Lake Louise

Ice festival delivers the magic

Ice Magic, Lake Louise, AB Canada

Russian team, Fyodor Markov (top) and his partner, Vladimir Ignatjev are seen here working on their 'Fanfare' sculpture at the 16th annual Ice Magic Festival at Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise in Alberta.
Photo by Barb Martowski


LAKE LOUISE, AB — "A great ice carving is one that looks just like real crystal." That's what Dan Rebholz, a certified Master Ice Sculptor and judge at the Banff Lake Louise Ice Magic Festival told me. I definitely agree with him, especially when the carvers have left chip and chisel marks showing; not only does it then look like cut crystal, but the 'facets' bounce light just like real crystal. 

Sculptures without this detail look like blown glass—another beautiful art. Either way, ice carvers who can turn 15 blocks of ice, each weighing 136 kilos (300 lbs.) into fantastical creations have pure talent.

And the Ice Magic Festival had plenty of that.

The 16th annual Ice Magic Festival certainly lived up to its promise of being an international competition with teams from around the world, including New Zealand, Russia, Croatia, Sweden, the UK and even Monaco.

Who knew there would be ice carvers from Monaco, but Judge Dan told me that 90% of ice carvers get their start in the culinary world, so it stands to reason that in a warm country like Monaco, ice sculptures on buffet tables would be in hot demand.

Ice Sculpture, Lake Louise, Banff National Park

Margo Eutace, from New Zealand, works on her father, Roger's Olympic themed 'Competition - Skill' sculpture at the 16th annual Ice Magic Festival.
Photo by Barb Martowski

Delicate bone to solid ice

But not all the carvers got their start in the culinary world. Fyodor Markov is a bone carver and he, along with his partner, Vladimir Ignatjev, a graphic artist, belong to the Artist Union of Russia. It's hard to imagine this man working on something as small and delicate by comparison, as he takes a chain saw and begins to take away the unnecessary layers of ice from Ignatiev's design. 

Ice is not Roger Thompson's first medium either. The New Zealander works primarily in stone and wood, but several years ago he came to Lake Louise to do a little skiing and the timing was such, that he got to see the competition that year and decided it would be fun "to see what I could do." 

Since his interest was peaked, Thompson has done a number of ice projects, including creating a suite at Sweden's famed Ice Hotel during the winter of 2007/08, but like many sculptors who work in wood or stone, Thompson lets the medium speak to him, letting the piece of stone or wood tell him what it will be in the end. Ice is not like that.

Which comes first

"With ice, you have to take a completely different approach," said Thompson, as he continued to work away with his daughter, Margo Eustace.

"You need to design the piece first and then make the ice work for you. You really have to understand the characteristics of ice to make it work, how to bond it together to achieve the end result. It's not like that with wood or stone; there you are working with one piece."

1st place,Ice Magic 2010, Banff, AB Canada

U.S. National Champion, Aaric Kendall and Steve Cox's sculpture, Victory Dance took 1st place at the 16th annual Ice Magic Festival at Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise in Alberta.

Walking around the carving area, I understood what Thompson was talking about. What were once blocks of ice were now carved into 'pieces' of the overall end sculpture. Rusty Cox, a local and die-hard fan of the Ice Magic Festival, had several such pieces scattered in his enclosure—from a beaver to slabs of ice that would later be the tracks of a skier.

Once these pieces are nearly finished, they would be bonded to the main structure with only water and fresh snow. And that's where understanding "the tensile—the strength of the ice, knowing your medium really comes into play," said Jeff Stahl, another judge and certified master. "The conditions here this year are perfect in terms of temperature, so we will be looking for some amazing things."


Creative masterpieces

Amazing would be an understatement in my books. I have no idea about the technical aspects that the judges would be looking for, but the final sculptures were incredible; each clearly defining this year's theme—Podium Bound, Spirit of the Competition—in honour of the 2010 Olympics at Whistler, British Columbia.

But in the end there can only be one winner, and the judges selected Aaric Kendall and Steve Cox's sculpture, Victory Dance. 

"This is my first time at here (Lake Louise) and it's pretty great. The piece we are doing is a test run for the Olympics," said Kendall, who holds the U.S. national title and will be competing at the Olympics. "I have several designs that I am playing around with ...  each has a slightly different base, but the overall idea remains. The one I intend on doing for the Olympics is about achievement; the spark of an idea, a goal that becomes reality in the form of a dove that flies."

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