By Joseph Robertia
Rain. Not a torrential downpour, but a constant steady stream of water falling from billowing gray clouds that choked out the sky all of last week and through the weekend. The rain dripped from eves and gutters, collected in murky puddles on the ground, and nearly sapped the spirits of organizers and artists participating in the annual ice sculpture-carving event that leads up to the Peninsula Winter Games.
“This is about the worst I’ve ever seen it,” said Anchor Point carver Ben Firth, in regard to the 40-degree weather Friday. “Anything above freezing is bad and rain is the worst. Tools don’t work and the water just runs down the sculptures.”
Firth was working on three pieces this year — a butterfly on a leaf in front of Peninsula Community Health Services, an oil lamp at the entrance of Soldotna Mini Storage and a Fred Bear, the mascot for Fred Meyer, in front of the store.
The weather has presented myriad challenges to Firth, who worked on his sculptures last week from Wednesday to Friday, then took the weekend off to evaluate the weather pattern.
“The lamp has lost some parts, but still looks like a lamp. The Fred Meyer one was worse. It dropped an arm. On the butterfly, we carved the wings way fatter than if it were cold, so they’d hold up to melting,” he said.
Hope is not lost. Compared to wood, ice is more forgiving. It can be reshaped or even “glued” with hot water, so Firth will do everything he can to finish the sculptures and in a way that they’ll hold up to the above-freezing temperatures predicted during the day this week.
Tami Murray, the Soldotna Chamber of Commerce organizer of this event, said that some of the artists contracted to create 25 sculptures as well as a huge ice slide in front of the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex had been told to knock off through the weekend and not carve until the weather cooled from the rainy 40s to drier days closer to 32 degrees.
“Right now the local carvers are on hold and will work at night,” she said. “Before the melt we had four carvings pretty much done. Those will be repaired as best they can and we’ll go from there. We have a few extra blocks so if we have to we’ll replace the ones that are too far gone.”
The blocks were cut from a gravel pit off of Beaver Loop Road by the Soldotna Rotary Club and delivered by their volunteer efforts, as well as those of Peak Oilfield Services and MagTech Alaska.
“Rotary has cut the ice for years, doing anywhere from 50 to 70 blocks,” said Dale Bagley, Soldotna Rotary president. “The blocks are 4-by-8 feet, although we used to do 5-by-7 blocks. We’ve had blocks that were 27 inches thick, like two years ago when we cut them in 25-below temps, but we’ve also cut in 45 and rain like last year, and had blocks sliding all over the forklift.”
This year’s ice-cutting weather was more mild, but those same temperatures preceding the cutting resulted in ice blocks that are thinner than usual.
“They were pretty thin, only about 17 inches thick, and they only got that thick because I kept plowing the spot to let the ice freeze deeper. The ice on the lakes is much thinner. I’ve heard from a lot of ice fishermen who said it’s only about 10 inches thick in most places,” he said.
While the ice blocks around town might be leaner than usual, the frozen monoliths still weigh several hundred pounds, which is another concern of organizers.
Photo by Joseph Robertia, Redoubt Reporter.
“The biggest worry now is the blocks that are a little precarious,” Murray said. “They were placed and now are starting to lean. We are keeping our eye on them and if need be we will knock them down to save anyone from getting hurt or them causing problems if they fall.”
Murray said she is sure the sculptures will still come together due to the skill of the artists involved.
“(Carver) Scott Hansen was out on Saturday looking things over, he has plans on how to save what he has carved and has even formed some snow mounds that he can use to augment his carvings,” Murray said. “Mother Nature is not helping the cause, but the carvers are very talented and I am sure they will make some amazing carvings out of what they have left.”