Feb 10-02

Past-E-Mail: Cam Notes - 2002: February: Feb 10-02
About building ice castles    ...scroll down to share comments
Photo from Nancy Nelson

Charlie at Pasty Central on Sunday, February 10, 2002 - 01:49 pm:

Thanks to Nancy Nelson for this shot from the 1958 MTU Winter Carnival, which comes on the heels of Heikinpäivä here in the U.P. If you tuned in to the Lift Bridge Cam during that celebration, you saw instead the building of a snow castle in Hancock, adjacent to Finlandia's campus.

During Heikinpäivä we received the following series of emails, which we passed on to appropriate experts to answer. I think you'll find it interesting:


First of all, I have enjoyed the Pasty Cam for a couple of years now and have never let anyone at Pasty Central know how much I look forward to my UP fix every day. I have no ties whatsoever to the UP but I have traveled there (I love it) and I did order pasties. Yep, I am a troll....

The bridge cam switched to the ice castle cam about the same time my third grade students were reading a selection in their reader, “A Really Cool Place to Visit” about an ice hotel in Sweden. It was perfect timing for us and the kids and I enjoyed watching the progress (as we could) of the Festival’s ice castle being built.

The students have a few questions--is there someone who could answer them for us? Thanks so much.

What are the dimensions of the ice castle? (Channing)

How do you keep it from melting? (Melissa)

How long will it last? (Tyler)

Do you use water in making the ice castle? (Courtney)

How do you harvest the ice without falling in? (Jordan)

How do you cut the ice out of the lake. Do you have special tools.? (Jennifer)

Was that a chimney on the left side? (Kody)

Can you tell these guys seldom get enough snow to put up a good snow fort? They have been intrigued - me too! Thanks again to whomever takes the time to answer our questions. We enjoyed watching the ice castle being built.

Mrs. Nicki Gosser's Third Grade
Westview Elementary School
Jonesboro, Indiana

Answer from Pat Coleman, U.P. Engineers and Architects

Hello Indiana Friends,

I am sending this message from Aomori, Japan, while attending and speaking at a conference on "winter cities". There is snow here just like in the Keweenaw, and it is a place of great beauty, as well.

Thank you for your interest in the snow building project in Houghton and Hancock, Michigan. These cities are in a region where there is a lot of snow, and this project is intended to celebrate winter and the snow, to make the communities even more special places for the residents and visitors.

I also refer you to my company website www.upea.com, click on "lumitalo" for more information on the project. There are photos there of the construction and finished building. I will try to answer your questions about the snow constructions.

The inside dimensions of the snow buildings are 16' x 30' in Hancock and 16' x 60' in Houghton. The buildings are 16' high inside. The snow is 3' thick at the top and 5' thick at the sides of the structure. The size is based upon the structural capability of snow and our budget. It is possible to build very large snow buildings, even multi-story buildings, however, it gets more expensive to make the building taller and wider. We have tried to do this project for a reasonable cost.

First, an arched mold structure is made to exact dimensions. The arch design is important for the snow to support itself as a building material. The arch is placed on the site and blocked up. A wooden form is placed around the outside perimeter of the mold to create the outside edge of the building. Truck loads of clean snow are hauled to the site and blown onto the mold with the big snow blower used by the city for moving snow away from roads. This blowing of the snow changes the micro structure of the snow and it compacts very tight and binds together. It is much like concrete, very hard.

About 60 loads of snow was used in Houghton and 25 in Hancock.

After some time, depending on temperature, the mold is lowered slightly by removing the blocks with a sledgehammer, and the mold is removed form inside. We havebeen able to remove the mold the same day.

Regarding melting, the snow building does not melt much now during the winter, but the sun can be damaging to the details. It is so cold inside the walls, it must get very warm for meting to occur. We made the south facing side very thick for this. the building can withstand one week of above freezing temperatures. We monitor the temperature inside the snow wall, and also measure the height of the roof, as it is continues to compact and move downward.

