It’s pretty easy to love winter when it’s all about snow pants and snow days. But sometime around the legal driving age, winter becomes shovels, white-knuckle drives and dry skin. Winter loses its novelty.
So it’s no surprise that the idea to construct a castle from thousands of icicles didn’t come from a cold climate native. Instead it came from a dad who just wanted to play in the snow with his kids after relocating his family from California to Utah. “It was something that came about accidentally,” says Brent Christianson, the artistic designer of the ice castles. “I wasn’t planning on making an ice castle.”
To make the most of his new climate, Christianson started building ice rinks and snow forts with his children. Then he started to use a pole with a sprayer to create ice forms around a wood structure. It was fun to play in, but the wood split at the end of the season, so the next year he decided to try making the structure without the framework.
And the ice castle was born in Christianson’s backyard in 2008.
These days Christianson lives in Kauai, and spends his winter traveling to several wintry locations—including Eden Prairie’s Miller Park—throughout the United States to design and oversee the construction of his wildly popular ice castles. “We like to create an environment where when people come in, they feel like it’s nothing they’ve ever experienced,” Christianson says. “It’s unique, beautiful and interactive.”
Each castle, hand built with about 21 tons of ice, encourages visitors to explore, find hidden rooms, caves, slides and tunnels. By day the castle is a deep blue, but lights are built into the ice, and at night the castle glows. Castles melt and are rebuilt throughout the season—each night about 5 to 20 tons of ice is added as the castle gets watered and grows—and the icicles that are integral to the design give the castle an organic aesthetic.
While this winter marks the return of Christianson’s ice castle to Eden Prairie, this year’s structure will be different than last year’s castle, which attracted about 70,000 visitors. There will be more slides and tunnels to explore, as well as crawl spaces and a maze. “This year we’re expanding on water features,” Christianson adds, noting that the frozen waterfalls and fountains will serve as focal points in the castle.
Organizers hope the ice castle will be open December 26 through mid-March, depending on the weather.
“What we really try to focus on is creating a positive family experience,” says Ryan Davis, the owner of Ice Castles. Davis says that in addition to the castle improvements, they hope to have more food available onsite.
With its majestic waterfalls, Instagram-ready back-drop and plunging ice slides, the castle manages to bring back the novelty of winter, helping redirect thoughts from black ice on roads to light shows in icy fountains and giving everyone the excuse to put on some snow pants and pretend it’s a snow day.
“Minnesota’s always been a great place to be,” Davis says. “Minnesotans love winter, they know their ice, and we plan to stay in Minnesota as long as we can.”
Or at least until the first thaw.
Eden Prairie Ice Castle
Miller Park, 17970 East Miller Pkwy, Eden Prairie.
Visit the website here for castle hours and ticket prices.