Harbin Ice & Snow Festival

By Sergio González | 13:39

The feeling of full happiness that comes right after deciding to take a long-planned trip or finding the perfect outfit that will make your night something to remember is ephemeral. It only lasts for a few seconds! With ice sculptures the same thing happens.

They are incredible because it takes skill and lots of creativity to turn a piece of ice into a work of art but also because they won’t last forever, making them precious, ephemeral gem stones you cannot postpone to enjoy. If #YOLO or ‘you only live once’ is useful for anything at all, it’s perfect for describing ice art. However, it’s also the reason why trying to find out the earliest ice sculptures is pointless; they were gracefully gone long ago.

If cave people preferred snowmen, it’s something we will probably never find out, so we will begin our journey at the Harbin Ice & Snow Festival, in North East China, following French chef and legend Auguste Escoffier’s footsteps in New York City. The restaurateur who updated French cuisine at the turn of the century was also responsible for introducing ice sculptures to cooking, and we kept record of that.

They were cool and pretty new but we didn’t care that much about Escoffier’s ice sculptures until the 80s, when the yuppies needed more and more impressive ways of spending money. Eating Beluga caviar out of ice-spoons became the ultimate touch of distinction but ice sculptures melted away long after shoulder-pad fashion.

The 90s introduced us to global warming and by the beginning of the 21st century we became terribly aware of it, making ice once again a luxury product. The excessive style of the 80s left room for some sophistication, and ice bars and restaurants became a thing in cities around 2002; they reached the suburbs in 2005 as ice shots and more caviar -now of the white variety- where served in ice-spoons.

And now here we are at the 2014 Harbin Ice & Snow Festival; but believe us, you’ve never seen anything like this before. China makes everything on a large scale so in relation to ice sculptures, Harbin is a whole ice city with boulevards, palaces and a night lighting that makes Pandora, Avatar’s world, seem rather dull and pale.

Harbin Ice & Snow Festival began in 1963, although the Cultural Revolution shut it down for some years. In 1985 is was reopened and hasn’t stopped growing since then to become the largest ice and snow festival in the world. It starts officially at the beginning of January but from December to February there are all sort of exhibits and competitions on ice which take place throughout the winter. What do you think of ice sculptures? Are you a fan? 

Photo credit: Bert van Dijk

Photo credit: Rincewind42




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