, about murder and suicide and war, about the terrible power and life-and-death responsibility a firearm represents. I’m not mentally unstable. I’m absolutely certain that simply holding a gun won’t cause me to lose control and become a homicidal maniac. But I’ve decided my life-and-death decisions should originate from choices made while climbing or skiing instead of from the flash from a grey-blue muzzle. And I’m content with that.

Josh’s voice rouses me from my musings. “Hey, you want to shoot a few rounds with the pistol?” he asks. “No thanks, I’m cool,” I respond. “Everything’s under control.”

Lance Waring is a ski bum with a writing habit. He lives in Colorado’s San Juan Mountains.