In High on Ice, a celebration of life in the North

Cold temperatures didn't stop people from enjoying High On Ice over the long weekend.

In the Energetic City,  -26 degrees (down to -40 with the windchill) wasn’t enough to stop people from coming to enjoy the High on Ice festival this weekend.

The regular winter festival, now in its eighth year, features professional ice carvers, amateur snow sculptures, and a chance for kids to enjoy what winter in a northern city is all about

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One person, Michelle Willis, took the time to enjoy the ice slides at Centennial Park with her her children, Kolby, four, and Jaycee, eight.

"The kids love the slides. I like the sculptures," said Willis, who took a run on the ice slide herself.

While the ice slides went on, other events, like the sleigh ride and the toboggan races were cancelled.        

But the cold weather wasn't enough to slow down professional ice carvers. One of them, David Ducharme, was appreciative of the cold weather.

Ducharme said that the frigid temperatures made the ice strong, which allowed him to be a bit more creative in how long he could stretch it out.

"I've been here quite a few years from when we just had our first trial from the one slide they built and we grew from there," he said. "You got some high calibre ice carvers here ... when you start looking around at these sculptures here, when the light is right, it really creates a majestic scenery."

The theme of this year's event was the Winter Games, and Ducharme decided to go with archery — specifically, an older-style northern hunter, someone he imagined could hunt a caribou.

Ducharme dipped his bare hand in slush to dabble on the arrow head and feathers on an arrow made of ice, but he used some sharp items to smooth it down.

"I make my tools, from a sheapshears comb to a masonry blade that I fashioned with antlers," he said. "You need good steel."

He pointed to one other sculpture that used flames to heat up a "plate."

"That creates a mirror image on both sides of the ice, a hot element plate, and it leaves water on the ice as we retrieve that, and that creates a perfect bond between the two facets."

It wasn't just professionals like Ducharme who expressed their creative side.

The Stanford family carved a sculpture of a tortoise and hare. Stanford patriarch Edward said that the cold weather made the snow resemble concrete.

But he also added that "there's no bad weather, only bad clothing." (Last Sunday, as he and his family were making the sculpture, Stanford said he was wearing two pairs of long johns.)

The High On Ice festival is something his family has attended often.

"We live in a winter city, so what a great thing to be doing, celebrating six months of the year," he said.

Two other sculptors, Community Ice Challenge veterans Suzon Anne Tremblay and Laurie Petrucci, made a statue of Canadian tennis champ Eugenie Bouchard. They've competed in the challenge every year, and with this year's theme being the Canada Winter Games, they wanted to pay tribute to one of Canada's woman athletes.

"We thought,well, she's a woman, she's at the top tier, she's awesome, she's Canadian, so we decided to do Eugenie," said Tremblay as she was working on Saturday. "She's on fire, there's flames coming out over here" added Petrucci, pointing to some of the finer parts of the half-finished sculpture. Petrucci is the other half of the duo, which they call Joie de Vivre.

"We're celebrating what we have in the north, and that's ice cold and winter, and we just love ice carving. We have a good time every year," added Petrucci. They said this sculpture was shaping up to be one of the favourites of the 12 they've made.

Another team was working on a sculpture of an indoor speed skater. Dave Diehl and Andrew Kovacs have competed before, and this year they brought Dave's son Jesse on board. They've taken first and second prizes in the past at the community challenge. "That's what Fort St. John is really known for, and this is an indoor track speed skater," said Kovacs. "We've got such nice indoor facilities," he added, motioning towards the Pomeroy Sports Centre.

"It's a little bit difficult getting your mind around cutting out the blocks and how that's going to work into a sculpture," said Jesse Diehl, who had never worked with the medium before. "But I've been taking these guys' leads, and I feel like I'm getting the hang of it."

After the closing ceremonies on Friday, people watched a huge pile of wood melt an intricate ice sculpture. One attendee said that it was the "most impressive" she had ever seen. 

   reporter@ahnfsj.ca

© Copyright Alaska Highway News

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