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Snow-IceFestival (1)

• The temperature in Harbin reaches forty below zero,
both Fahrenheit and centigrade, and stays below
freezing nearly half the year. The city is actually
further north than notoriously cold Vladivostok,
Russia, just 300 miles away. So what does one do
here every winter? Hold an outdoor festival, of
course! Rather than suffer the cold, the residents of
Harbin celebrate it, with an annual festival of snow
and ice sculptures and competitions. This is the
amazing sculpture made of snow greeting visitors to
the snow festival in 2003.
• Snow and ice sculpture in Harbin dates back
to Manchu times, but the first organized
show was held in 1963, and the annual festival
itself only started in 1985. Since then, the
festival has grown into a massive event,
bringing in over a million tourists from all over
the world every winter. The sculptures have
become more elaborate and artistic over
time; this bear and cub are just one small part
of a fifty-meter-wide mural sculpture.
• Most of the sculptures appearing at the snow
festival are competitive entries. Each team
starts with a cube of packed snow that
appears to measure about three meters on a
side, and then starts carving away. Teams
come in from all over the world - Russia,
Japan, Canada, France, even South
Africa. Part of the fun is guessing the
nationality of the team, based on their
sculpture's artistic style, before reading the
signs. I believe this was a Russian entry.
• The sun begins to set behind the
magnificent entryway sculpture. The
snow festival is actually separate from
the ice festival; both take place on the
wide open spaces of Sun Island Park
north of Harbin's river, Songhua
Jiang. Harbin is situated south of the
river, so it's a chilly ride over to the
sites. It seems even chillier when
crossing the bridge over the very wide
and very frozen Songhua Jiang.
• I was surprised to discover this
sculpture of a Native American sitting
in the frozen northeast of China; sure
enough, I read on the sign that a
Canadian team sculpted this
entry. Chinese teams had many
sculptures at the festival as well, off in
another section, but a vast majority
didn't measure up to these amazing
• Even the sunsets in Harbin look
cold. Though only mid-afternoon, the
sun was setting over the snow festival
and the temperature was falling even
further below freezing. But the coming
darkness was actually good news,
because it meant that the ice festival
was about to begin.
• The ice festival, a few miles away from the
snow festival, is anything but dull and
colorless. Crowds flocking to the entrance
are greeted by dance music booming in the
distance, as if at an outdoor pop concert. And
bright neon colors shine everywhere, buried
within huge blocks of ice forming structures
as high as thirty meters, such as this huge
structure beyond the entryway. You can just
make out people standing atop its blue and red
• A view from atop that structure, looking back
on a Russian-styled building and a mock Great
Wall, both constructed out of ice. Making it
to the top of this structure is an
accomplishment in itself - imagine walking up a
stairway of solid ice for two floors with no
handrails. The yellow block wall on the right
and the balcony work on the lower left are all
ice, with no internal support structure - just
• The Great Wall doubles as a long ice
slide; just sit and go. You can pick up
some serious speed and wipe out
spectacularly at the bottom if you're
wearing a slick coat, but you won't go
anywhere if you're wearing corduroy
• An overview of the ice festival from atop the
Great Wall of ice. It's like a Disney theme
park, with multiple attractions and food
hawkers and kids running around and people
lined up for bathrooms. The only differences
are that the temperature is about a hundred
degrees colder than the typical Disney park,
and all the structures are made out of ice
rather than plastic - and slipping and falling
here doesn't result in tremendous lawsuits.
• An entire ship constructed of ice, with
passengers onboard. Though it might
not be seaworthy, the ship would
certainly float - after all, it's made of
ice. Hundreds of years ago during the
Manchu days of ice lantern art, the
sculptures were lit only by candles.
• One of the popular activities at the
festival is climbing a wall of solid
ice. Amazingly, I didn't see a single
person fall, and most everyone made it
to the top. All the ice comes from
Songhua Jiang, the nearby river, which
provides a limitless supply; huge
chainsaws are required to cut through
the ice, which can be meters thick.
• The snow festival is mostly a display of art;
the ice festival is mostly a display of
architecture. Nevertheless, a number of
sculptures can be found at the ice festival,
such as this life-sized horse. Agile
youngsters with good balance climb atop the
horses to have their pictures taken. Notice
the layers of ice in the horse; blocks of ice
are fused together to form larger blocks so
that sculptures - or huge buildings - can be
• A Thai temple of ice, complete with hallways
and rooms inside. Long ago, Disney made a
Circle-Vision 360 film called "Wonders of
China" - still showing at the China pavilion in
the World Showcase at EPCOT - which
includes a brief section on Harbin's ice
festival. In the movie, the sculptures are
quite low-key, little more than blinking light
bulbs inside small globes and ice
carvings. Things have changed a bit since
those days.
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