In Ice! at National Harbor, a heartwarming tale in sub-freezing temperatures

The "Ice" holiday attraction at the Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center features 10 scenes from "How the Grinch Stole Christmas."
Tuesday, November 23, 2010; 9:02 PM

The Grinch is cold. Very, very cold. But it's not just because his heart is two sizes too small. This Grinch is made of ice.

Gaylord National Resort at National Harbor has re-created Dr. Seuss's famous storybook "How the Grinch Stole Christmas" entirely out of ice. The 15,000-square-foot, sub-freezing ice show might make you shiver, but creating it took some serious sweat. Forty skilled ice sculptors from China toiled for 40 days in this oversize deep-freeze to turn 30-tractor-trailer loads of ice into faces, fur, buildings and beds. Here's how they did it.

First, get the ice

The ice came daily for more than a month from a plant in Ohio to the Prince George's County resort in huge stacks.

Twelve types of ice are used: clear, milky white and 10 colors (which are made by adding food coloring). In total, 5,000 400-pound blocks of ice were used. That's 2 million pounds!

The show is housed in a massive plastic bubble tent with nine-inch-thick insulated walls that help keep the temperature inside at a chilly 9 degrees!

Next, get the sculptors

The Chinese artisans who carved the Grinch and the world of Who-ville come from Harbin, China, which is famous for its annual ice show. Each year 2,000 ice sculptors create a massive ice city in Harbin that attracts visitors from all around the world. Many of these sculptors started learning to carve ice when they were just 5 or 6 years old.

The average winter temperature in Harbin is just 6 degrees!

Now, carve the ice

For larger sculptures, the artisans stack different-colored blocks of ice on top of each other and carve them down. They start with a chain saw, but then they use smaller, hand-made tools, such as razor-sharp hand rakes.

To attach smaller pieces of ice to a larger block, for example to create arms and hands, artisans wet two pieces of ice and press them together. The water freezes, and the ice sticks together like glue!

Finally, protect the ice

In many museums and shows, visitors can't touch the displays, but here you can. Take off your mittens (if you dare) and touch the carvings all you want - but we promise you'll want to put your fingers back in something fuzzy real quick!

The ice in the show slowly evaporates in the dry, cold air, so the most detailed sculptures are covered in plastic bags every night. Even so, sculptors will have to carve new hands for some characters several times during the show.

- Margaret Webb Pressler

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