Like ‘Frozen,’ but real: A remote Alaska community builds an ice castle

Monday, 04 December 2017, 07:34:08 AM. The families who spend the winter at Victory Bible Camp needed something to pass the chilly hours. So they cut ice bricks from a lake and created a frozen masterpiece.

The cold of winter descended on a cluster of families living at a remote camp tucked into the Talkeetna Mountains.

They turned to the only logical way to pass the time.

They built an ice castle.

A 400-square-foot ice castle fashioned from hundreds of clear bricks made into 7-foot walls with an arch spanning the doorway and 10-foot turrets.

There are 15 or 20 families living year-round at Victory Bible Camp, a Christian camp and conference center two hours and 95 miles from Anchorage with a secluded, mountain atmosphere.

Evan Busenitz, the camp's 28-year-old maintenance director, dreamed up the castle idea.

"The heart of it was just looking for something that we could use our down time here in the winter as an outreach for the camp and to get people's attention and show them there's something we can do out here in the winter," Busenitz said.

The result is impressive, a smaller northern cousin to some of the great winter fortifications: the Ice Palace, an enormous 5,000-ton spired ice creation with a skating rink, ballroom and theater that graced a rise above Leadville, Colorado, in 1896; the elaborate castles featured in what's known as the world's largest ice festival in Harbin, China; and the SnowCastle of Kemi, Finland, described as the biggest snow fort in the world and redesigned every year with a chapel, hotel and restaurant.

All sorts of frozen creations appear in Fairbanks at the World Ice Art Championships, though the event is cancelled for 2018.

The Victory Bible Camp made its first attempt at an ice castle last year, but it flopped, Busenitz said. This time, he said, success came only after "trial and error… and a lot of YouTube videos."

The castle construction started the weekend before Thanksgiving on Index Lake. Much of the work took place on a single Saturday.

A video shot by camp resident and castle architect Jacob Klapak — he's put together a number of "How to Alaska" videos on YouTube — shows construction from start to finish with help from a drone and a waterproof GoPro camera on a stick.

The camp's ice-cutting process resembled the opening scenes of the 2013 Disney blockbuster film "Frozen," which shows a Nordic-looking crew hacking ice bricks from a frozen lake with hand saws.
"I don't know that Evan even has seen 'Frozen.' I made him watch the beginning portion," said Kim Hoover, a 37-year-old teacher at nearby Glacier View School, whose husband is the camp director. "He's just seriously living the Alaskan dream. Why not build an ice castle? We have all the machinery and stuff. Why not?"

Instead of hand saws, the Victory Bible Camp team used chainsaws perched on wooden sleds built from wood scraps lying behind the camp shop. Busenitz saw the chainsaw-sled idea in a video about ice sculptures in Fairbanks.

They pushed the bricks up a "backbreaking" ramp he built, also from scraps. A low trailer hitched to a four-wheeler moved them to the castle site.

It took 400 to 500 ice bricks in all.

Everybody pitched in at the camp — men, women and children. They're planning a family snow day on Dec. 30 that will feature the castle and also skating, skiing and sleigh rides.

Victory Bible Camp started out in the late 1940s with 40 acres but has grown to a nearly 400-acre campus just off the Glenn Highway near Matanuska Glacier. Busenitz, who lives at the camp with his wife, Elizabeth, moved there from Kansas in 2014.

He plans to build another castle next winter, with a better ramp for the ice blocks and even more time to plan.

"Maybe next year we'll get more extravagant," Busenitz said.

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