As of today, you can once again visit a real ice castle in Colorado

Dec 19, 2020

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2020 has taken lots away from all of us. But, thankfully, ice is apparently stronger than everything this year could throw at it, and the popular ice castle in Dillon, Colorado, has just opened for the season.

We had the fortune of experiencing this ice castle a couple of times and it was one of those experiences that really takes your breath away and puts a smile on your face.

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What is an ice castle?

So, exactly is an ice castle and what is it doing in Colorado ski country instead of in Elsa’s frozen Arendelle?

Well, this wonder isn’t courtesy of Mother Nature alone. But it is a a beautiful one acre, open-air, interactive man-made ice creation meant to thrill, delight and entertain its winter guests.

It is one of four such installations in U.S., the others will be found in Utah, Wisconsin and New Hampshire, once they can open for the season.

The icy complexes have their origin traced back to a simple ice cave created by Brent Christensen in his front yard in Utah. Christensen’s original intent was to give his children something fun and entertaining to do to help fight off cabin fever during the cold winter months. His idea proved successful, not only with his family, but with his neighborhood and entire town. And, from such simple and basic beginnings, the concept has morphed and grown into the frozen spectacles that hundreds of thousands now share in annually.

Each ice castle, including the one in Dillon, Colorado, is grown icicle by icicle … daily by the thousands.

The icicles are harvested and strategically placed by a team of ice artisans and then sprayed with water to increase their volume. More and more water is applied, and the castle gains height and thickness until it tops out between 20 and 40 feet and weighs about 25 tons.

Related: What it’s like to ski in Colorado this year

The construction process can take up to two months and is obviously completely dependent on the presence of sub-freezing temperatures. Each year, the Ice Castles aim to open in late-December or early-January and remain open until March. Opening and closing dates are as impossible to predict as the weather, so we suggest you check the official Ice Castles’ website for updated information.

The Ice Castle, when viewed from the outside during the day looks like a fortress of ice with spires and icicles everywhere.

It is not smooth like a block of ice or an igloo, but more natural as if it grew there. Which, in essence, it did (with a little help). The ice’s density allows it to give off the traditional blue aura that one associates with glaciers and icebergs.

We walked around the perimeter several times appreciating the interesting design and looking for photo opportunities. The irregularity of the surface and how it plays and interacts with the light offers an almost endless variety of visual treats.

It doesn’t hurt a bit when a mountain range serves as your background.

What’s it like inside the Ice Castle?

However, the exterior, no matter how intriguing it may be, is just the wrapping paper of the gift.

Inside the castle are rooms and walls and doorways and halls of ice that are lit with eye-catching and color-changing lights that dramatically highlighted the wintry scene. It was like Nanook of the North meets Las Vegas.

Related: How to enjoy a ski vacation as a non-skier

There were small caves to crawl in and out of, so wear your ski gear if you plan to crawl around on the ice.

Historically, lines did form to experience the small slides and caves, so factor that in for distancing precautions this year.

When we visited, a large ice fountain served as a focal point near the center of the creation. Its colors bathed the area in shades of purple, blue and red in a continuous flow of change. The visual of snow falling on the fountain was a bit hypnotic in a lava lamp sort of way.

There are also rainbow-colored walls that can photo Instagram-friendly backgrounds for family after family who try and time their shots with the color background they like best.

There were a lot of smiles as guests made their way around and through the unique experience. Even at the point of exit, happy faces were the order of the snowy evening.

Related: These are the best Colorado ski towns

How to Visit the Colorado Ice Castle

Advance reservations are required to visit the Colorado ice castle.

Multiple dates are already sold out, so you do need to plan ahead. If on-site tickets are available (and that’s not guaranteed), they will come in at a higher price point. Advance prices range from $13 – $23 per person, depending on date and type of ticket required.

Line to enter in a previous year

When you buy a ticket, you get a 30-minute timed window in which to enter the castle. You may access the site at any time during your window and stay for as long as you want.

The optimum viewing times, and subsequently the most popular times, are between 4:30 p.m. and 7 p.m. These hours allow both residual daylight and the colorful LEDs of the castle to intermingle, complement and supplement each other for maximum effect.

If you want to go during these times, buy as early in advance as you can. The admission charge coded as entertainment for us, so use a card that awards a bonus on entertainment spending to pick up a few extra points.

The Dillon ice castle location is open five days a week (typically closed Tuesday and Wednesday). Hours of operation vary by day.

To best enjoy this frozen outdoor environment, you need to dress for the cold weather complete with hats and gloves as you will probably be in the elements for about 45 minutes.

Snow boots are strongly advised as the “floor” of the castle is a snow/ice textured mix that is 4- to 8-inches deep. Non-snow footwear will become quickly overwhelmed, wet and cold. Strollers are not recommended as it would be virtually impossible to push them through the thick slushy icy mixture, but saucer and toboggan-style sleds seem to work out fine for the little ones.

When we visited, we stayed at the Hyatt Place Keystone about 10 minutes away from the castle for 15,000 World of Hyatt points per night. If you are driving in from Denver, expect the journey to take between 90 minutes to two hours, depending on traffic and conditions.

COVID-19 adjustments

Luckily, the ice castles were always open-air attractions.

This year, high touch surfaces, such as sliding mats and tablets used at ticketing and concessions, will be sanitized routinely. The crawl spaces, slot canyons, and tunnels will also utilize a one-way traffic flow whenever possible. Capacity may be reduced and some features of the attraction may not always be available.

Masks will be worn by staff and are required of guests in common areas, near other guests, and when interacting with employees.

Bottom line

A visit to the Ice Castle in Dillon, Colorado, is like walking around an enchanted fairy tale.

The original mission by a father to bring smiles and joy to his children still lives today. If you can make the trip, it will undoubtedly bring out the kid in you. As always safe travels and stay warm — especially if you visit the Ice Castle.

Additional reporting by Summer Hull

Photos by author except where indicated

Featured image courtesy of Ice Castles

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