Keene NH Ice and Snow
Festival, February


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New Hampshire
The Heart of New England
Keene, NH's
Ice & Snow Festival is Wicked Cool
By Lorie King Rogers

When my family and I bundled up and headed downtown for Keene’s
Annual Ice & Snow Festival
last February, I knew it would be cold, but I
didn’t realize it would also be so unbelievably cool.  I had no idea that
colossal ice cubes could be carved and cut into breathtaking, albeit very
temporary, objets d'art.  

Before I go on to tell you about this fun, frozen fiesta, let me explain why
it’s so amazing that these high praises are coming from this winter worrier.  
I don’t like the cold!  After 40+ years of enduring New England winters, one
might think I’ve warmed up to the cold.  

NOT.  I don’t like the cold; I don’t like being cold; I don’t like having a cold.  
But considering I’ve opted to live near my family tree rather than tropical
palms, I have two choices: 1) spend four or five months every year whining
about the weather or 2) find something fun to do when it’s freezing.  I chose
the latter, but I respectfully reserve the right to gripe about the cold when
necessary.  

Keene’s Ice & Snow Festival was exactly what I needed to lure me away
from my cozy home on a chilly winter day and actually enjoy myself
outside.   And it was COLD.  I don’t recall exactly where the mercury landed
that day, but on my body thermometer it felt like 20 below.  The temperature
was a challenge for me, but it was perfect for the ice carvers, snow sculptors,
skaters, and snowshoers who rely on a sub-32 degree reading for their
activities.  So, the event planners were pleased.

Just as a little history -- The Ice & Snow Festival was created by the Greater
Keene Chamber of Commerce as a way of encouraging people to venture to
the area between the leaf peeping and summer seasons.  So far, it’s proven to
be a winner.  Maybe because the popularity of ice carving is growing or
because this day-long festival offers something for people of all ages and
combines art, culture, recreation, and sports.  

It’s caught on and stuck like a wet tongue on a frozen metal pipe.  In fact, the
Festival attracted so many professional ice carvers in its first year that it
became a National Ice Carvers’ Association (NICA) sanctioned event in its
second, complete with official NICA judges, substantial cash awards to the
professional winners, and prizes to the amateurs.  

Now let’s set the scene.  Picture families with rosy-cheeked little ones
strolling up and down Keene’s quaint New England Main Street, sipping hot
cocoa as they walk.  Some people are gathered around the campfire toasting
marshmallows.  Others are ice skating on the outdoor rink, with five-foot
high snow banks that serve as excellent bumpers for beginners on double
runners.  And there are those digging into the snow sculpting.  Piles of
pristine snow were deposited the night before, offering yet another activity
for Festival-goers.  Everybody could get in on the fun.  

One family created a life size replica of their beloved pony Frostbite,
complete with mane and tail fashioned out of hay.  Then, when handling the
snow became too much, it was over to the campfire for a little thawing
action.  It was heartwarming to see so many people digging in to bring
personality to lifeless piles of snow.  Currier and Ives would have been very
proud.

There was even a snowshoe race for people of all ages and competitive
levels.  The winner finished the one-mile course in 6 minutes and 7 seconds.  
He ran a 6-minute mile IN SNOWSHOES!  I can barely complete a 6-minute
mile in my car.  

Amid all this activity was the star attraction -- ice carving.  Main Street was
set up with about 25 carving stations.  Each station was stocked with two
blocks of high quality, clean, clear, bubble-free ice.  Carvers, both
professional and amateur, came equipped with their own tools.  Serious ice
carvers had chain saws and chisels, hot plates and hair dryers, and other
assorted cutting and heating gadgets in their bags of tricks.   Most wore
gloves, but the die-hards dropped their gloves and used their bare hands to
manipulate their material with no regard for the cold, never mind frostbite or
numbing cold.  Apparently the rush of adrenaline coursing their veins must
keep them warm.

When the horn sounded, carving began.  A few hours later, when it sounds
again, all tools were put down, and carving stopped.  When time was up,
downtown Keene was decorated with crystal-like creations that sparkled in
the afternoon sunlight like gigantic diamonds.  It was beautiful.  I’d never
seen anything like it.  I wouldn’t have believed that carvers could take these
basic building blocks and turn them into such realistic renditions of such
things as two bears fishing on a frozen pond, an American eagle, a long-
haired maiden riding on a flying fish, or a soaring pterodactyl with a 10-foot
wingspan.  Never in my wildest dreams would I have imagined that anyone
could transform two blocks of ice into such masterpieces.  

