Image source: Beth Blair
Princess Elsa would be right at home in Midway, Utah. The star of Disney's Frozen knows a bit about living in a castle made of ice, and that's exactly what you'll find in this little community about an hour south of Salt Lake City. Last year, nearly 250,000 people found their way here, bundled up against the cold with cameras and a sense of wonder at warp speed.
Sure, there are lots of great places to play in the cold and snow of Utah, known for its extraordinary powder and the 2002 Winter Olympics. Robert Redford's famous Sundance Mountain is nearby, as is the country's longest snow tubing hill. But for the hottest ticket in Utah head to the Midway Ice Castle.
It started in 2008 when the Christensen family moved to Utah from California. The six kids had never experienced snow and ice, so one winter night Dad hosed down the old wooden play fort just for the fun of it. The slippery result was frozen slides and hidden rooms and the Christensen backyard quickly became the most popular playground in the neighborhood.
Brent Christensen began tinkering around with ways to make a better winter playground for the kids and the results are now enjoyed by thousands of children and their families in four locations across the U.S. This year they are in Midway, Utah; Eden Prairie, Minnesota, Loon Mountain Resort in Lincoln, New Hampshire; and Stratton Mountain Ski Resort in Stratton Vermont.
Creating one of these Ice Castles is a little more complicated than using a garden hose and an old play fort. First of all, you need about five million gallons of water and a good place for the Ice Castle to drain once the spring thaw arrives. The designers begin by making thousands of icicles and adhering them together with more ice. Each day, they add more and turn the hose on at night and let Mother Nature do her thing. Daily fluctuations in the wind and temperatures create features that designers could never imagine on their own.
However, a typical structure is between 30 and 40 feet high, weighs about 20 million tons and covers about an acre of land with tunnels, slides, towers, and LED lighting frozen in the midst of it all. Throw in music and an occasional fire dancer and it really becomes an all-sensory experience. If you're lucky, you might come upon a bride and groom posing for their wedding photos or a music video in production. Three videos have been shot at the Midway Utah location, including one with an ice-covered piano.
The designers continue to water and grow the structure every night until late February, creating a fresh coat of ice, thus it's a little bit different every day and/or night you go. For parents hoping to teach their kids a few things, or refresh their own knowledge of earth science, an Ice Castle visit can be a true learning experience.
For example, when temperatures drop below zero, the ice tends to grow up toward the sprinklers rather than drip down to the ground. Of course, the question to ask is why. And why does the Ice Castle look bluer on a gray, cloudy day than it does on a bright sunny day?
So, what do you do at an Ice Castle beside walk around and try to figure out who pays the water bill on this thing? Well, kids will play for hours and hours in the little caverns created by cascading ice, with breaks just long enough to slide down a slide or escape through a tunnel. Adults are totally in selfie mode at the Ice Castle as they ponder how the darn thing is made and answers to other questions the kids may or may not ask.
Employees spend a lot of time breaking up the ice on the walkways and shaving the suspended icicles to above the height of anyone passing through the tunnels. It's an incredibly safe setting, inspected by various city departments, including the fire marshal. Yep, the fire marshal - like a fire is going to break out in a building made of frozen water.
But anytime you travel in cold weather destinations, there's a chance that slips or falls may occur. A travel insurance policy will cover any out of pocket or out of network expenses that may occur.
The best time to enjoy the Ice Castles is at night when colored spotlights and sparkling stars overhead turn the castles into a magical vision that even Disney can't match.
Would you visit an ice castle?
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A Midwest farm girl at heart, Diana Lambdin Meyer caught the roaming bug early in life. Diana married well - to a photographer who also has the travel bug and whose work in still and video complements her words. Now based in the Kansas City area, Diana is a member of the Society of American Travel Writers who makes a full-time living on the road and at the keyboard. Read about Diana's adventures on her blog, Mojotraveler or follow her on Twitter or Google Plus.
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