A winter wonderland of frozen figures is materializing at the Soldotna Sports Center as area carvers chip, scrape, etch and chainsaw blocks of ice into translucent, glittering forms for an ice-sculpting competition.
The competition is the kick-off event for this weekend's Peninsula Winter Games. (For complete listing of the weekend's events, see page A-13.)
This is the first time an ice-sculpting competition has been included in the games. Leo Vait of Homer held an ice-carving demonstration prior to the games last year that encouraged several area carvers to try their hands at the new medium. The demonstration was so popular that ice sculpting was organized as a competition this year.
"Everybody enjoyed it," said Jerry Near, competition organizer with the Soldotna Rotary Club. "We want to expand it into an anchoring event for the winter games."
Work on the competition began Saturday when volunteers cut 4-foot-by-8-foot blocks of ice from a pond at Foster Gravel Pit on Beaver Loop Road. Each block of ice weighs 3,000 pounds. Boom trucks, flat-bed trucks and forklifts were donated by several area companies to transport the ice to the Sports Center and position it for the carvers.
"It was a communitywide effort," Near said. "Everybody I asked to help on this has come through."
The ice was put into position Wednesday, and seven teams of two carvers began work Thursday at 9 a.m. They have until 2 p.m. Saturday to complete their sculptures. The carvers will be the adjudicators for the event, critiquing each sculpture -- except their own -- with a 20-point checklist. The winning team will receive $1,500, second place will receive $1,000, third will receive $700, fourth will receive $500 and fifth will receive $250. A people's choice award, chosen by spectators of the event, will also be given.
The competition has drawn participants from all over the peninsula as well as other areas of Alaska. Dave Sauer and Tony Warren flew down from Prudhoe Bay with an RV and a trailer full of carving equipment to enter the competition. Their sculpture, "Wish upon a star," will be a fairy with a magic wand, Warren said. Warren was sculpting the fairy's body Thursday while Sauer did intricate detail work on the fairy's head, which would be attached later with water.
"Some of these guys are real purists. They've got woodworking tools, rasps and power grinders," Near said. "And some guys want to just go at it with a chain saw."
Brian Lohman, a wood carver from Anchor Point, planned to do his sculpting with a chain saw. He and his partner, Kathy Aronstam of Anchor Point, are going to create a winter wonderland scene of a cabin surrounded by trees, Lohman said.
Lohman got interested in ice carving at the demonstration last year. He brought his child to the Sports Center for ice skating during the demonstration and was invited to borrow a chain saw and give it a try.
"I chewed up a piece of ice and now I'm here for the duration," Lohman said. "It's a lot of fun."
Leo Vait is back to compete this year with his partner, Matt Hambrick of Anchorage. Vait and Hambrick are carving the Peninsula Winter Games sign at the entrance to the Sports Center as well as a sculpture for the competition.
"I like working with nonconventional materials," said Hambrick, who is a carpenter. "It's a nice variety. The ice is easy to work with in some ways. It's a 3,000 pound piece of material, but if you look at it the wrong way it will break. So it's precise work, but larger scale."
The quality of the ice this year is poor compared with last year, Near said. There hasn't been enough consistently cold weather this winter to create thick layers of clear, aquamarine-colored ice. The top layer of ice in the pond the blocks were cut from has thawed and refrozen, leaving a layer of murky white ice covering the clear ice.
"The ice last year was beautiful and clear," Near said. "This is just junk."
Along with being less aesthetically pleasing, the thawed and refrozen ice is not as strong as the clear ice. Sculptors are getting around that problem by shaving off the refrozen layer and by repairing breaks in their sculptures with water and packed snow.
Judging in the ice-sculpting competition will be held after 2 p.m. Saturday.
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