Tucked away in the bustling ski town of Dillon, Colorado lives a chilly fairytale come to life: the Dillon Ice Castle. While you won’t find Queen Elsa singing inside it, you will find a winter wonderland full of icicles, glacial thrones, and glassy slides that provide frosty fun for the entire family.
In its second season at the Colorado location, the ice castle was the brainchild of the Utah-based Ice Castles LLC. The Dillon site is one of six ice castles spread throughout North America (the others are in Excelsior, Minnesota; Lake Geneva, Wisconsin; Midway, Utah; Woodstock, New Hampshire; and Edmonton, Alberta, Canada). The goal is simple: bring joy to others. In fact, that is how the company came to fruition.
After relocating from California to Utah, founder Brent Christensen realized he was trapped at home with his six stir-crazy kids. They wanted nothing more than to get outside, so he built an ice cave in the front yard. The stroke of genius worked like a charm. His kids loved it—and so did his neighborhood. Various children appeared in his yard, hoping to enjoy the fun of the ice cave. Then, more kids appeared from around town. As word spread, Christensen’s front yard became known as the “ice castle” and a kernel of ideation was planted in his head.
Building an ice castle
Castle construction in Dillon began on November 9 when workers turned on the water in preparation for the December 21 opening. Due to the tedious nature of icicles and the fickle behavior of Mother Nature, the building process is complicated and takes a fair bit of time.
First, castle architects use a carefully plotted route of LED lights and a sprinkler system to create the walls. A temporary metal rigging is used as a platform so the spraying water can stick to it and create icicles. Then, 20 to 40 ice artisans descend upon Dillon to use those icicles to create a beautiful structure. Weather permitting, the crew can create anywhere from 5,000 to 12,000 icicles per day.
Then, the artisans take these long-form icicles and stick them into the base created by the sprinkler system, constantly spraying the structure with more water to help it freeze. They continually mold and construct the icicles into arches, walls, and tunnels, building off the previous layers. Like a frigid garden, these icicles start out small and eventually grow to be larger than a gallon of milk. Eventually, they all meld together to create solid ice walls. The castle completely changes as sun, rain, and snow take their toll on it, so ice artisans are constantly adding more icicles. This means visitors won’t see the same castle on two different days.
The entire process takes about a month, but it is entirely at the whim of the weather. One year, warm weather closed the Utah site after only three days in business. Last year, a heat-wave rolled through Colorado, prolonging construction by two weeks and forcing crews to work long days in order to catch up.
But when weather cooperates and the Ice Castle opens as planned, it is magical.
Like night and day
Guests can visit the castle during the day when sunlight filters through the icicles, creating a cornucopia of blue and aqua hues in the ice. By night, the LED lights flash a variety of colors, turning the entire structure into a disco party of reds and purples and greens. Both are equally amazing.
The Dillon Ice Castle isn’t just a structure, either. The ice artisans built a castle filled with obstacles for kids of all ages. Smaller children can zip down an icy slide—almost like a luge—that dumps into a pile of snow. Older kids can ride on the larger slide. Multiple ice tunnels create a magical glacial world that almost feels as if you are submerged under water, and an elaborate throne is constructed entirely out of—you guessed it—ice.
Alas, Punxsutawney Phil predicted an early spring. As temperatures warm, the season for icy enchantment is dwindling. The Dillon Ice Castle announced they will be closing for the season on March 9. The Utah location is already closed and the others are set to begin melting away over the coming weeks.
But don’t worry. If you didn’t get a chance to visit the Ice Castle this season, there is always next year. Until then, bundle up, stay warm, and remember that spring is just around the corner.