Exploring Stratton’s Ice Castle

When the chairlifts stop spinning, Stratton Mountain Resort is host to a different winter attraction for the whole family. 

By Evan Johnson

Cory Livingood Photo by Vt. Ski + Ride/Evan Johnson

At the Sun Bowl Base Area, imposing towers of ice soar up to 20 feet high and delicate arches form an icy maze to explore. The score from the popular Disney animated movie “Frozen” provides a fitting soundtrack.

The landscape of ice is a project of Ice Castles, a company that specializes in making these winter wonderlands every year around the United States. In addition to Stratton, this winter Ice Castles opens sites in Lincoln, N.H., Eden Prarie, Minn. and Midway, Utah.

Cory Livingood is the site manager for the Stratton Ice Castle and began preparing the site in October on what is normally a paintball course in Stratton’s Sun Bowl area. On Dec. 29, they started to make ice with the help of two miles of sprinkler system. The icicles are grown by hand in “gardens” with sprinklers and are attached to 31 towers around the site. It takes 100 individual icicles to grow a tower one foot.

Livingood recalls nights of working on the ice castles when he would leave with an inch of ice coating his jacket, beard and hair.

“We get people all the time that ask if people made these towers or if they occur naturally,” he says. “There’s a lot of work that goes on behind the scenes.”

The finished result is 15,000 tons of ice precisely placed and carefully maintained. While it took 19 days to fully construct the towers, Livingood and his crew weren’t finished when the towers reached their estimated height of around 20 feet. When people walk around the towers, they are standing on four to five feet of ice that accumulates as the towers expand and grow. The staff continue to spray on more ice nightly and closely monitor a number of factors, including the temperature, humidity and wind-chill. No two days are alike and the ice demands constant attention.

“As the winter progresses, the ice loses its integrity unless you’re continually spraying on it,” he says. “We’ve got to put more ice on to strengthen it. They become porus as the sun eats away on them and more water evaporates.”

Throughout the course of a season, Livingood estimates they’ll use three to six million gallons of water to build and maintain the castle.

The castle is open seven days a week, including from 2.pm. to 9 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and 2 p.m. to 10 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays. Livingood anticipates the ice to last through February and into March, depending, of course, on the weather.

“We’ve been able to stay open into April before,” he says. “The ice will actually be here well into the summer. Fifteen thousand tons of ice takes a while to go away.”