Ice carvers Steve Curtiss and Wendy Brammeier of Sterling begin shaping an Eskimo in ice outside the Soldotna Visitors Center
Six years ago Jerome Near, Norm Blakely and the Soldotna Rotary Club changed the meaning of ice fishing in Alaska. The idea was to add a new attraction to the Peninsula Winter Games which were started some 30 years ago by missionaries Al and Bernice York of Sterling. York’s idea was to have a community event to break up the long Alaskan winters and get kids and their families outdoors for some winter fun. Near and Blakely thought an ice carving competition would be in keeping with the theme and also generate some new interest in the Peninsula’s premier winter event, so they went about harvesting ice the first year from Arc Lake next to the Peninsula land fill. With a chain saw, some logging pews, and the help of a tow truck they managed to bring a new meaning to ice fishing in Alaska. Necessity being the mother of invention, Near says it became apparent that some innovations in the ice fishing process were indeed necessary. The following year Near had created the first Jerome Ice-cutting-mobile, a rig that mounted a chain saw on a steel jig and allowed for straight cuts with much less effort, “You just push it along like a baby buggy, and it cuts about 10 feet every 20 seconds,” said Near.
Scott Hanson works the Jerome Ice-cutting-mobile at Marathon Lake in Kenai while Mike Bookout tries it the old fashioned way
The team of volunteers are now able to harvest 4X8 foot slabs of ice that weigh about 2 tons each, “This is about community, winter, and fun, and we have ample amounts of all three,” added Near, “We have 20 some people out here and equipment donated by local businesses like R&K Industrial, ASRC, Airport Equipment and United Rental. These guys give us whatever we need.” The ice fishing harvest is also a winter barbeque with Dennis Murray of the Heritage Place, firing up a charcoal grill for an ample supply of hot dogs and cocoa. The ice carving competition now brings carvers from all over Alaska and even the lower 48. Carvers will begin the competition at the Soldotna Sports Center Thursday January 26th, and winners will be announced Sunday afternoon. In addition to the championship ice carving competition local carvers will be sculpting ice for a dozen or local businesses and churches to promote the Peninsula Winter Games, “We’re only limited by the available carvers, there are a lot of businesses that would like a sculpture but there are only so many carvers and so much time before the competition,” said Near.
Scott Hanson tries out the Jerome Ice-cutting-mobile
By early last week, ice images of Angels blowing trumpets, Leprechauns and Eskimos were showing up around the central peninsula heralding the coming of the big winter weekend with fun and games for everyone. Steve Curtiss of Sterling got inspired a couple years ago to start carving in ice and last year took 12th place in Fairbanks at the World Ice Carving Championships, “I’d never carved anything in my life and three years ago I just picked up a chain saw and started learning by doing,” said Curtiss. His partner Wendy Brammeier has only been carving for a year, but has been working for Scott Hanson in Sterling, “I’ve had some great teachers at Hanson’s, but I like the wood carving better, because I don’t like being cold. For the competition we’ll be sculpting a Praying Mantis in ice,” added Brammeier. For a complete schedule of events look in the Peninsula Clarion or stop by the Soldotna Visitors Center.
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