Carving a putt-putt course out of ice at Evergreen's Icefest is cool work

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Evergreen Lake was lit up by flood lights last Saturday night in preparation for Skate the Lake, part of the Evergreen IceFest. While workers cleared the lake to create a skating rink, Michael Campe and his crew from Colorado Ice Sculptures were hard at work carving a putt-putt golf course made of ice sculptures. They took some time to show us how the sculptures are made and talk about the perks of their jobs.

"It's fun," Campe said. "I mean, look at the stars and the moon. This is beautiful. And it's nice to have all the guys together. Usually we're on different jobs."

For the event, Campe removes chunks of ice from the lake ("with a chainsaw and a lot of muscle"); he also brings other blocks from Reddy Ice, the company he buys his ice and rents space from. The combination of lake ice and Reddy Ice is needed for color consistency (the lake ice can be cloudy or white) and to provide the amount of ice needed, he says. In this case, Campe used lake ice as the base for each putt-putt feature, where the ball goes through, and the Reddy Ice to create the visual feature on top (snowman, martini glass, Christmas tree, penguin, etc.).

The blocks of ice are about 300 pounds each, and it takes three hours and a couple of stages to complete each one: the planning phase, an initial chainsaw carving, and detailing with smaller tools. The team got to the lake at 6 p.m. the night before the event and stayed until about 2 a.m., carving each of the "holes" in the course. The next day, they returned to stage the pieces before patrons took to the ice with hockey sticks and tennis balls to play golf. Skate the Lake is a non-alcoholic event that sponsors money for Evergreen's "Drive Smart" campaign.

The lake ice is not as clear as the factory-made ice the team gets from Reddy Ice, and Campe explained that the weather was to blame for that. "Last year, the weather was more consistent, so we had beautiful clear ice," he said. "This year, the weather got cold and then warm and then cold again. So the ice gets a lot of bubbles in it and turns white. I wouldn't say it's harder to carve, though, and it's just as fun for us."

His family-owned business is coming up on thirty years of business. Michael and his wife, Kathy, run it, while their son Joe (who was out of town for the Lake Fest event) has been carving since he was fourteen and works for them full-time. The members of the staff present, Mike Bickelhaupt, Adam Buehler and Kevin Cooley, have been on staff for at least five years.

"We're all artists, but we make our money carving ice," Campe said. "I've never advertised or done any marketing. Basically, we've answered the phone and e-mail, and we stay busy all year."

The art of ice sculpting, Campe explained, is not unlike other art forms. "You have a vision and you go with it," he said. "Basically, I can teach someone with an artistic side to sculpt. I've been very successful in doing that. You have to have the same creativity and knack. You have to like working with your hands."

Campe started sculpting when he was a chef and picked up enough business on the side that Kathy made him a business card. "It took off from there," he said. Now Colorado Ice Sculptures creates pieces for the Botanic Gardens' Blossoms of Light and the Butterfly Pavilion's Living Lights. Other corporate events and local hotel events make up a large portion of their business during most of the year, and weddings make up another 25 percent of the business.

Check out this video of Campe carving a piece for Blossoms of Light.

"This is the nucleus of Colorado Ice Sculptures," he continued. "This medium is great because it comes from nature and goes back to nature, you can get as crazy and creative as you want, and while I don't know if the lake ice is more fun, it's definitely novel -- it's like being a kid in a candy store."

Buehler echoed Campe's enthusiasm for the medium. "The medium is very unusual," he said. "It's one of the most extreme forms of art. You get to use power tools and 300-pound blocks of ice. It's pretty fun."

For more information about Colorado Ice Sculptures, visit their website.

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