Melted ice castle hinders Habitat fund-raiser

Amy Hackbarth

James Westin spent more than 500 hours building a three-story ice castle in his backyard.

But it took only one day for Mother Nature to undo all of it.

One day after the University sophomore – with help from his friends and University groups – finished the castle, high temperatures weakened the structure and melted its elaborate features.

“You could say I’m depressed, to say the least,” Westin said.

The warm weather also came as a blow to members of the University Habitat for Humanity campus chapter, who hoped to use the castle’s donations to help finance the house they are restoring.

“It’s devastating,” said Tiffany Blomgren, a University junior and fund-raising coordinator for the group. “We put in a lot of work last Friday and saw the progress being made. To see that it’s all gone and melted away is sad.”

To build the structure’s foundation, Westin and others hauled snow from a nearby lake and mixed it with water to create a substance that would mold easily and freeze. They built pillars by stacking ice blocks and padding them with thick layers of snow and water.

When completed Thursday, the castle stretched more than 20 feet into the sky, with three levels connected by a spiral staircase. Woven railings fenced the structure, and the Olympic rings and Old Man Winter’s face spread across its front.

By Saturday night, most of the castle had been destroyed. The second and third stories – once more than a foot thick -are now too weak to walk on. Several pillars have been reduced to their ice blocks and now appear ready to topple. The Olympic rings are gone, and Old Man Winter – once puffy-cheeked and sporting a full beard – hangs from skeletal cheekbones and drips water from his drooping mustache.

Westin said the castle’s sagging appearance isn’t likely to draw $10,000 in donations, the amount he hoped to raise for the University chapter. In 1999, he raised more than $10,000 for Twin Cities Habitat for Humanity with a similar castle.

“He’s come up with an idea that gets everyone’s attention,” said Cheryl Winget, public relations manager at Twin Cities Habitat for Humanity. “Everyone loves an ice castle.”

Westin has drawn crowds into the thousands for ice sculptures, which he has been building for more than 10 years.

Inspired by his mother’s marble sculptures, Westin began his hobby with replicas of the Coca-Cola bears and a herd of elephants in the backyard of his Edina home. As Westin’s skills improved, he progressed to a frozen rendition of one of Leonardo da Vinci’s drawings and castles of his own design.

Westin said he wanted to capitalize on the 2002 Winter Olympics by creating a version of the Olympic tower this year. The disagreeable weather, however, could squash any chances of rebuilding the sculpture.

“If we don’t get snow by this week, we won’t rebuild,” he said.

Yet Westin and members of the campus chapter said they still have hope for the structure’s ability to raise funds.

Blomgren said the chapter might sell postcards with pictures of the castle taken Thursday before the structure began melting. They are a last option, she said.

“We’ll sell the postcards when the forecast shows us there’s no chance, when we run out of hope,” she said.

Amy Hackbarth welcomes comments at [email protected]