What do you get when you arm 7,000 artists with more than 4 million cubic feet of ice, unleash them into a 6,458,400 square-foot space and task them with creating a magical winter wonderland? Introducing the only-in-China spectacle that is the Harbin Ice Festival -- a monumental project the scale of which will make your backyard snowman look absolutely pathetic.
The Harbin Ice Festival is a relative newbie to the winter circuit, but has exploded onto the scene in a major way to become the largest festival of its kind on the planet. The 30th anniversary event in 2014, which opened to the public Sunday, is no exception. In fact, it is on an even grander scale than ever before, with big-name sponsors and an estimated 1 million international visitors expected to explore the frozen realm before it melts.
Of course, melting shouldn’t be a problem anytime soon. Temperatures in Harbin can plummet to a brisk -40 Fahrenheit (-40 Celsius) in the cool winter months, ensuring that the ice creations stay in solid form well into late February, when the festival ends.
Workers spent the past month plucking millions of crystal-clear ice blocks from the Songhua River to create the ephemeral world, which is replete with full-size buildings that literally take over the remote city in far northeastern China. On offer in 2014 are replicas of New York’s Empire State Building, Rome’s Colosseum, Reykjavik’s Hallgrimskirkja Church and the Great Wall of China -- all carved from ice using of picks, chisels, swing saws and lasers.
The enormous structures are best appreciated at night when Harbin twinkles like a giant Lite-Brite thanks to countless LED lights embedded in the ice. Far from being static pieces of art, organizers invite revelers to slip down ice slides, hop atop mythical ice creatures and skate through the myriad ice rinks.
Beyond city limits, many festival-goers are expected to hit the ski slopes at Yabuli and visit the ice-lantern exhibition in Zhaolin Garden. A brave few will also strip down for some “polar bear” swimming in the frozen Songhua River, which is home to ice sports and other winter activities over the course of the celebration.