The Harbin Ice and Snow Sculpture Festival is a feat of human engineering skill and artistic talent

Really, what is there to do in the winter except cozy up by the fire and eat lots of food and drink wine? For the residents of Harbin, Heilongjiang, China, there’s the annual Ice and Snow Sculpture Festival— the largest of its kind in the entire world.

Visitors view ice sculptures at the 29th Harbin International Ice and Snow Festival on January 5, 2013. (Associated Press)While the festival was confined to local participants when it first started in 1963, its since become an international festival drawing contestants and visitors from all over the world. The festival had a brief intermission for a number of years due to the Cultural Revolution but reopened in 1985 in Zhaolin Park. harbin-730x410

The festival begins on January 5 and lasts for an entire month though certain participants and areas will begin early and stay later, weather permitting. Average temperatures during this time of year hover between 1.8 and -31 degrees Fahrenheit. img_836_d20131128233450There are two main areas of the city that get dedicated to the festival, though it is scattered throughout. Sun Island sits on the opposite side of the city proper, just on the other side of the Songhua River. Here, visitors will find an expo of outsized snow sculptures. Ice and Snow World, however, is a nighttime city built entirely from 3 inch thick blocks of ice that have been taken straight from the river.

Image resultLocal artisans use swing saws, ice picks, and chisels to carve the ice into moveable blocks. The blocks are then used for the Snow World constructions or ice sculptors use them to create temporary works of art. Festival participants have learned how to use de-ionized water so that their ice blocks are crystal clear; additionally, they’ll use colored lights to illuminate their artworks.

Image resultIn addition to the snow and ice sculptures, the festival also features a wide array of winter sports that include alpine skiing and even swimming in the river. Additionally, there’s a beautiful ice lantern exhibit in the Zhaolin Gardens. 2007, a snow sculpture celebrating the life of Canadian doctor Norman Bethune won the Guinness Record for largest snow sculpture, clocking in at 820 feet long, 28 feet high, 250 meters long and using almost 460,000 cubic feet of snow. year’s festival celebrated 31 years with a “Ice Snow Harbin, Charming China Dream” theme. The city went all out and had an opening ceremony complete with a fireworks show. In addition to the usual ice lanterns, snow sculpture competitions and expos, the festival also featured fishing competitions, a group wedding ceremony, multiple fashion shows, live music and ice sports. sources: Wikipedia