Vail ice sculpture exhibit to be lit Friday |

Vail ice sculpture exhibit to be lit Friday

Caramie Schnell
Maggie Skinner, 7, poses for a photo with her mom Janet, both of Birmingham, Alabama, while checking out the new ice sculpture display on the Gore Creek Promenade, part of Triumph Winterfest, t Wednesday in Vail Village.
Justin McCarty | |

If you go …

What: Official illumination of “Arches.”

When: 5 p.m. Friday. The ice sculpture will be on display until it melts.

Where: Gore Creek Promenade, Vail.

More information: Visit

nearly 35,000 pounds of ice and hundreds of hours of labor are on display at Gore Creek Promenade. Called “Arches,” the annual Triumph Winterfest ice sculpture exhibit will be illuminated beginning tonight. The artist behind the ice, Paul Wertin, said the exhibit is significantly bigger than last year’s exhibit in terms of sheer volume of ice. Last year, Wertin created AlpenGLOW, which consisted of 19 ice sculptures, and installed the Logan Ice Theater, a movie screen made from ice.

Wertin has spent the past 10 days working from sun-up to sun-down to install the current exhibit, which allows people passing by to travel through large-scaled, undulating walls of ice that fade into arches at the creek bank. In all, the ice wall is 70-feet long and seven-feet tall. Inside the ice are 10-foot-long strands of controllable lights, which slowly fade from one color to the next.

“I was trying to create a mood,” Wertin said. “There’s a peaceful, mellow sense out there. And there’s a lot of light and a lot of ice, so it does create a space and mood in the area.”

‘An abstract piece’

While he’s been working to install the exhibit, Wertin has fielded plenty of questions from people passing by.

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“You get the usual — ‘Is that ice?’ ‘What are you doing?’ Most people are excited and say ‘Wow, looks great.’ It’s been very positive feedback,” Wertin said.

Most people want to know what, exactly, the sculpture is.

“I say, ‘well, it’s a flowing wall that terminates in an arch,” Wertin said. “It’s a little more of an abstract piece.”

When people see it lit at night, which Wertin has been dialing in the past few nights, they “get it” more, he said.

“The ice is more a canvas for the light to play on,” he said.

The exhibit has brought more foot traffic to the area, according to Will Rhodes, the dining room manager at Mountain Standard, one of the two restaurants closest to the installation.

“Everyone is really interested in it,” Rhodes said. “There’s been a ton of people stopping and watching (Wertin) work. When it’s lit at night, it lights up our restaurant. It’s really cool.”

‘A win-win’

Wertin presented the conceptual design for the exhibit to the Art in Public Places director, Molly Eppard, and board members this fall.

“Paul was one of four or five artists who presented two or three concepts,” Eppard said. “He was a finalist, along with Thomas Barlow.”

Rather than having to choose just one artist, the town presented the board with the idea to have an ice sculpture exhibit at the Vail tree lighting as well, and both Barlow and Wertin were chosen. Barlow created and installed “Logan Luminescence” in mid-December, which included 70 cylindrical ice lanterns in varying dimensions in Slifer Square by the Covered Bridge.

“It was such a win-win because we enjoyed both of their concepts,” Eppard said.

As for Wertin’s design, the board liked “how he worked with the landscape, the whole creek area, and they liked that it was inspired by environmental artists,” Eppard said, referring to Christo and Jeanne-Claude. More on that in a bit. “And I think they enjoyed working with him; he has a good track record. We were very pleased with last year’s installation and knew that his end product would be very successful.”

Christo connection

The inspiration for “Arches” came from two places, Wertin said. First, from environmental artists Christo and Jeanne-Claude’s “Running Fence,” a 24-and-a-half mile long white nylon fabric fence temporarily erected in Sonoma and Marin counties in northern California in 1976.

“I was immediately impacted by this art installation that was created in conjunction with the landscape,” Wertin said. It was said that the artists were inspired in part by the fencing demarcating the Continental Divide in Colorado.

The arch part of the exhibit was inspired by both Arch Rock, which was down the beach from where Wertin grew up surfing in Corona del Mar, Calif., as well as the desert arches located in Utah.

Similar to Christo and Jeanne-Claude’s installations, “Arches” will leave no trace on the landscape once the ice melts.

Speaking of melting, Wertin and Eppard, among others, hope that doesn’t happen too soon, especially after the time and effort that went into it.

“If it melts quickly, it does bother me,” Wertin said. “If it gets a good run, then it’s OK, it’s part of the process. And it’s something you get used to. It’s just part of working with ice. It does go away.”

But in general, the location is good for an ice installation such as this one.

“It’s a good spot for ice because it stays pretty shady,” Wertin said.

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