Arts & More
4:00 pm
Thu January 30, 2014

21st annual Ice Breaker Festival brings a cool chill to South Haven

As the saying goes, if you can't beat 'em, join 'em. Since we can't all melt the snow outside our windows, we might as well celebrate the season.

The weather outside sets the perfect tone for the 21st annual Ice Breaker Festival, taking place in South Haven Friday Jan. 31 through Sunday Feb. 2.

"I think after a long winter of hibernating inside, it means a lot to people to be able to get out and have some activities,” says Kathy Wagaman, the director of the South Haven Chamber of Commerce and head of the festival.

She relishes braving the cold for some seasonal fun that works hard to not disappoint.

"Here in South Haven our events aren't just summer - we have a lot of fun here in the winter too - and the streets are filled in the winter when normally it would be pretty quiet. And I just see so many people having such a good time, and I love that."

During the festival, South Haven will host horse-drawn carriage rides through town, a Professional Chili Cook-Off, outdoor ice skating and -- perhaps the most chilling activity of them all -- ice carving. Fifty-three blocks of ice will be carved into the frostiest of creations.

Among those competing in this year's event is artist Lou Rodriguez. He fell into carving on a whim over six years ago.

"I'd always say, 'Oh, I could do that. And then one year I actually put my money where my mouth was and started carving, and each year I get more tools and get better and better. It's fun," he says.

During a pre-festival demonstration at Village Market Food Center on Jan. 25, Rodriguez and fellow sculptor Chef Joel Gesiakowski showcased their talents for spectators and ice sculpting students. They brought out their sharpest chisels and their warmest gloves as they got to work shaping the massive ice blocks into something special.

It was a miserable, cloudy day - which makes for perfect carving weather.

"If it's real sunny out the sun actually cracks the ice from the inside out. You cut through a bad spot and it'll just break," says Rodriguez.

Gesiakowski has been carving for more than a decade, but still considers himself a bit of an amateur. His favorite part? When it's done, he says.

"Your final product is just like a diamond. After you pour the warm water over the carving to clear off all the snow and ice debris, it looks fantastic. I don't enjoy the cold weather, but we have to deal with it."

Gesiakowski, who will also be serving up chili at the cook-off, likes to think of the festival weekend as a summer day in the winter. Or, says Wagaman, as mild a day as you can imagine.

"We've had 50 degree weather for this event and we've had below zero, and it's going to go on no matter what," she says.

The Ice Breaker Festival is free and will take place through Sunday in downtown South Haven.