Load Out: Ice House


The Chena Hot Springs Resort outside Fairbanks, Alaska boasts a venue the likes of which most of us have only seen in a James Bond movie: an impressive hand-carved, 6,000sq-ft. enclosed ice structure called the Aurora Ice Museum that houses chilly creations carved from over 1,000 tons of ice.

Open all year, the museum showcases the work of award-winning husband and wife team, Steve and Heather Brice of Brice and Brice Ice Sculptures in Fairbanks, including a two-story observation tower, a spiral staircase, ice crystal chandeliers depicting the Aurora Borealis, an animal-themed chess set, and life-sized jousters on horseback. And while it offers daily tours, it's more than a museum. A visit includes stops at a full ice bar (with — you guessed it — ice-carved martini glasses), four themed bedrooms (called “galleries”) for rent, ice furniture, and an ice altar, all redefining “room temperature” at its maintained cozy 20°F, thanks to an absorption chilling system from the Alaskan pipeline.

The current museum replaced the original, which melted in 2004 due to a miscalculation in the cooling system, but this one is bigger — around 10' taller and wider, and about 30' longer — and near the same location. Steve Brice was involved in all aspects of the building process of the new structure, except for the concrete foundation.

Lighting the interior to accentuate the details in the carvings without generating heat presented a serious challenge. The Brices selected the lighting themselves, using Chauvet LED fixtures purchased from the Ice Alaska Art Championships, where Colorado™ 1 and Colorado™ 3 wash lights had illuminated ice sculptures from artists from around the world, including their own.

Here at Aurora, the Brices installed the gear themselves, using Colorado 3s to add color and highlights to sculptures but also in conjunction with 3,000lb stock blocks of ice for increased diffraction to all illumination in larger areas. Each unit runs on its own, with some set on a single color and others cycling though color changes.

“The addition of the Colorado units has made a huge difference in the illumination of the museum,” says Heather Brice. “The light rebounds through the ice and off the detail making all of our work more visible and vibrant.”

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