Ice Castles builds winter wonderlands across six states in the northern tier. The fantasy-like ice caverns, thrones, slides and sculptures wow crowds from around the world. But they are all having a slow start this December.
Each of the parks covers about an acre and is made up of about 25 million pounds of ice, according to the company. Every day, about 20 builders in each park grow 5,000 to 12,000 icicles, harvest them by hand and sculpt them into the ice formations with the help of snow and water spray.
Sharp ice pics, chainsaws and chisels allow builders to create slides, chairs and tunnels. They freeze LED lights into the creations for color and light. The castles rise 20-feet tall.
File: Ice Castles park in Utah. (AJ Mellor, Ice Castles)
"In August, September we start bringing in our equipment, our storage units, our shop, and laying all of the irrigation and electrical and then we wait for the cold weather," founder Brent Christensen told FOX 13.
Warm temperatures are melting the ice
"This coming weekend hopefully we'll start growing the castles again, and then we'll just see how the weather holds and if it stays cold we'll just keep growing," he said, talking about the Utah park in Midway. "We need about 4 weeks of solid cold weather."
Weather in New York and Wisconsin "too unreliable"
Last season, The Castles in Wisconsin was only open for three days due to the warm weather. The company didn't plan for a thaw.
"Last year we definitely lost money in New York and Wisconsin," said Dan Beck, VP of Ice Construction.
FOX Weather visited Ice Castles in Lake George, New York during a stretch of warmer weather and found the ice melting even at night. (FOX Weather)
"Weather and those spots are just too unreliable to build our traditional castles. So we've had to come up with some more weather resilient concepts," explained Beck. "So, to make it more weather resilient, we're using a lot more snow there, creating igloos and cabins with snow, because the snow can act as a big insulating blanket to help keep some of the things from melting."
Beck said crews make huge piles of snow. Some melts on the outside but the inside stays snow and can be used when the weather cools down. The Lake George, New York park is already open despite the heat and, if needed, he said Wisconsin could open with just two solid weeks of cold.
Record heat is hampering Ice Castles builders. See an ice cavern from a previous year compared to this week. (Mary Siversten and FOX 13 / FOX Weather)
The winter wonderland takes a little imagination. These photos show a previous year's Ice Castle in Utah then the scene this week.
Temperatures are 20 to 30 degrees warmer than average. Twenty-two cities across the Plains and Midwest could break record high temperatures on Thursday.
Twenty-two cities could break record temperatures on Thursday. (FOX Weather)
On Saturday, FOX Weather forecasts 243 million Americans will be feeling the heat as the warm pool of air slides east. That will mean the New Hampshire and New York Ice Castles are in jeopardy, too.
A huge portion of the nation will feel high temperatures 20 to 30 degrees warmer than average. (FOX Weather)
"For building an ice castle, you need it to drop below the upper 20s, teens or single digits, that's definitely better. But they can stay open. They'll just drip a little," Beck said. "If it's just like one day of warm we don't have to close for a day, typically. But if we thaw, last year in Wisconsin and New York there would be whole weeks where it didn't drop below freezing. That's really hard to deal with."
He said that cold nights helped keep the Cripple Creek, Colorado park on track to open in December. Most likely Utah, Wisconsin and Minnesota won't open until January. All parks close before or around daylight saving time.
Since the company knows they are at the mercy of the weather, ticket dates can be changed if Ice Castles issues a weather advisory. A weather closure translates to a refund.