My husband and I watched the prehistoric character come to life.  We
hovered around the artist's station and watched in wide-eyed wonder as he
sliced slabs from the block, melted the edges smooth and connected them to
the torso.   Pterodactyls may be extinct, but on this day this creature came
alive with incredible lifelike detail.  From talons to beak, from wing tip to
wing tip, this big bird was awesome!  

As I rubbed my mittens together for a little friction-generated heat, I
marveled at the carvers’ high threshold of tolerance to the cold.  Apparently
their focus on the craft at hand is so intense that it blocks out anything else
that might get in the way of concentration.  How else could I explain the
amount of time each artist spends exacting the details on their creations.  
Take the two bears ice fishing on a frozen pond, for example, everything
from their coats to their facials expressions was so realistic that I thought
they’d come to life right before my eyes...just like Frosty!  I even saw a
beautiful, anatomically-correct goddess make a few young men blush.  

Let me go on record as saying that I have the utmost respect for anybody
who can create art.  Not to diminish the talent required to paint a portrait or
throw a pot, but when a painter or a potter doesn’t care for the hue of the sky
of the handle of a mug, they can remix, reshape, and redo with only a little
trouble.  But for an artist to take a medium as unforgiving as ice and shape it
into something is truly impressive.  These carvers get three hours, two
blocks and one chance.  If they incorrectly calculate or slice, drop it, or break
it, they’re done.  Not much chance for error.  Not many redos in the world of
competitive ice carving.  So in my mind, ice carving is more than art; it’s a
sport, a skill, and a brainteaser.  

It’s not hard to explain why the Ice & Snow Festival
made me feel warm and fuzzy.  This festival was
another example of how nice it is to live in the heart
of the Monadnock Region.  Not only is Keene’s
Annual Ice & Snow Festival a bright spot in a long,
old winter, it’s a day that offers something for
everyone.  The thought and planning that goes in
to making this event happen is impressive.  
It would be great to have any one of these
elements grace the downtown, but the fact
that all of these activities and attractions are
packaged together make Keene a real life winter wonderland.

Imagine if images of each one of these activities were captured on a greeting
card and boxed as a holiday collection.  What a package it would be - ice
carving, skating, snow sculpting, roasting marshmallows by the fire,
snowshoeing...  I’d definitely buy the box and start sending holiday cards
again because these scenes recapture the meaning of the holiday season and
make all the cold weather worthwhile.  And to think I live right here in the
heart of a community that cherishes time-tested traditions and perpetuates
new ones!

What’s in the future for Keene’s Annual Ice & Snow Festival?  A toboggan
run?  Ski jumping?  Curling?  Snowball toss?  I don’t know.  But I do know
that it’s a great way to beat the winter blues.  So, if you can’t beat ‘em, join
‘em!  Find something fun to do this winter.  Learn to skate.  Hit the ski
slopes.  Go snowshoeing in the woods.  But whatever you do, don’t miss
Keene’s  Annual Ice & Snow Festival.  It’s the most fun no money can buy!

Need to Know to Enjoy Ice & Snow

The  Keene Ice & Snow festival happens the second weekend in February.
Since the Festival lasts from 11:00 a.m. until 4:00 p.m., you could be
spending a lot of time outside.  

Considering how fickle Mother Nature can be this time of year, remember
layers, layers, layers, and a hat and an extra pair of mittens.  Bring your own
ice skates.  Even though there will be loaners available, your feet will
appreciate skating in familiar footwear.  The same goes for snowshoes,
whether you want to compete in the snow show race or just stroll the course.  

Put together a team of semi-serious snow shapers and try your hands in the
snow sculpting contest.  Cast a ballot for your favorite ice carvings, and
automatically be entered to win great prizes.  

Bring a camera!  This event is free to the public, but Ice & Snow Festival T-
shirts are available for sale and vendors will be selling delicious
refreshments with proceeds benefiting a variety non-profit organizations.  

Call the Greater Keene Chamber of Commerce at (603) 352-1303 for details
and visit the Chamber site at
www.keenechamber.com






About the author: Lorie Rogers has worked for large corporations, non-
profits, newspapers, magazines, radio, and more.  Sixteen years ago, Lorie
and her husband moved to Keene, NH in search of an idyllic setting to raise
a family.  Today, she is the mother of two teenage daughters and clinging to
her sanity with both hands.
Keene's Snow & Ice Festival
Keene's Snow & Ice Festival
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