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Sometimes events, sights and destinations exceed expectations in a way that takes your breath away and puts a smile on your face. Such an occurrence happened on our recent winter adventure to Colorado when we visited The Ice Castle in Dillon, located right in the heart of ski country about 10 minutes from Keystone Resort and Breckenridge.
What Is the Ice Castle in Colorado?
So, what is an ice castle doing in Colorado? 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 six such installations in North America, the others located in Midway, Utah; Lake Geneva, Wisconsin; Lincoln, New Hampshire; Excelsior, Minnesota; and Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. 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 annually share in and enjoy.
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.
The construction process can take up to two months and is obviously completely dependent on the presence of sub-freezing temperatures. 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). It resembles a broad frozen waterfall. 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.
Inside the Ice Castle
However, the exterior, no matter how intriguing it may be, is just the wrapping paper of the gift. It is there to excite and entice, but is only a prelude to what is contained in the package. With a high level of anticipation, we entered through the icy portal into the castle’s frozen interior as the colorful lights added to the evening. We were met with rooms and walls and doorways and halls of ice that were lit with eye-catching and color-changing lights that dramatically highlighted the wintry scene. It was like Nanook of the North meets Las Vegas.
There were small caves to crawl in and out of, so wear your ski gear if you plan to crawl around on the ice.
There were narrow passageways that reminded us of miniature slot canyons that wound themselves through the icy maze and led to ice slides of various lengths. The very popular slides were quite smooth and quick like an ice rink that has just been “Zambonied.” The wait to ride the slides wasn’t quite as popular, but passed within a few minutes.
There was a large ice fountain that 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.
The rainbow-colored walls became photo backgrounds for family after family who tried to time their shots with the color background they liked 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.
How to Visit the Colorado Ice Castle
We only went through the Dillon Ice Castle once, but we visited and checked out the site four times to get a feel for lighting and traffic. Each time, there were 20 to 50 guests waiting in line to enter.
Because the castle regularly sells out, you need to purchase your timed ticket online ahead of time. When you buy a ticket, you are get a 30-minute timed window in which to enter the castle. You may access the site at any time during your window and you may stay for as long as you want. The controlled entry prevents crowds from backing up or overflowing. We estimated that around 200 guests were in the castle while we were there and there was a constant flow through the entrances and exits. I will note that during our visit they were letting people enter early, well in advance of their timed entry, but I’m sure that varies based on occupancy.
The optimum viewing times, and subsequently the most popular times, are between 4:30pm and 7pm. 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. Adults tickets are $14.95 on weekdays and $18.95 on weekends. Children’s tickets (4–11 years of age) run $10.95 during the week and $14.95 on the weekend and those under 4 are free. 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 (closed Tuesday and Wednesday). Hours of operation vary by day. An added bonus to those attending on Friday and Saturday nights will be the entertainment provided by a troupe of “fire performers” that will bring the contrast of fire and ice to life.
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.
We stayed at the Hyatt Place Keystone about 10 minutes away from the castle for 15,000 World of Hyatt points per night, but if you want to use points to stay right in Dillon, there is a Comfort Suites Summit County that goes for about 25,000 Choice points. Or try the very nearby Hampton Inn Silverthorne that is pricing at 40k–45k Hilton Honors points per night in the winter. If you are driving in from Denver, expect the journey to take from between 90 minutes to two hours, depending on traffic and conditions.
A visit to the Ice Castle in Dillon, Colorado, is like entering a fairy tale. The original mission by a father to bring smiles and joy to his children still lives today and “the mission remains the same — to create happiness, laughter and unforgettable winter memories.” It will undoubtedly bring out the kid in you. As always safe travels and stay warm … especially if you visit the Ice Castle.
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