"Lower! Lower!" Norm Blakeley, the president of the Peninsula Winter Games barked over the grinding sounds of machinery and whining of chain saws as another 5,000-pound block of ice was lowered into position.
Blakeley was just one of many people busy preparing for the ice sculpting competition at the Soldotna Sports Center this week as part of the annual Peninsula Winter Games festivities.
This year's warm weather had many people wondering if the sculpting contest would be added to the long list of events being called off due to the lack of snow and ice.
"We only had 12 to 14 inches of ice," said Blakeley about the blocks that came from the PRISM fire-training center in Kenai. "Normally, we would have 24- to 30-inch blocks by this time."
The shortage sent event organizers scrambling for additional ice. They originally planned to obtain ice from near Prudhoe Bay but ran into logistical trouble.
As a result, they purchased ice from Fairbanks to supplement the competition. This cost was unexpected, but, as so often happens, the community came through during the time of need.
In addition to ConocoPhillips and Kenai Chrysler Center, the major sponsors of the Peninsula Winter Games, the Soldotna Chamber of Commerce, Arby's, Rep. Mike Chenault and Doug Marshall of XTO donated funds to cover the expense.
"Carlile (Transportation Systems) donated the truck for transportation of the ice from Fairbanks and put the ice on snow for cushioning," said Jerry Near.
Near is the former Soldotna Rotary Club president and the man responsible for the inception of the ice-carving event at the Peninsula Winter Games.
"United Rentals and R and K Industrial Inc. also helped us load (the ice)," Near said.
Several area motels also donated free rooms for three days for the competing carvers' lodging.
However, both Near and Blakeley mentioned that many people have donated funds, equipment and time to make the event possible.
Despite the trials and tribulations involved with acquiring the frozen blocks, many of the carvers like this year's ice.
Scott Hanson of Soldotna begins work on the ice sculpture he is creating with John Iverson. When finished, their creation titled "Liberty" will feature an eagle in the center, grasping an unfurled American flag, with an additional eagle on each side.
Photo by Phil Hermanek
Brian Lohman, a second-year carver from Anchor Point, thought the ice was beautiful.
"It's a blast," he said in regards to the competition.
He likes working with the frozen water over his usual medium.
"The ice is easier than wood and a lot more forgiving."
Dave Saver and Tony Warren were hard at work on a sculpture depicting dolphins splashing from water filled with coral and fish. They titled their piece "Life Under the Sea."
The two men work as chefs for the British Petroleum operation in Prudhoe Bay. They originally got into carving ice for centerpieces more than 15 years ago but have been carving competitively for the last 10 years.
"Good people," they said in answer to what brings them out to the Peninsula Winter Games each year. "We like the people involved with putting it on and the other carvers are nice."
The ice sculpting competition culminates on Saturday. Carvers judge each other, but not themselves, to determine the best among them. There also is a People's Choice Award that comes from votes cast by spectators. The winner of this award receives $500.
The ice carving competition is only one of several events planned as part of the Peninsula Winter Games. The weekend schedule also includes a youth hockey tournament, a Monopoly tournament, a "Snowcross" race, a dog-weight pull, a kids' carnival, a snowboarding competition, a junior musher sled dog race, a figure skating demonstration by the Denali Ice Club and a Native Youth Olympics demonstration.
A complete schedule of events can be found on page B-3 of today's Clarion.
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