We expect the buildings to be safe and usable through the end of March, but we will see. It alll depends on the weather. Even when the temperature gets above freezing during the day, we are all right because it usually freezes again at night.

There was a question about using water in the snow. We did not have to use any water, but if it had been very cold, like 10 degrees, with very dry snow, water would have been sprayed directly into the snow as it was blown on the mold.

We had a hard time finding ice thick and clear to use for ice art carving, tables and a serving counter. We found good ice in Eagle Harbor, a bay of Lake Superior. We made lines scratched in the ice for the size blocks we wanted. A chainsaw was used to cut the ice, and we used large tongs and a wood frame to pull the ice out. We were very cautious about this, and had safety equipment on hand for rescue. The ice was thick enough to stand by the hole as we cut and hauled the ice out. The ice was loaded onto a truck and transported back to the site.

There is no chimney in the building. No matter how cold it is outside, the temperature inside is about 20 degrees. As you read about the ice hotel in Jukkasjarvi, Sweden, one can be comfortable to even sleep inside if you wear the right clothes and have a good sleeping bag. This icehotel is really something beautiful, they spend a lot of money and have very good ice and snow artists. I stayed there in February 2000 and it is part of the inspiration for our project in northern Michigan. I also refer you to the snowcastle or LumiLinna in Kemi, Finland, which is more of a family attraction. It is the largest snow construction in the world.

So you see there are many creative, interesting and fun things we can do with snow. We are just beginning to see the possibilities! I think you should come north and visit our snowland sometime.

Patrick Coleman

...And Mrs. Gosser replies...


Thank you, thank you, thank you!

Pat, thanks to you for answering my students' questions. They were so excited to hear from you and very impressed that your answer came all the way from Japan.

We'd love to take up on your offer to visit the Keweenaw--I heard rumblings of a field trip as I read your letter to the kids. :)

This Internet--what a great way to take kids places they most likely will never get to go. Thank you Pasty Cam.

We appreciate your time and effort--it meant so much to my kids AND their teacher.

Best wishes,
Nicki Gosser
Westview Elementary School
Jonesboro, Indiana

p.s. Our claim to fame here in Grant County is being James Dean's birthplace.

By Paco en Quebéc on Sunday, February 10, 2002 - 04:01 pm:

Dear Nicki and all your kids.There is an ice hotel in Quebec. Many of the people who live in the Keweenaw are descendants of people who came from an area in the Province of Quebec which is north of Quebec City. This is the same area where the ice hotel is built in the winter. If you go to
you can see pictures of the hotel and people staying there. Cheerio, Paco

By SharonS on Sunday, February 10, 2002 - 05:33 pm:

To Ms. Gosser, Mr. Coleman, and the Pasty Cam - thanks so much for the information. My ancestors had an ice business in Detroit (in the 1900-1920 timeframe, back when the Detroit River and Lake St. Clair froze in the winter), and I've often wondered how they got the ice out of the river. Except that they used handsaws rather than chain saws, now I know how they did it. They preserved the ice in straw, and delivered it in horse-drawn carts.

By Rose - Channahon, IL on Sunday, February 10, 2002 - 11:29 pm:

Thanks for all the interesting details on building the snow castles! I had no idea that they would last so long! Some day I will have to make a winter trip to the Keweenaw!

By Ken from da UP on Sunday, February 10, 2002 - 11:46 pm:

My grandpa in Pelkie used to cut ice blocks from near Baraga to keep things cold in the summer. He had an ice house built into part of the barn. Sawdust was used to insulate the ice. He also used a team of horses to haul the ice blocks to Pelkie. The ice would last way into the summer.
I remember this ice castle from '58. I left the Copper Country to go sailing on the Lakes in the spring of '59. Was also in the snow house this year near the Finn Heritage Center. Very interesting!

