Ice, Chainsaws, Flamethrowers and Crafts

The Ann Arbor Fourth Annual Ice Carving Festival draws 1800 visitors to County Farm Park.

As each new person walked under the County Farm Park archway their arrival was recorded. 898, 899, 900, 901,… As they walked up the curving path trees stretched high above them and the scent of smoke hung in the air.

A colorful playground bustled with activity as children and parents alike moved around the area. To the left of the playground, a fire pit burned with eager hands extended towards the flames.

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A young boy held his black and red mug near the fire, “I’m warming up my cocoa!”

The mug was retrieved from beneath the bright red canopy with Redwood written in white text. Mugs, bags and fliers from the company were handed out as well as free hot chocolate, popcorn and other treats.

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“Redwood Living: we are a single story apartment community. Mainly located out of Ohio, that’s where our corporate office is. We’ve been trying to outreach in the community and we thought this would be a great way to do that,” said Alesse, a Redwood representative.

While searching online for events to get involved Alesse and Jule, another representative of Redwood, found the ice carving festival and emailed the director of the event, Hannah Cooley. Cooley is a management analyst for Washtenaw County Parks and Recreation.

“I shot her an email and the same day she responded saying, ‘We’d love to have sponsors!’. This is our (Alesse and Jule’s) first sponsoring event that we’ve done and it’s gone very smoothly. When we showed up they had the spot ready. I mentioned to Hannah that we had coffee cups and she set us up here,” said Jule.

‘Here’ being a canopy directly beside the warming center, a building between the entry and the playground. Inside the warming center were tables set up with crafting material for the younger visitors to indulge in.

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Keely and Ross brought their four little ones for some winter fun and took home crafts they made.

1030, 1031, 1032,… the sounds of whirring machines drew the crowd to the picnic pavilion further up the path. Students of the University of Michigan, Macomb Community College and Washtenaw Community College worked on their ice sculptures with chainsaws.

“And I heard about it on the radio from CBN and I was barely paying attention when I heard the words flamethrower and chainsaw, so then I paid extra close attention. Then I looked it up on google and sent pictures to my friends and my partner,” said Annie, an onlooker at the fourth annual Ann Arbor Ice Carving Festival.

Annie’s partner, Jeremy, smiled from beside her.

“Then we continued to text our friends, always referencing flamethrower and chainsaw,” said Jeremy.

1109, 1110, 1111… The students of the ice carving teams slowly transformed large slabs of ice into intricate masterpieces starting at noon and ending at 4 p.m. As the blades of the chainsaws followed the outlines snow sprayed wildly. To create the desirable smooth effect the sculptors used small flamethrowers.

The sculptors had multiple generators running with chords interweaving to allow the artists’ tools to be ready at a moments notice. One of the tools the sculptors utilize is a basic iron. The iron heats can be used to heat a slab which is then used to connect smaller pieces of ice to the main body of the sculpture.  

Max Paczkowski, a student at Macomb Community College, revealed that “the key factor in scoring a lot of points in ice carving competitions is to have a lot of fuses. Which means cutting the ice into smaller pieces, shaping them and then reattaching them together.”

Paczkowski added that realism plays a role in the judging process. He commented that abstract pieces can also be successful.

1745, 1746, 1747… Cooley isn’t the only person involved with putting an event like this together.

“It’s a team effort. The Meri Lou Murray Recreation Center has a team that runs the event and I have been a part of it for the last four years,” said Cooley.

Plymouth has an ice caring festival as well as Ann Arbor with U of M’s ice carving team on Main St. once a year.

“We decided that it would be a great thing if we had a competition between schools here at our park because what a great place to host it,” said Cooley.

This competition was originally the idea of parks superintendent.

“This was her brainchild. She thought the Plymouth ice show was great and that we should have something like this here because we have the resources to do it,” said Cooley.

The competition was completed with first place going to Paczkowski and his intricate dragonfly.

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Second place was awarded to another Macomb Community College student and their ice sculpture of a detailed giraffe.

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The third place winners were a team of students from Washtenaw Community College their creation of Toothless, one of the main characters from How To Train Your Dragon.

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Peter Hammal, a sophomore of the University of Michigan, has been ice carving for two years. This hobby began while looking for a club to join.

“You have to think about your design. I’m not very good yet so I have to think about the shape a lot so if I do a bad job people can still tell what it is. Some people are really good and can add a lot of detail but because I’m just starting out I have to think about how it’s recognizable,” said Hammal.

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Hammal added that he needs to keep in mind what is doable with a chainsaw when working with a rectangle of ice. Circles, he comments, are difficult to create with limited tools.

This event is part of Washtenaw County Parks Winter Fun Fest which has an event every weekend from January 26th through February 25th. It’s a series of events at different parks to get people outside and active during the winter months. The Winter Fun Fest will be broadcasted on the Washtenaw County channels CTN (Community Television Network).

“It’s a great event and we are glad that they are out here and enjoying the weather,” said Cooley.

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