January 7, 2010 at 11:06 pm EDT | by David J. Hoffman
Closing out the holidays on ‘ICE’

Folks, it’s time to put your weekend on ice.

What I’m trying to say is, be sure this weekend to see “ICE!” – the fabulous and spectacular artistic display of ice sculptures glistening at a constant 9 degrees at the Gaylord National Hotel’s holiday festival.

The show runs just three more days — through Sunday Jan. 10 — at scenic National Harbor on the Potomac River, directly across from Old Town Alexandria near the Wilson Bridge. Nine-inch-thick walls made of foam encase a huge tent to help keep the temperatures low while the “oohs” and “aahs” inside are heard from crowds thronging the exhibit of 10 icy scenes, among them the monuments of D.C. and Santa’s workshop, not to mention carvings of animals so real you want to reach out to them as in a petting zoo.

I came to scoff but remained to praise, expecting kitsch but found instead a winter wonderland to startle jaded senses. I didn’t expect it to be so cool but indeed it is — ultra-cool, not only on the thermometer inside, where visitors are issued special blue parkas to wear, but also in the sensibility. At one of the stopovers under the frosty big-top, one woman turned to me before the Penguin Village at the North Pole and declared, “We’re seniors reliving our childhood, you can write that in your story!”

It took 40 craftsmen brought from Harbin — capital of China’s “north country” province of Heilongjiang (nicknamed “Ice City”) — as many as 12 hours a day in the 9-degree cold to carve the exhibit from 5,000 blocks of ice, totaling 2 million pounds in weight hauled to National Harbor on custom order from Ohio. The 400-pound blocks of ice are carved down to smaller size with chainsaws and hand saws and then picked at to chip away more of the ice. Finally, special tools are used to “score” the ice with small grooves and then parts are frozen together using water as glue.

Fine details are then carved with ice chisels to create final touches and the smooth, rounded features that make the icy people and animals and objects so lifelike. The stunning, vibrant colors created with simple store-bought food coloring are so real looking you will not believe you are merely seeing frozen water. The entire exhibit cost more than $2 million and took 40 days to create.

You can even swoosh down two-story ice slides, but don’t try to lick the 15-foot-tall candy canes in a reenactment of the famous scene from the film “A Christmas Story.”

Tickets are $24.50 for adults and $13 for children from 4 to 12. Seniors (62+) are $18 and for military with IDs adults are $18 and children are $10.

Bottom line: The show is worth every penny. Be sure to close out the holidays on “Ice.”

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