Before Instagram launched a demand for the perfect selfie in 2010, Ice Castles founder Brent Christensen invented the perfect backdrop. Before Lindsey Stirling gained platinum status with her violin albums, Christensen and business partner Ryan Davis had already hand built the winter wonderland showcased in her record-breaking YouTube video “Crystallize,” currently at 153 million views. And before a single 8-year-old was singing “Let It Go” along with Elsa, Christensen and Davis created frozen winter parks straight out of a fairytale and their Ice Castles business was thriving in multiple states.

By Brooke Wilhelmsen Photos by Ethan Kiernan

Icy Real Estate

The Ice Castles concept originated with Christensen, described by Ice Castles CEO Ryan Davis as an artistic genius. Christensen pioneered the ice building method while making ice caves for his daughter in their Alpine, Utah, yard. Davis happily left his career in the recessed real estate market in 2010 to lead the business side of Christensen’s creative, icy vision — a venture Davis describes as “surprisingly less risky and way more rewarding.”

The business — like the ice castles themselves — has grown organically since its founding. Marketing is easy when just about every visitor shares her experience on social media, and major musicians with Utah ties like Alex Boyé, The Piano Guys and Lindsey Stirling film music videos at the Ice Castles.

 

The Wow Factor

It’s easy to see why celebs and everyday folks are intrigued by the massive, fantastical structures spanning approximately 1.5 acres in the Midway area. More than 30 million pounds of ice is carefully grown around miles of pipe and string lights to create glowing towers, slot canyons, caves and crevasses.

Because the location changes each year, new opportunities and unique ideas emerge from Christensen’s creative mind, making for totally new designs. None of the ice castles are machine-made. The ice is grown on racks and grafted into the structures by staff in the months leading to opening day. This year the Ice Castles team will experiment with running water, a new light show and more. “There’s always a surprise or two, intentional or not,” Davis jokes.

 

Weather Woes

Weather can be a challenge when your business is built on ice. “It’s easy to get your hopes dashed,” Davis says. Like during the 2014-15 season when the Midway Ice Castles were forced to shut down after only three days by an unusually warm winter.

Fortunately, that is not the norm, and for six to eight weeks each winter, hundreds of thousands of visitors gush to their friends after visiting one of the locations in Utah, New Hampshire, Minnesota and Alberta, Canada. One or two new locations will likely be added for the 2016-2017 season. Tickets hover below $15, and it’s a good idea to purchase them in advance. There is a cap on hourly attendance and prime weekend evening slots often sell out. If the weather cooperates you can plan on Midway’s Ice Castles opening at the end of December and remaining open into mid-February.

Wear your warmest winter clothes and plan for about two hours to explore all the ice features and pose for hundreds of photos, of course. “My favorite part was the multitude of great photo ops for my daughter Cora,” jokes Ice Castles visitor Laney Williams. “The big, tall crevices were cool too.”

Ashton Jenkins, mother of two active boys under 6 says, “We ended up staying a lot longer than I expected because there were so many narrow passageways and tunnels that the boys liked to crawl through. But I think their favorite part was the slide. Wear snow clothes and snow boots for sure.” She also suggests making a snow day out of it and tubing at nearby Soldier Hollow.

By Brooke Wilhelmsen Photos by Ethan Kiernan
By Brooke Wilhelmsen Photos by Ethan Kiernan
By Brooke Wilhelmsen Photos by Ethan Kiernan
By Brooke Wilhelmsen Photos by Ethan Kiernan
By Brooke Wilhelmsen Photos by Ethan Kiernan
By Brooke Wilhelmsen Photos by Ethan Kiernan
By Brooke Wilhelmsen Photos by Ethan Kiernan
By Brooke Wilhelmsen Photos by Ethan Kiernan