Hundreds of thousands of icicles invite your imagination to play in Silverthorne. They dangle, glisten and drip with palatable enthusiasm. It is true. They speak. Not audibly. But in form: angular, whimsical, eccentric.
Brent Christensen first began experimenting with ice castles in his hometown of Midway (located on the backside of Deer Valley) Utah, with his kids about five years ago. He started with a 15- to 20-foot high wooden frame but quickly discovered the spring meltdown also meant a mess of broken wood, so he switched to PVC piping. After finding out he could build ice castles completely out of water sprouting from PVC pipes topped with sprinkler heads, he got hooked and literally didn't want to do anything else, he said. So, he partnered with one of his kid's Boy Scout leaders, Ryan Davis (the "business and marketing man"), and has constructed frozen castles in Midway for the last two winters. Though the last structure rose about 40 feet tall, it never amounted to what the duo has masterminded in Silverthorne: nine wide "towers" with a complex pattern of pathways creating a matrix, which eventually will reach 40 to 50 feet high and form a cave-like structure.
Christensen, who has been pulling all-nighters with crews, working 12-16 hours, said as the open ceilings close, it will feel as if you're standing in the middle of a glacier.
"It's not to where you'll get lost, but you may feel like it," Christensen said.
Approximately a mile of PVC piping snakes throughout the acre-size footprint of the ice castle. So far, the castle has about 2 million gallons of town water frozen in majestic icicles and columns, and every day, water continues to trickle out of 90 sprinkler heads that help expand the palace.
"It's literally an evolving, living structure," Davis said.
Along the perimeter of the castle sits an "ice farm," where Christensen "grows" icicles his team uses to artistically build the site. Every 24 hours, they meticulously add 3,000 to 5,000 icicles, connecting the nine towers. They use thicker ones for horizontal bars, which hold lines of thinner vertical icicles hanging overhead. Within 24 hours, the fusion usually becomes strong enough to support a person who straps on crampons, squeezes into the center of a tower and climbs to the top to stack more frozen daggers upon each other.
Every day, the crew chops the walls back 2-3 inches and manually picks, or jackhammers, a few inches of ice off the walkways, due to water overspill that has frozen after spouting out from the sprinkler heads.
As the days pass, the snow falls, the ice builds and crews place farmed icicles, the strange-looking clumps and bumps of overgrown, other-worldly, ice-on-steroid-looking formations shape shift. Snow dustings cloud previously crystal-clear ice, resulting in flocking. Other snow days create a type of feathering.
Blue-sky days bring out the deep turquoise colors in the ice; the thicker the ice, the more aquamarine the hue. Clouds draw long shadows in the columns, while patches of blue ceiling highlight the newly farmed icicles up high.
And nighttime: Nighttime lures you into a whole other world. One hundred clear lights, frozen among the columns, illuminate the manmade stalagmites. Around one corner, you may see clear, thin columns, swirled in alternate thick white and translucence. Around another, bloated jellyfish might encircle a tower, their long tentacles hanging down 20-foot rises. In the distance, you might imagine ghostly ships, their masts dripping with icicles, while in the depths of the cavern you hear the trickle of water. Tucked into a romantic corner, you might even catch a man proposing: Last year, Christensen said six couples got engaged in his Midway castle. The other night, a mother lightheartedly chided her young boys for staying up past their bedtime, consumed by sword fighting with icicles.
"People ask when the best time is to see (the castle)," Christensen said. "I can't answer that. The best time is right now."