At least one good thing should come of the icy winter that has plagued the central Kenai Peninsula this year.
By Friday, 25 tons of crystal sculptures should be rising near the Soldotna Sports Center. The ice sculptures join a host of new attractions planned for the 24th annual Peninsula Winter Games, which begin this weekend in Soldotna.
Faron Owen, Kenai Peninsula Tourism Marketing Council executive director, said there will be five professional ice carvers.
"KPTMC has hired one of them to carve a big welcome sign in ice out in front of the porch there, to say 'Welcome to the Peninsula Winter Games,'" he said. "Then there's going to be five more sculptors. They'll start Friday evening. They'll be carving all weekend. The finished sculptures should be done sometime on Sunday."
All five sculptors have competed in Anchorage and Fairbanks competitions.
"This is the real deal," he said.
Soldotna Rotary International member Jerry Near, the man behind the ice, said he is working with area high school principals to find students to assist the carvers.
Near, who did some ice sculpture in college, said this year's weather led him to push for ice sculpture to be part of the games.
He called around to locate sculptors who have participated in the Anchorage ice sculpture contest and wound up talking to Homer artist Leo Vait.
"Our idea was just to do a demonstration project in front of the Soldotna Police Department," he said.
Near and other volunteers cut 5,000 pounds of ice from Arc Lake. That drew so much interest, that Near found himself organizing a bigger project. But the Arc Lake ice was cloudy. He had to find a better source.
Near said carvers told him there are only two good sources of clear ice -- flooded quarries and the areas where streams enter lakes. He contacted Foster Construction and arranged to cut ice from the company's Beaver Loop quarry. Rotary and Soldotna Chamber of Commerce members donned rain gear and rubber boots and cut the blocks with chain saws.
"We went with a crew last Saturday and cut 25 tons," he said. "It's so clear, you can read a newspaper through 3 feet of it."
The smallest blocks, 3 feet wide, 6 feet long and 2 feet deep, weigh nearly 2,000 pounds apiece. Don Moffis donated the use of a boom truck to lift them. Gary Foster and Lynden Transport provided a flatbed trailer. R&K Industrial, United Tool Rental and Ron's Rental Center have offered equipment and scaffolding to help carvers at the sports center.
The ice sculptures are just a small part of the Peninsula Winter Games schedule. Among the highlights, a first round of the annual Monopoly tournament begins Saturday at 3 p.m. at the sports center. Participants must arrive by 2:15 p.m. Subsequent rounds begin at 5:30 p.m.
New this year is a children's Monopoly tournament, which will run concurrent with the adult version.
The Peninsula Winter Games banquet starts Saturday at 7 p.m. at the sports center with a barbecued chicken and ribs dinner. Cost is $7, but children with Peninsula Winter Games buttons get in free.
The $3 price for the children's Peninsula Winter Games buttons also includes a T-shirt, free entrance to other winter games meals and events, free swimming and use of the water slide at the Nikiski pool, and free treats at many businesses.
The Saturday schedule also includes the start of the Tustumena 200 Sled Dog Race, bowling and broomball tournaments and a teen skate party.
The Sunday schedule includes Youth Hockey championship games at the sport center, sled dog racing at the Soldotna airport, skijoring races at the Kenai golf course, plus martial arts and figure skating demonstrations.
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