Record temperatures cause problems at Symons Valley Ranch Ice Festival

While most of the city has enjoyed unusually warm temperatures in the last two weeks of January, it’s making work difficult for ice sculptors at the first ever Symons Valley Ranch Ice Festival.

Lee Ross is an ice carver and co-owner of Frozen Memories, the company hired by Symons Valley Ranch to create sculptures for the festival. Over the last few weeks, the unseasonably warm weather left him fighting to keep up with the melting ice and sloppy conditions.

“Most of the time, Calgary’s weather, you’ll get a chinook that rolls in for one or two days,” Ross said. “But with the way it’s been for the last couple weeks, it’s just been awful.”

Ross has rescheduled his carving jobs several times to accommodate the weather, but his statues still aren’t lasting nearly as long as they would in seasonal conditions. According to Environment Canada, the mercury hovered at around 10 degrees Celcius during the first two weekends of the festival, soaring to 17 on Jan. 25. This is well above the seasonal average of -7 degrees, and shattered the previous daily record of 13 degrees.

While some people might assume we’ve been experiencing a chinook, CTV meteorologist David Spence says otherwise.Lee Ross comes to the festival at 5 a.m. to assemble this horse and carriage, taking advantage of the cooler early morning temperatures.

Photo by Madison Farkas

“This is a feed of warm air coming off the Pacific from a different location,” he said. “With this long stretch, it’s something we haven’t seen for a long time.”

According to Jana Ross, Lee’s wife and the other co-owner of Frozen Memories, the ideal temperature for ice carving falls between -5 C and -10 C — not so warm that the ice melts, but not so cold that it becomes brittle and difficult to work with. While statues can last almost indefinitely in that temperature range, the warmth reduces the lifespan of the smaller statues to a matter of hours.

Produced by: Madison Farkas

“The ice can completely disintegrate,” Jana Ross explained. “It crystallizes, and it gets these tiny little cracks and becomes totally white. That’s when you know it’s going to go.”

The danger that statues might collapse also limited some of the activities planned for the festival. “They were going to build an ice slide for the kids, but then we didn’t want it falling apart,” she added.

The Symons Valley Ranch Ice Festival is located on the northwestern edge of Calgary. It’s open Fridays through Sundays until February 8, and the sculptors will continue adding to the collection since temperatures are expected to return to seasonal soon.

mfarkas@cjournal.ca