FAIRBANKS, Alaska — Four men who carved ice sculptures at the recent Fire & Ice Festival in Columbia City have traveled to Fairbanks, Alaska for the 2011 BP World Art Ice Art Championship.
“This annual event has been held since 1988, when the tradition of ice sculpture, a feature of the Fairbanks Winter Carnival celebrations held during the 1930s, was revived,” said event publicity chairman, Don Callahan in a press release. “The event is run almost exclusively by volunteers, of whom some have traveled from as far away as Australia.”
Stan Horne, chef at Eagle’s Nest Event Center and one of the organizers of the festival in Columbia City is on the team with three other men who are regular carvers for Whitley County’s Fire & Ice.
Alfredo Arroyo and Ralph “Bud” Lies are from LaPorte and Ryan Eckert grew up in Churubusco. Arroyo brings the most experience, being in his 70s, while Eckert is the youngest. Lies runs an ice company in LaPorte, supplying ice for the local festival in years past.
The men have been working all week, as the multi-block competition allows five days, around the clock if they desire, for competitors to create.
Teams at work to attain the prize this year are from as far away as Germany, France, Poland, Latvia, Finland, Ireland, Japan, Mongolia, China, and even Spain and the Phillipines.
Horne said the ice used for the competition is glacial ice from quarries with a natural blue color to it.
“Ice Alaska typically harvests over 4.1 million pounds of ice from O’Grady Pond, a man-made pond used exclusively for producing ice and located close to the sculpting site,” said Callahan. “Fairbanks’ exceptionally clear, brilliant ice has won the name ‘The Arctic Diamond’ and is a favorite medium for ice sculptors.”
In the multi-block competition, each team may use five blocks weighing 2,100 pounds each and the natural ice comes with imperfections, unlike the manufactured blocks used here.
Horne’s wife, Doris has stayed in Indiana to hold down the fort, but has been in contact with her husband through the week. She says they haven’t had much trouble with the imperfections, but more with the bitter cold.
“It’s so cold (the ice is) so brittle,” Doris said. “It’s brutal.”
As the lift truck was raising the head of the dragon in the sculpture, it cracked, but the team was able to fuse it together. As a wing was lifted, it cracked as well, and the team had to start over.
The competition ends tonight at 9 p.m. Alaska time, or 1 a.m. Saturday Eastern Standard Time.
One great feature of the BP World Ice Carving Art Championship is the ability for observers to follow the progress on web cams.
Go to www.icealaska.com  and find the mutli-block competition link on the left. Then find site 17, which is the LaPorte team and the sculpture they are calling “Dream Big Dragon Slayer.”
Doris said it looks like the team may have the tallest sculpture this year, but admits she doesn’t know if that weighs in the judging at all.
“As (the teams) finish, you will be amazed at the detail, though,” she said.
The team seemed to have adjusted to the extreme weather at one point, taking off their sweatshirts, according to Doris, but then Stan noticed it suddenly felt cold.
“The temperature had dropped seven degrees in one minute,” Doris said.
Watch the team finish up tonight at www.icealaska.com  and then the awards ceremony at 8 p.m. (midnight EST) Saturday.