The Cripple Creek Ice Fest has returned after taking a COVID hiatus. Celebrate with a ride down an ice slide

· Feb. 23, 2023, 4:00 am
Eric Lally, a 23-year-old ice carver from Upstate New York, smooths the rough edges of a cutthroat trout before moving it to a display incorporating the state animals of Colorado.

Cripple Creek sits nearly 9,500 feet above sea level. Winters can get pretty cold — the town gets nearly 120 inches of snow each year.

And this year, the town is celebrating its winter wonderland again, with the return of its annual event celebrating all things cold: an Ice Festival. This year, it’s complete with its own ice slide.

It’s a gently sloping slide and even sitting on a piece of cardboard, the rider doesn’t move very quickly down it. Still, it’s a giant slide made entirely of ice, and last Sunday there was an eager line of people waiting to give it a try. 

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The ice slide is one of many novelties that bring thousands to the Cripple Creek Ice Festival each year, the nine-day ice carving celebration that has returned after a two-year hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“Welcome to the chaos,” laughed Klaryssa Murray, Cripple Creek’s destination marketing coordinator. This year’s event brought in about 30 carvers — working in five teams — from around the country, each sawing and sanding away at massive translucent sculptures: aliens and donkeys, modern art-inspired polygons, landscapes and high arches of sparkling sheet music. 

And a slide.

The Cripple Creek Ice Festival brings dozens of ice carvers from around the country to create enormous sculptures on the city’s main street. Visitors vote for their favorites and the winners will be announced this Sunday.
Keith Martin with Durango-based Sn’ice Snow and Ice Carving stacks ice blocks for what will ultimately be a Death Star sculpture on Feb. 19, 2023.

On Sunday, Durango resident Keith Martin stood on a pallet hoisted well overhead by a skid steer. The team representing his snow and ice carving company, Sn’ice, spent the first days of the festival preparing the slide and on Sunday began stacking a curving wall of blocks that would eventually be shaped into the Death Star from Star Wars.

“Some people go to the gym and flip tires and swing sledgehammers. We move hundred-pound blocks of ice, 12 feet off the ground,” Martin said. Each team is given two shipments of ice blocks totaling 36,000 pounds to carve as they wish. The ice is brought in from Ohio. Festival goers vote for their favorites via QR code. Winners will be announced this Sunday as the festival wraps up. 

Visitors crowded the city’s main street last weekend, stopping by vendor booths offering many of the comfort foods and trinkets found at a typical summer street fair. There was even a karaoke booth. Murray said many local businesses had been anxious to restart the festival after the pandemic closures, relying on the event to help bolster the slow winter tourism season. 

For Melanie Milteer, it was her first time coming to the town outside of visits to the casinos she made years ago. Strolling around with a good friend and their kids, Milteer said it was nice to have a different reason to make the trip.

“Absolutely. It’s great to have these kinds of festivals and places that normally are for adults,” Milteer said. “Now, you can have kids; you can make a family fun day of it.”

Milteer’s 9-year-old daughter, Ayana Atkinson, was confident she did not want to try the ice slide.

“It’s gonna freeze my bottom,” she said.

Each team of carvers receives two shipments of ice (one at the beginning and one at the midpoint of the festival), with both shipments weighing a combined total of 18 tons.

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