In the winter, most people stick to building snowmen, but for the past decade, Brent Christensen has built frozen fairytale castles one icicle at a time.
Christensen is the founder of Ice Castles, a company that brings acre-sized ice structures to cities across the U.S. This year, the company has built attractions in Dillon, Colorado; Midway, Utah; North Woodstock, New Hampshire and Lake Geneva, Wisconsin.
The ice architect’s fascination with water-based building blocks began when he noticed his neighbor kept a spraying sprinkler head on top of a pole all winter long. “I thought it was really weird,” he explains, though he admits the resulting structure piqued his interest. “It gathered a huge mound of ice and I thought, Hey! That’s something I can do.”
Christensen replicated the process to build ethereal ice structures in his front yard, garnering positive reviews from his neighbors and eventually leading him to found Ice Castles in 2009. It took some trial-and-error, including employing a giant trailer kept at below-freezing temperatures year-round for experimentation.
During his earliest attempts, he used plywood to frame the walls and towers, but today none of the frozen formations are built with any foundations in place. Christensen and his team rely on a network of sprinklers to grow between 5,000 and 10,000 icicles for each castle, placing them each by hand so they can be sprayed with water and frozen into place overnight.
The castles do not open to the public until a certain number of tunnels or towers reach acceptable heights—usually sometime between late-December to late-January, depending on the location. “We want it to be a dazzling experience for everybody, no matter when they come,” Christensen says. “Typically, we like to have towers that go 40 feet high. We built one in New Hampshire that was 63 feet tall.” The shortest towers and walls visitors see are 15 feet tall.
All four locations are now open and welcoming visitors through mid-February. Expect to see plenty of Frozen aficionados—young and old alike—exploring the icy tunnels, slides, rooms, and even sitting atop icy thrones like Queen Elsa and her sister Anna.
“When you walk into the castle it doesn’t matter how old you are,” Christensen says. “You lose track of where you are. You get transported.”