Ice Castle in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin
I was really fortunate to find a great business partner. After a couple years, we expanded to two and then three. The key is really finding these amazing employees who stay with us, who share the passion about what we do. We're now at five locations. It's been a long road, a lot of fun, lot of trial and error, a lot of cold fingers and frozen pipes and things like that. But it's amazing to look and see where we're at now, considering where it started.
Setting up shop
Finding a location, we have to consider a ton of variables. First of all, weather. Can we get a lot of water? Will there be a place for that water to go when it melts? And is it going to be close enough to where it can be enjoyed by the masses?
When it comes to actually designing and planning an ice castle, we meet as a management team every year. We go over what worked really well, what people loved, what didn't work so well. And we come up with a list of features that we want in an ice castle. Then we go and we look at the piece of land.
We say, "OK, which way is the sun going to shine?" Because that affects the growth. "How does the prevailing wind come into play? Where are we going to put our shops, our workspace? Where can we access plumbing for the water and guest parking?" We have to change it all up, throw it all up again and see where it lands. Getting the final design takes a while and it takes a lot of collaboration.
They tend to be about an acre in size. We try to maintain a lot of walking area. There's courtyards and slides. But the overall footprint is quite large.
The very first thing we do when we're allowed to come onto the land is we bring in our workspaces. Typically, we have these shipping containers that we buy. We modify them. For example, there’s one that sits with the plumbing works. The water main comes in and it goes through a series of valves, and all those individual irrigation lines run all over this acre footprint. That’s one of the things that has to be set up first.
We have another little container that controls all the electrical, the lighting, the music, the sound, and those have to go into place. All of the irrigation lines, all of the electrical lines, those go on grass in the fall. We test everything out, and then we hope and pray for cold weather. And once the weather turns cold, we turn the water on, we start growing an ice castle and we hope that it stays cold.
To build and maintain the ice castle, a lot of it is done by hand. We're up there with spikes on our boots and basically placing icicles. The heavy equipment comes with the grooming of the walls and the floors. There's a lot of excess ice, a lot of chainsaws going all day. We have little tractors with milling drums on the front that chew up the ice. And then we come in with skid steers and plow it out.
A typical ice castle season will be four, five or six weeks. Eight weeks would be a really long season. These are very ephemeral – they're here, and then they're gone, which actually we love. We'll watch the weather. We'll keep an eye on the condition of the castle. Once it starts getting too drippy and melty, it's not as magical in our opinion. And so, we pick an end date, we shut the gates and we say goodbye, and look forward to another season.