By Ken from da UP on Sunday, February 10, 2002 - 11:51 pm:

Doesn't the taller parapet remind you of the 'Tin Man' from the "Wizard of Oz"? :o)

By LIZ, Pinckney, MI on Monday, February 11, 2002 - 10:50 am:

This morning there is a short article about the snow castles in the Detroit Free Press. There is even a picture of Patrick Coleman along with another engineer from Finland standing in front of the building in Hancock.

By 22 Indiana third graders and their teacher on Monday, February 11, 2002 - 04:17 pm:

Charlie, you didn't give yourself any credit for passing along our letter to the right person! My students were so surprised and proud that their questions made it to the Pasty Central web site.
Paco, we visited the Hotel de Glace site and it is just beautiful. Thanks again to all who've helped us in our study of ice and snow buildings.

By Christy, Brownstown, MI on Monday, February 11, 2002 - 06:04 pm:

I lived in Hancock when I was in the third grade and I loved going to visit the "snow statues" as we called them. We used to be able to go inside the buildings and sit in ice chairs and even walk on ice bridges! When you live in a place where there is so much snow you spend a lot of time doing things outside with the snow rather than inside. Maybe it was because I was a kid and there was so much to do in the snow. We used to build the greatest snow forts with several rooms and sometimes even a loft!
In 9 years when your third graders are getting ready to choose a college tell them not to rule out Michigan Tech University or Finlandia University, they won't regret it!
I have since moved to southern Michigan and I miss the snow!

By ed oh on Tuesday, February 12, 2002 - 12:59 pm:

We missed it this year (past weekend)but at Crossroads Village just north of Flint (weather permiting) they cut and store ice the "old way" on one weekend each year. Here is the URL http://geneseecountyparks.org/village_events.htm If you look next summer or fall you can find the next date.

By Karen in Oshkosh, WI on Tuesday, February 12, 2002 - 01:19 pm:

Dear Mrs. Gosser,

I was so surprised to see a letter from Jonesboro, Indiana! I've driven through Jonesboro many times. I lived in Marion from May, 1971 to June, 1973. Our first child was born there. We lived very close to the hospital on Wabash Rd., in fact I walked to the hospital to have her. Our house is no longer there. I think there is a medical clinic or some professional building there, now. Perhaps many of your third graders were born in that hospital!

We lived in Houghton, Michigan, from 1983 to 1999. (I now live in Wisconsin) Being just two blocks from a couple of fraternities, we watched a lot of statues go up over the years. We could se the ski hill from our front windows. During Winter Carnival they ski down the hill at night with torches. It is beautiful! Winter Carnival is a great event.

One year one of the fraternities built a replica of The Winner's Circle at the Indy 500. Since my Dad spent many years at the track representing the company which provided the official tools of the Indianapolis 500, I bought him a framed photo of a formula one racer on its way back to Gasoline Alley...all built of MTU snow!! If you and your students get to visit Winter Carnival, stop at Framed by Kathy in downtown Houghton. Her frame shop has a huge assortment of photographs of previous Winter Carnivals taken by local photographers.

Keep enjoying the pastycam. I do...every day!

By Stephanie on Sunday, February 8, 2004 - 06:53 pm:

My father is writing an autobiographical novel and is looking for a picture of an iceman delivering ice to a home, circa early 1900's--
does anyone have an idea of where we could find such a picture.
If so, please E-mail me at NanEquity8@aol.com
Thank you.
Stephanie T.

By Rozanne, Madison Heights Mi, on Friday, February 11, 2005 - 07:36 am:

What a great site i stumbled on it yesterday looking for info on Calumet. My Grandparents are from Lake Linden and My Mom lived there until she was nine. My Grandma taught me how to make pasties when I was very young . My daughters and I get together in the fall and make pasties all day and freeze them for a later date. We all like ketchup on them or plain . My grandfather was a lumberjack and would take his pasties wrapped in cloth and tucked inside his shirt to keep it warm until lunch time. Thanks for info here and great reading.

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