Rock on Ice returns to Mt. CB

Seven new creations take up residence

By Katherine Nettles

A mist of tiny ice shavings floated and power tools buzzed through the air at Mountaineer Square in Mt. Crested Butte last month, as Rock on Ice sculptors Jeff Petercsak and Titus Arensberg worked carefully on seven enchanting new public art displays for the resort. In their wake emerged crystal-like characters: a unicorn, an eagle and a bear now greet you as you head from the slopes to the Mt. Crested Butte Visitors Center. Around the corner stands a large throne fit for a Frozen character, an empty picture frame in which to put yourself and an ice cream truck has pulled up near the bus stop. The seasonal ice sensations will remain at the square all winter, or at least until the weather warms enough to melt them.

“These sculptures last a really long time around here,” said Petercsak, who was the head of the two-person team here last month. “It stays pretty cold in this square and it doesn’t get much direct light, so the ice does pretty well.”

Ice sculptures in Mt. Crested Butte have been a holiday tradition for about 10 years now. The team arrived the week before Christmas and spent six days planning and executing their work.

Some of the sculptures are simply there to behold, maybe prompting passersby to pause and look around to make sure they find each one. The animals are stationed around the outdoor fire pit, so it’s tempting to sit and enjoy them after a day on the ski hill. Other sculptures, like the throne, the ice cream truck and the picture frame are meant for interaction, welcoming curious, mitten-pawed children of all ages to climb on (or through) and touch them. The grandest of these is the ice throne, which has been making an appearance now for a few years straight.

Petercsak said the throne has become a mainstay for the mountain, and uses 10 blocks of solid ice, 300 pounds each, all on its own. But that pays off in its ability to withstand the thousands of people who will pile on top of it for photo ops and just to marvel at the handiwork. The throne is more than six feet tall, with two steps to help people ascend in ski boots, large arm rests and a high, scalloped back that resembles sand castle tops. The sculptors also created a second ice throne and delivered it by Snowcat up the mountain, where it will live next to Uley’s Cabin for the season.

Petercsak said he and Arensberg used 48 ice blocks in total, spending between five and six hours on each sculpture and even longer on the thrones. They start with chainsaws, but then fine tune using grinders, sanders, chisels and Japanese handsaws. They seal blocks together by matching up the ends, stacking them and then melting them at the seams. “You can’t do anything too dainty,” remarked Petercsak as he brushed and carved the eagle’s talons one afternoon last week. “You have to get a balance between making it look realistic but being stable enough not to collapse.”

Although Petercsak works with ice year-round, doing special events, festivals and winter displays like the ones in Mt. Crested Butte, he says he got into it through the culinary arts. Working at a golf club in Columbus, Ohio, he started watching as the head chef carved ice for parties or events. “He never kicked me out, so I picked up the trade from him,” says Petercsak. Rock on Ice is based in Columbus and is made up of four carvers total who have been ranked regionally, nationally and internationally for their work. When Petercsak and the other Rock on Ice team members aren’t chiseling ice, they do sand art and food carvings, including 1,000 pumpkins each October.

Although most of their work takes place around the Midwest, Petercsak has been involved in the Mt. Crested Butte carvings for many years. “Most of the time what we do is freestyle. We try to stick to a theme, like the idea of using thrones here.” He says his favorite thing to carve is usually fish, a nod to one of his preferred pastimes. The ice cream truck was a new concept for the team this year, but is likely to be a new favorite. “We haven’t done that one before so we had some fun with the ideas,” he said.

Although the week got off to a very cold start, with temperatures on day one starting around –22° Fahrenheit, and they spent several 12- to 13-hour days outside, Petercsak says they take warm-up breaks when they need to and enjoy the crowds who come by to admire their work and take pictures. “And it’s nice being out here in winter wonderland,” he said, amid glistening specks of flying ice set against a bluebird sky. Three cheers to that.

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