By Jenny Neyman
There isn’t much beyond the calendar date to put the winter in the annual Peninsula Winter Games this year, but the event is going ahead as scheduled this weekend, even without some of its seasonal attractions.
Unless there is a dump of snow by Saturday, the ice bowling and kick sled races won’t be happening. And no matter what the weather brings by the end of the week, the ice sculptures that decorate businesses around town in advance of the games will not appear.
“We’re not going to have ice this year for the games themselves. The ice here locally that Rotary usually cuts is just not thick enough. It’s gaining but now it’s losing now with this heat we’re getting, this warm-up. So we won’t have the ice, but we’ll have all the other games,” said Tami Murray with the Soldotna Chamber of Commerce.
Unseasonable warm weather this winter has kept water flowing much later than usual, and even when it has gotten cold enough to form ice, a warm-up to above-freezing temperatures has followed.
According to the National Climatic Data Center at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, 2014 was the planet’s hottest year on record. This was Alaska’s warmest year in as far back as weather data has been recorded, since 1918.
That’s been bad news for snowmachiners, skiers, dog mushers and, now, fans of the annual ice carvings.
“All the businesses are bummed, but they appreciate that we’re not going to just put it up and it melts the next day,” Murray said. “We could do that, too, if we bought ice, chances are it’s going to melt so that’s another reason we don’t want to put all that money into it and not make any money, and then it thaws.”
The ice carvings are a fundraiser for the youth-oriented Peninsula Winter Games. Rotary Club members cut the 2-ton, 4-by-8-foot blocks of ice from a local pond and deliver them to a sponsoring business, where a team of local carvers work them into fanciful shapes. But this year, there just wasn’t enough ice to be had.
“We could buy ice and bring it down from Fairbanks, but that really defeats the purpose of the fundraiser, which is what that really is. I mean, people love to see that ice, but it’s not cheap. So for us to do it and buy it is out of the question at this point,” Murray said.
Scott Hanson, who has participated in the carvings for their 10-plus year history with the games, said the blocks need to be at least 20 inches thick, and the colder the freezing period, the better.
“I’d almost say 2-foot to make good ice. It has to be cold weather and the thicker it is the better it is, and then with not a lot of snow. When you get a lot of snow you get a lot of overflow and then the overflow gets the ice cloudy, so it’s good when you get that just cold weather and with not a lot of overflow and not a lot of snow,” Hanson said.
Temperatures into the 40s, as the central peninsula saw last week, are a death knell for ice sculptures.
“Once it hits 40 degrees it gets kind of really hard on it, especially the sun and warm weather. And then of course rain, that’s worse yet. But the clarity, once it gets 40 degrees, it kind of turns mushy and then it turns cloudy too,” Hanson said.
Ideal conditions are zero to 20 degrees, he said. But for the past couple of years, the ice carvings have coincided with a January warm snap.
“Some years, like last year, most of them melted right (on the) spot,” Hanson said. “I know I only carved four but I think we only got like seven or eight of them done, and they only lasted a day. Some years you get six months out of them, and some years you get two weeks, and some years you get two days, but people do like them.”
The carvers have gotten in the habit of designing the sculptures to at least try to compensate for the warmth.
“If you keep it a little bit blockier, you know, a little bit bulkier, it’ll last a lot longer, and keep it more simpler instead of real elaborate. Most the carvers would like to take it to the next level but we kind of left everything bulky so it could handle a little bit of warm weather,” Hanson said.
Placement of the statues plays a part in their longevity, too, but, like the weather, that isn’t something the carvers can control. The purchaser gets to decide where their statue goes.
“The best thing is if they can keep it out of the sun, you know, keep it on a north side or out of the sun, but that’s hard to do when you’re right downtown, and I understand people want to put it right in front,” he said.
Hanson was going to miss the carvings, regardless, this year, being in Minnesota this winter. But he said he knows the community will miss them even more.
“It’s amazing how the community really supports it. I think they could sell as many blocks as they wanted to, because every time we’re out there carving we always hear, ‘How do you get one of these?’ I hear that every day we’re out there carving,” he said.
Murray hopes the ice carvings will be back in future years. They bring in an important five to six thousand dollars$5,000 to $6,000 for the games, though corporate sponsorship assures the longevity of the festival, which is going on four decades.
“The winter games will never go away, but these other little fundraisers help to offset any other costs we might have. We’ll find a way. It’s just things get a little tighter,” she said.
The 39th annual Peninsula Winter Games will be held from noon to 5:30 p.m. Saturday, with crafts, games, activities, food and fireworks. A kids’ Monopoly tournament will be held for ages 8 to 18 at 10 a.m. Friday at the sports complex, and a Monopoly tournament for adults will be held at 5:30 p.m. Friday at the banquet room at Mykel’s.
New this year, Bird TLC from Anchorage will visit with a live eagle and owl at 3 p.m. Saturday. And concurrently with the Peninsula Winter Games, the Native Youth Olympics Invitational will take place Friday through Sunday at Kenai Middle School, the tribal funk band Pamyua will perform at 7:30 p.m. Saturday at Kenai Central High School, and the Kenai Peninsula Hockey Association Stanley Chrysler Cup will take place at the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex and the Kenai Multi-Purpose Facility.