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Gaylord National Resort & Convention Center

201 Waterfront Street · National Harbor, Maryland 20745 USA

Christmas on the Potomac

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The Making of ICE!

From an incredible land of ice and snow halfway around the world, a remarkably talented team of artisans travels to the D.C. area — just to create the amazing ICE! attraction at Gaylord National Resort. You can see for yourself our artisans at work in our special new bonus area in ICE! the Frostbite Factory – a LIVE carving during your visit to ICE!

From Harbin, China to the D.C. Area

Our troupe of ice-loving artisans hails from the city of Harbin, located in Northeast China, where relentless winter winds blow across from neighboring Siberia. While the average summer temperature hovers at a moderate 70 degrees, winter temps fall dramatically to an average of only 2 degrees... sometimes plummeting to -36. Harbin stays below freezing for almost half the year.

 

This band of master carvers spends nearly a month of 12-hour shifts inside a 9-degree freezer, transforming two million pounds of ice into a breathtaking winter wonderland. Sound extreme? It is... but to them, it feels much like home.

Beginnings — Ice Lanterns to Light the Night

The story of ICE! begins long ago and far away — in fact, on the opposite side of the globe.

 

Ice Lantern Festivals can be traced back as far as the late Ming and early Qing dynasties of Imperial China. Five hundred years ago the far northern province of Heilongjiang had an indigenous population of hunters.

 

During long winter nights, getting lost in the forest was a real problem for the hunters. The frequently overcast skies obscured the stars, and without a compass, navigation was nearly impossible. So, the clever Chinese came up with a novel solution... allowing water to partially freeze in wooden buckets. Once overturned, this formed an ice block into which a candle would be placed. The ice surrounding the candle sheltered the flame and acted as a type of lens, magnifying the light from the candle — creating an ice lantern. The hunters strung these lanterns each night, leading from their homes to the hunt site.

A Modern Frozen Festival

In modern times, an Ice Lantern Festival began to be held every winter in celebration of these brave hunters. As part of the Festival, citizens of Harbin would cut blocks of ice out of the Songhua River to do some simple carving before placing them on display among intricately constructed ice lanterns. During the seven-month-long winters, one of the highlights became informal competitions between families to see who could create the most impressive display of sculptures and carvings for the Festival.

 

In 1963, the Mayor of Harbin was so impressed by many of the amateur ice displays that he decided to create a formal competition, encouraging adults and children to create more refined and extensive displays of ice for the following winter. The Mayor's goal was to stimulate the artistic and cultural natures of his populous during the long, dark winters, a time that otherwise saw little activity. Organized in the public parks as a government-sponsored event, the family-created displays of 40 years ago have now grown into mammoth creations.

A Recipe for Ice

While the citizens back in Harbin cut their ice from the Songhua River for their festival, D.C. residents are less likely to find the local waterways frozen solid. So, where do you find two million pounds of ice? At an ice factory, of course!

 

The ice for ICE! is created using a special "recipe" (yes, this ice has a recipe!), and it arrives in approximately 36 truckloads over a three-week period - two trucks a day for 15 days, which is about as fast as the ice factory can produce it. Large blocks of ice are delivered on pallets via refrigerated tractor-trailers, then moved into place by forklift.

 

Three Types of Ice

Clear, "Crystal" Ice

The most difficult to make, crystal ice  is created using highly filtered de-ionized water. It takes 3 days to freeze the 45 gallons of water used to create each 400-pound ice block. By freezing it slowly, the molecules are able to line up perfectly, similar to a diamond or crystal. In fact, this ice is so flawless it is often compared to Waterford Crystal.

 

White Ice

Looks like compacted snow, makes up a small part of the attraction, but is invaluable when carving a snowman. This ice is frozen quickly, giving it a cloudy look, much like the ice made in a home freezer. By freezing quickly, the molecules do not have time to perfectly align.

 

Colored Ice

Dyes from nine brilliant colors are used for highlighting and accenting many of the ice sculptures. These giant popsicle-like blocks are made with simple food coloring that is added during the freezing process. Though it may sound simple, there's a catch... the water must be stirred constantly to ensure a consistent color throughout the block when it is cut.

Glue for an Igloo

Placing all of these amazing pieces together to construct the intricate creations inside ICE! is an art in itself, with quite a bit of ingenuity thrown in. What holds each piece in place?

 

You guessed it:  Ice!

 

At 9 degrees cold, ordinary water freezes quickly, adhering one piece to another and forming a solid bond. After slicing a piece of ice from a larger block, an artisan sprinkles the surface to be bonded with "snow." He carefully pours water onto the piece and then lifts it into position. It sticks with no problem!

 

You can bet these guys are smart enough not to lick the ice!

Christmas on the Potomac