Saturday is your last chance to see the Ice Castles in Cripple Creek before they melt away

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4min 39sec
Dan Boyce/CPR News
A Colorado Ice Castles employee walks the grounds of the attraction on Feb 28, 2024

Woodland Park resident Love Lessard described her experience walking through the Colorado Ice Castles in Cripple Creek as a surprising adventure.

“I feel like I’m Elsa!” she said, referencing the magical ice queen from the Disney movie “Frozen.”

It’s an apt analogy. To walk the acre-sized winter attraction is to stroll the grounds of an open-air crystalline palace, walls of pure ice stretching up to 30 feet high around you. You move through smoothly carved white-blue tunnels beneath frozen bridges. You pass by translucent sculptures of grand thrones and icy dragons. 

And it’s all slowly melting.

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Janelly Lugo, 10, visits the Colorado Ice Castles from Miami on February 28, 2024. This trip marks her first experience with snow.

“We've tried to fight with Mother Nature,” said the site’s manager Keith Heintzelman. “Now, we’re learning we lost that battle a long time ago. So now we're trying to adapt and work with her.”

During this final stretch, Heintzeman supervises a team of maintenance workers in a late-season scramble under the midday sun. They knock off fragile ice hazards hanging from one tower. They re-chainsaw the tunnel through another. They use rototillers to break the snowy floor of the area into something loose and soft again. A vast array of exposed spray nozzles create new ice when the temperature drops later in the day.

The building process began in November when the team laid between five and 15 miles of water lines, power lines, and LED lights within an initial scaffold of icicles. Over weeks, the nozzles within those water lines added layer upon layer of new ice over the scaffold, creating a frozen architectural marvel.

“The turquoise, blues — it just looks like glitter, white glitter on top when the sun is shining on it,” said Karri Glass, looking out at the castles from the windows of Maudie’s Incredible Emporium in downtown Cripple Creek.

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Visitors use one of several ice slides at the Colorado Ice Castles on February 28, 2024
Dan Boyce/CPR News
An ice tower glows with embedded LED lights on February 28, 2024.

Glass is one of many contractors who sell art in the emporium. Its manager, Mark Gregory, said the icy attraction has been great for local businesses.

“It has brought people to town,” he said, “a tremendous amount of people that have never been here before and they’re going to come back.”

On this day in late February, Gregory and Glass watched as the castle team busily worked to replace what melted off the previous day. This is the first year in Cripple Creek after previously being held in Dillon.

“I'm hoping the weatherman will give us a couple of more cold, snowy days and keep it going,” Glass said.

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A sign inside the Colorado Ice Castles on February 28, 2024.

Recently, the organizers had to move the castles’ opening time from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. to let the sun set and the daily repairs harden.

Heintzelman said it’s a balancing act at the end of the season: Do they stay open longer to bring in more money, or will the castles melt so much that they just won’t look as nice?

“We don't want to end with bad reviews. We watch reviews weekly and daily,” Heintzelman said, adding that at some point in the season, people just tire of winter attractions.

“They're tired of the snow. It's been snowing for four months,” he said. “It’s spring break season.”

Nevertheless, watching visitors stream into the castles after dark, it could have been mid-December again.

Dan Boyce/CPR News
Visitors wander the Colorado Ice Castles on February 28, 2024.

Families bundled up against the night’s chill stared in wonder at the multi-colored LEDs glowing from deep inside the walls and giggled as they flew down several ice slides spread throughout the grounds.

Organizers had planned to shut down the castles the first weekend of March, but Old Man Winter has been cooperating just enough.

The final day for the Colorado Ice Castles is now Saturday, March 8.

Dan Boyce/CPR News
The ice castles harden once again as the sun sets in Cripple Creek on February 28, 2024.