Kenny Hayden has been carving ice for 20 years.
And at the Winterlude festival in Ottawa, he was one of 15 carvers taking part in the “One Block Challenge” international ice carving competition.
The rules are simple: each carver gets a single block of ice, measuring 100 x 50 x 25 centimetres, and weighing about 300 pounds. They then have two hours to turn it into a work of art.
This isn’t easy — despite his experience, a bad join between two pieces caused about a third of the sculpture to fall off at one point, striking Hayden in the shoulder. But after two more slips, he managed to get the piece to stay on and turn his ice block into a sculpture of fish swimming around coral.
“Other than the fish falling off three times, not too bad,” said Hayden of his handiwork. “It would have been a lot nicer if it didn’t fall off at all since I broke pieces off the fish when it fell.”
But he’s not too sad about it. “I always have fun. Not to worry, I always have a good time.”
The Ottawa carver works as a chef when he’s not sculpting huge blocks of ice. “They say the percentage is about 75 per cent of ice carvers are chefs, or used to be chefs,” he said.
“With big buffets, they may need big focal points, centrepieces, and so it originated in the cold kitchen to dress up buffets. And then from there it went further and further into competitions, to what it is today, with competitions all over the world.”
He got his start carving salt and butterfat, he said, so ice was just another medium to try.
“It’s the clarity. You want to make nice clean cuts, so that when light goes on it you can see it in all its detail and magnificence. It is a very interesting medium.”
IN PHOTOS: The One Block Challenge
Like many of his competitors, the chain saw is Hayden’s favourite tool. The carvers use it for surprisingly delicate work, like carving individual feathers on an eagle sculpture. They also employ a variety of chisels, grinders, sanders, and squeeze-bottles of water, for sticking pieces together.
And at the end? Many sculptures get a careful application of a blow-torch, to melt off any lingering snow and turn the ice crystal-clear.
The contest featured competitors from Japan, Latvia, Russia, Sweden and elsewhere. The winners will be announced Sunday.
Video by Marc Doucette, Global News