By Jenny Neyman
Ice was on the brain at the Soldotna Sports Center on Saturday, although for some it was a more highbrow interest than for others.
For carvers Scott Hanson and John Iverson, the focus was on turning a massive slab of ice into a glittering rendition of the polar bear logo of the annual Peninsula Winter Games.
Drivers passing by on Kalifornsky Beach Road and walkers detouring off the bike path into the sports center parking lot craned to get a look at the work in progress and the already-completed ice sculptures outside the building, gleaming in the shards of light from the afternoon sun.
Dusty, on the other hand, didn’t care a lick about the big blocks of ice attracting everyone’s attention. Iverson’s chocolate Lab was instead obsessed with a mouth-sized piece of castoff ice, waiting in endless doggy obsession for someone to chuck the chunk into a snowfield.
The two trains of thought converged into a fitting sentiment for what the Peninsula Winter Games ice carvings are all about. They’re art and they’re work and they’re impressive and substantial, with Hanson and Iverson working with practiced precision to free the shape of the games’ polar bear from its frozen confines.
But, as Dusty demonstrated, ice can also be a whole lot of fun.
“Oh please throw the ice, oh please throw the ice ohpleaseohpleaseohpleaseWHOOPEE!!!!”
Fifteen blocks of ice are stationed at businesses and public facilities around Kenai and Soldotna as part of the winter games festivities this weekend. As they do every year, Rotary volunteers cut the blocks from a pond off Marathon Road in Kenai last weekend, and local carvers, as well as a team from Anchor Point, are transforming them into business logos and fanciful creations throughout the week. Hanson said he expects them to all be finished by the weekend.
Hanson and Iverson came to ice sculpting through their wood-carving backgrounds. They participated in an ice-carving contest held as part of the games in 2002. While the contest was hewn from this year’s roster of activities, in an effort to shave costs, Hanson said they hope to see it return in future years.
In the meantime, at least there are still the blocks of ice on which businesses and organizations can work, compared to wood, with its own challenges and rewards.
“It’s big. You don’t usually get a chunk of wood that big,” Hanson said. “It’s kind of like carving butter. It’s water, it just goes away real fast, but you can get a lot of detail in it, too.”
With ice, it’s easy for sculptors to add on to their creations, rather than just shave away. Hanson and Iverson have competed in the Ice Sculpture World Championships held in Fairbanks, and have seen sculptors create huge, sprawling works of glittering art, all by gluing extra ice chunks onto their base.
“If something breaks off you just get some water and fuse it,” Hanson said. “In Fairbanks, you kind of work outside the block. They start with a block that’s 5-by-8 and some of them end up 16 feet tall. They’re just huge,” Hanson said. “If you get a really good fuse, it won’t break. If you get two flat surfaces to freeze (together), it’s there.”
Ice can be more temperamental to carve than wood. If it’s too cold, in the below-zero range, ice can fracture easily. If it’s too warm, up around freezing, it starts melting and won’t take a fuse, Iverson said.
“It’s nice today,” Hanson said Saturday. “Probably about 2 o’clock it will be really nice here, the ice will be good. When it’s cold, it’s brittle. Right around 10 to 20 degrees, it’s about perfect. If it’s warm, you can carve pretty good but it kind of melts while you’re carving, because when you’re working, that heats the ice up, too.”
Having participated in the Fairbanks sculpture contest, the two know to make the most of whatever conditions they have, whether it’s near to a thaw or so cold chain saws, routers and other machinery don’t run.
“This morning nothing wanted to work. This is our fourth saw now. I think we’ve finally got something that will work,” Iverson said. “Gas saws, electrical switches and all that get moisture and wet and things just freeze up on you. At 40 or 50 below, cords break, nothing runs.”
“But you’ve got chisels, too. You can always chisel,” Hanson said. “One year (in Fairbanks) it was minus 38 every morning. We didn’t start carving until 11 in the morning. By noon, you’d have about four hours of decent weather, so you’d just better get done what you need to get done. But everybody’s under the same conditions, so you just deal with it.”
Nothing so challenging was presenting itself Saturday. The temperature was slightly below zero in the morning but warmed rapidly into the teens in the afternoon, and the ice quality was close to ideal.
“It’s better ice than they thought,” Hanson said. “This stuff has hardly any fractures in it this year. Usually when they harvest it, if it’s really cold, it’ll have a bunch of fractures. But this, like the one at the (Soldotna Chamber of Commerce), that didn’t have a single fracture in it. It’s good ice.”
Each block, even cut from the same pond, can have variations in consistency. Hanson pointed to a dog sculpture at the sports center, carved in honor of the Tustumena 200 Sled Dog Race.
“That dog is full of air bubbles. I’ve never seen that before. It’s just solid air bubbles in the ice. I don’t know where that comes from,” Hanson said. “And you get leaves, you get dead fish in there. It’s a little bit of everything.”
To spend all day creating something, only to have it inevitably destroyed by warming weather, may seem like it would be disheartening, but Hanson said it’s all part of the experience.
“Even in Fairbanks, you do some fancy pieces and you hurry up and take a picture,” he said. “That one year (for the winter games), I don’t know how many we did around town, then it turned 50 for like four days so everything just turns abstract then.”
Just like Dusty, waiting in various states of patience and obsession for the next round of fetch-the-chunk, with ice, you take whatever you get.
“You’ve gotta make it work,” Hanson said. “Most competitions you’ve got three days, and no matter what the weather is, you’ve got to do what you’ve got to do.”