China Ice and Snow Festival
actually an oldie but a goodie. It is not from 2005 but was posted in late 2003
or early 2004. I got it from several sources the first time around but Bruce
sent me this a week ago and I still am amazed at the photos. If you haven't seen
it before, relax, grab a cuppa and be amazed... be very amazed!
The temperature in Harbin reaches forty below zero, both Fahrenheit and
centigrade, and stays below freezing nearly half the year. The city is actually
further north than notoriously cold Vladivostok, Russia, just 300 miles away. So
what does one do here every winter? Hold an outdoor festival, of course! Rather
than suffer the cold, the residents of Harbin celebrate it, with an annual
festival of snow and ice sculptures and competitions.
(As usual, click on the little
picture to see the big picture.)
This is the amazing sculpture made of snow greeting visitors to the snow
festival in 2003.
Snow and ice sculpture in Harbin dates back to Manchu times, but the first
organized show was held in 1963, and the annual festival itself only started
in 1985. Since then, the festival has grown into a massive event, bringing
in over a million tourists from all over the world every winter. The
sculptures have become more elaborate and artistic over time; this bear and
cub are just one small part of a fifty-meter-wide mural sculpture.
Most of the sculptures appearing at the snow festival are competitive
entries. Each team starts with a cube of packed snow that appears to measure
about three meters on a side, and then starts carving away. Teams come in
from all over the world - Russia, Japan, Canada, France, even South Africa.
Part of the fun is guessing the nationality of the team, based on their
sculpture's artistic style, before reading the signs. I believe this was a
The sun begins to set behind the magnificent entryway sculpture. The snow
festival is actually separate from the ice festival; both take place on the
wide open spaces of Sun Island Park north of Harbin's River, Songhua Jiang.
Harbin is situated south of the river, so it's a chilly ride over to the
sites. It seems even chillier when crossing the bridge over the very wide
and very frozen Songhua Jiang.
I was surprised to discover this sculpture of a Native American sitting in
the frozen northeast of China; sure enough, I read on the sign that a
Canadian team sculpted this entry. Chinese teams had many sculptures at the
festival as well, off in another section, but a vast majority didn't measure
up to these amazing works.
Even the sunsets in Harbin look cold. Though only mid-afternoon, the sun was
setting over the snow festival and the temperature was falling even further
below freezing. But the coming darkness was actually good news, because it
meant that the ice festival was about to begin.
The ice festival, a few miles away from the snow festival, is anything but
dull and colorless. Crowds flocking to the entrance are greeted by dance
music booming in the distance, as if at an outdoor pop concert. And bright
neon colors shine everywhere, buried within huge blocks of ice forming
structures as high as thirty meters, such as this huge structure beyond the
entryway. You can just make out people standing atop its blue and red
A view from atop that structure, looking back on a Russian-styled building
and a mock Great Wall, both constructed out of ice. Making it to the top of
this structure is an accomplishment in itself - imagine walking up a
stairway of solid ice for two floors with no handrails. The yellow block
wall on the right and the balcony work on the lower left are all ice, with
no internal support structure - just lights.
The Great Wall doubles as a long ice slide; just sit and go. You can pick up
some serious speed and wipe out spectacularly at the bottom if you're
wearing a slick coat, but you won't go anywhere if you're wearing corduroy
An overview of the ice festival from atop the Great Wall of ice. It's like a
Disney theme park, with multiple attractions and food hawkers and kids
running around and people lined up for bathrooms. The only differences are
that the temperature is about a hundred degrees colder than the typical
Disney park, and all the structures are made out of ice rather than plastic
- and slipping and falling here doesn't result in tremendous lawsuits.
One of the popular activities at the festival is climbing a wall of solid
ice. Amazingly, I didn't see a single person fall, and most everyone made it
to the top. All the ice comes from Songhua Jiang, the nearby river, which
provides a limitless supply; huge chainsaws are required to cut through the
ice, which can be meters thick.
The snow festival is mostly a display of art; the ice festival is mostly a
display of architecture. Nevertheless, a number of sculptures can be found
at the ice festival, such as this life-sized horse. Agile youngsters with
good balance climb atop the horses to have their pictures taken. Notice the
layers of ice in the horse; blocks of ice are fused together to form larger
blocks so that sculptures - or huge buildings - can be made.
An entire ship constructed of ice, with passengers onboard. Though it might
not be seaworthy, the ship would certainly float - after all, it's made of
ice. Hundreds of years ago during the Manchu days of ice lantern art, the
sculptures were lit only by candles.
A Thai temple of ice, complete with hallways and rooms inside. Long ago,
Disney made a Circle-Vision 360 film called "Wonders of China" - still
showing at the China pavilion in the World Showcase at EPCOT - which
includes a brief section on Harbin's ice festival. In the movie, the
sculptures are quite low-key, little more than blinking light bulbs inside
small globes and ice carvings. Things have changed a bit since those days.