"Smoochy, smoochy, smoochy!" the obnoxious prepubescent boy says to his teenage cousin and her boyfriend as they pose in the sleigh made of ice at the edge of Keystone's frozen lake. Her parents snap the photo, and she gets out of the sleigh, giving him a snide look. She is one of the thousands who were captured on film 20-plus years ago, when Keystone chefs first began their tradition of carving the ice sleigh.
Now, visitors capture the translucent, 11,000-pound sleigh, complete with reindeer on digital film, making it easier to ensure they take home the exact shot they want; it can be said traditional film photography is a dying art. In the same way, Keystone chef Steve Nguyen says ice carving is "a dying art by man, which is being overtaken by machine."
He has been meticulously creating Keystone's winter sleigh, pulled by reindeer (held together by colored LED lights and red ribbon) for 10 years, along with students he teaches the art of ice carving to at Colorado Mountain College.
Large-scale projects like the sleigh, which in and of itself takes 16, 10"x20"x40" ice blocks, each weighing 275 pounds, take a team of people days to construct, whereas something small, like a swan for a wedding, only takes one carver.
"The sleigh is definitely more challenging," Nguyen said. "A large part of the sleigh is welding 16 blocks of ice together before we can begin to sculpt the sleigh. Each reindeer is one block of ice, compared to the 16 for the sleigh."
First, the team must figure out the scale, dimensions and amount of ice it needs, Nguyen said. Then, on work day number one, five carvers spend five hours stacking and welding the 16 blocks to create the form from which to sculpt. On day two, five carvers spend eight hours using electric chain saws, dremel tools, disc grinders, Japanese chisels, hand saws, irons, propane weed burners, aluminum plates and syringes for squirting ice (to weld pieces together) to fashion the sleigh, trees and flying stars. On the last day, six students spend at least four hours making the reindeer and four other chefs take four hours to put finishing touches on the rest of the display.
"The hardest part is being patient and dealing with the conditions (weather and light)," he said. "The most fun is being creative and seeing the visualization come to life. We have a constant stream of families stopping to play around and take pictures."
The sleigh, which Nguyen sets up in the shade near Keystone's lake, lasts a couple of months, depending on the weather.