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Ice Carvers Rock and Flow in Jackson Ice Carving Competition Transforms 300 pounds in three hours

1st Place Butterfly by Tim Pierce of the Samoset Resort in Maine. Photo by Dick Pollock. (click for larger version)
January 13, 2011
The competition began 16 years ago when the Jackson Winter Festival was cancelled that year, but the ice carving competition remained. "Jackson was going to put on a winter festival, The Wentworth's side was to have ice carving. The festival was cancelled, but we kept the ice carving portion. Frtiz Koeppel [owner of the Wentworth Inn] said let's do it and we stuck with it. It [ice carvings ] looks so great," says Kathleen DeVitto, sales administrator for The Wentworth and host for the competition.

As the host for the event The Wentworth invites participants, who hail mostly from New Hampshire, but include Massachusetts and Maine, for an overnight stay at the Wentworth and are treated to breakfast the day of the competition.

But, the festivities begin the night before. "We [ice carvers] go to the Shannon Door to whoop it up. We come back to The Wentworth to sit by the fire until the wee hours of the morning, after a few hours of sleep off we go to the competition," says Hickey.

Before the competition begins, The Wentworth prepares the ice carving stage. The competition is held on the veranda by the flower boxes. The flower boxes are covered with wood, then with a felt board, explains DeVitto. Valley Ice delivers 300-pound blocks of ice totaling 11- one for each carver. There are two carvers stationed at a flower box. Two generators are brought by. "At 10 a.m. there is a power run, a test run to make sure the power is up and running. The competitors have three hours to transform a block of ice into their final creation," says DeVitto.

That morning, the silence and serenity in Jackson is broken by the sound of chain saws, drills, and blowtorches. Artists can bring their own tools and any tool of their choice. They can bring stencils or drawings, too.

Veteran ice carver, Hickey, tells how it's done. "We start with the chain saw, that takes away the ice. If we used just a chisel, we'd be here all day," says Hickey. He explains that some carvers use drawings, stencils or even figurines. "I might be walking through a store and a figurine catches my eye or my fancy and that is what I'll use. This year I am using a drawing," he says.

After a cloudy start today, the sun did shine. Even though cold and clouds are the optimum conditions, sometimes the sun shining isn't so bad. The carvers heat and freeze the ice to make their sculpture. Hickey says the way the ice is melted and frozen again really depends on what you make. Some carvers cut up half of the block of ice, then layer with water, heat and freeze to attach arms, heads, legs. The block gets fused back together.

It is quite amazing to watch the ice carvers. For the first two hours you wonder; 'What this going to be?' During the last 15 minutes the piece comes together. It is gorgeous, it is amazing," says DeVitto.

Three hours passed and at 1 p.m. the judges did their work. Judges, Dave Mason from M&M Assurance, Thom Perkins from Jackson Ski Touring Foundation and Dick Devellian of Jackson, an ice carver himself, walked around and judged on workmanship, creativity and technical difficulty. The carvers are scored from a one to five point scale with five being the highest. The prizes included: first place $500, second place $250, third place overnight stay at The Wentworth in a deluxe Jacuzzi room with dinner and breakfast for two.

And the winners are… first place went to Tim Pierce of the Samoset Resort in Maine, second place to Murray Long of Wicked Good Ice Company and third place was awarded to Dennis Hickey owner of Ice Breakers and executive chef at Ciao Pasta in Franklin. After a brief award ceremony Koepell invited everyone to lunch at The Wentworth. The Gibson Center was invited, too.

Speaking of lunch, it is no surprise that many ice carvers are chefs by night. Hickey is the executive chef at Ciao Pasta in Franklin, Chris Gould, Sashimi Chef at Uni Sashimi Bar in Boston, Tim Pierce, executive chef at Samoset Resort in Maine, Josh Nylin, chef at Red Jacket Resort in North Conway, and Doug Gibson, chef at Hooligans Restaurant in North Conway. "Most ice sculptors are chefs, it's natural that chef's do this. There are ice carvings in hotels and in the buffet set up. I do food and vegetable carvings, too," says Hickey. He adds he learned from the school of hard knocks, but ice carving can be part of chef's formal training.

The ice sculptures are on display at The Wentworth for all the public to see. The sculptures are lit up in the evenings. "Specialty lighting and display stands were installed a few years ago to enhance the beauty of the carvings at night," explains DeVitto.

How long will they last? "The carvings stay out on our veranda as long as Mother Nature allows. Our staff has a pool going to see which sculpture will last the longest," says DeVitto.

To view the carvings, visit The Wentworth located in Jackson Village.

Martin Lord & Osman
Salmon Press
Alton School
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