Dillon’s Ice Castles promise fun for visitors, profits for businesses
If you’ve taken a trip down Lake Dillon Drive or Buffalo Street in Dillon recently, you’ve likely noticed a mass of snow-white spires beginning to rise from the town park.
Soon, as the weather continues to chill and the ice forms together, the park will once again become the home of the Dillon Ice Castles, a frozen spectacle inside the town core providing a majestic retreat for Summit’s residents and an undeniable attraction for thousands of winter tourists.
“There’s been such positive buzz, and it’s been such a source of pride for the community,” said Kerstin Anderson, director of marketing and communications for Dillon. “Last year people were seeing Dillon on the news constantly, and being one of the lesser-known entities it’s nice to see our name out there. So there’s really a tangible excitement this year, in particular from the business community.”
Last year the ice castles, created by the aptly named Ice Castles LLC, came to Dillon for the first time and were an instant hit for the community. Tens of thousands of guests visited the attraction, providing Dillon with unprecedented attention from the Front Range and a major boon to local businesses. But this year, they could be even better.
Dan Beck, site manager of the project, said that this year’s ice castles would be even bigger than last year, sprawling over more than an acre and featuring about 10 new towers. But there may also be some new features in store this year for visitors.
“We’ll have a lot of the same features because a lot of them are very popular,” said Beck, who also helped create last year’s castles. “So things that people enjoy like our big slide and fountain will be back. But we’re going to try and add a few things. I’m going to try and make an ice volcano with a fog machine. Another one is going to be a monster mouth, with a ballroom that kids can crawl into with lights and big ice fangs they can crawl between to get in.”
Beck noted that this is the first time Ice Castles is attempting something like the monster mouth or the volcano, and there’s a chance things won’t work out. Regardless, the ice castles will remain an impressive display. Construction on the new ice castles began in early October, with workers taking measurements and completing the designs. Since then, more than 20 full-time employees with Ice Castles have been laying miles of sprinkler lines (over 80 sprinkler heads in total), installing lights inside the ice (it will take between 150-200 to illuminate the castles once complete) and amassing thousands of icicles a day to slowly shape the structures.
Beck said that the ice castles would require more than 10,000 man-hours of construction work before they’re even open — utilizing more than 100,000 gallons of water a day— along with regular maintenance throughout the season.
But all that work will pay off in the end, as Beck said he once again expects tens of thousands of visitors to their creation.
“We work really hard, but you get to see it grow yourself and you get to see thousands of people come and enjoy what you built,” said Beck. “Most of us find that pretty gratifying.”
The ice castles are also expected to pay off in a big way for local businesses in the area. Last winter, the sales tax in Dillon’s downtown core grew $454,000 over the 2016-17 winter, a 26 percent jump. The town believes that, conservatively, at least 25 percent of that growth was due to the ice castles.
“I think that’s a conservative estimate,” said Anderson.
Of 16 Dillon businesses surveyed by Ice Castles LLC following last winter, more than 93 percent reported an increase in revenue in January and February, with almost 60 percent of respondents claiming a 5–25 percent increase over the previous winter. Local business owners are expecting another big season.
“We really like the ice castles,” said Ariel Johnston, co-owner of Everything Colorado in Dillon. “We had a lot of people coming into the shop before and after going to the ice castles. … it was really good because Dillon doesn’t have as many attractions as the ski resorts. But I think Dillon is getting on the map a little more, and this helps to bring awareness to the area.”
“We definitely saw an increase in numbers from the ice castles,” added Bonnie Lehman, owner of Arapahoe Cafe & Pub. “There’s not a whole lot of reasons for people to be in Dillon in the winter, so it’s nice to have an activity that brings people to town. … I’m excited to have them back.”
Despite considerable growth to the local economy, the castles almost didn’t return this year due to damage to the park and melting ice creating an ice sheet on Buffalo Street. Last year the castles were removed prematurely so that the town could begin improvements on the park, leading to damage from the equipment. Anderson said this spring the town spent more than $10,000 removing ice and repairing the park.
This year’s ice castles could serve as another test for the town to see if the attraction can be completed without any major damage to the park, especially given the large-scale investments on the horizon as part of the Dillon Town Park Master Plan. But officials are optimistic that damage can be mitigated this year.
“We worked with Ice Castles to cut trenches in the interior of the park, and then they built a gutter system to help capture any additional overflow,” said Anderson. “Those measures should help mitigate the issues we were seeing last year with the ice sheeting and overflow. … There were growing pains. But given what we know now and the improvements we put in place, it should be enough to mitigate negative impacts so we can keep them in that location over multiple years.”
The contract between Dillon and Ice Castles is also different this year. Last year the town paid $58,000 in water services, and received $30,000 in profits from Ice Castles. This year Ice Castles will be paying for their own water, in hopes of incentivizing less water usage, and taking home 100 percent of the profits.
Beck said that the ice castles should be ready for opening day sometime before Christmas.
“We always have a lot of ideas, and we always try to add new things and be creative,” said Beck. “We’ll take any chance we get to implement those while keeping the things that people really love.”
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With cold weather comes winter holidays and shopping for little ones. Summit County has an abundance of places to shop for the little — and not so little — people on your gift list.