Antonio and Ross Baisas have been perfecting the art of ice carving for 15 years, travelling around the world to competitions in Europe, the U.S. and here in Canada.
They grew up surrounded by wood carvers in their community near Manila and after moving to Canada, started honing their craft by carving vegetables and other foods while working at hotels in Quebec. Eventually, they upgraded to ice.
“Wood, it’s hard to carve,” Antonio said. “Ice, it’s more easy to carve.”
The are only three ice-carving competitions in Canada each year, explained Ice on Whyte festival producer, Wanda Bornn.
“Lake Louise, ourselves and Ottawa. So what’s been happening is we put our events three weekends in a row and then the artist all talk to each other,” she said, explaining the artists will try to travel to all three events.
She said many of the carvers who were in southern Alberta last weekend are now in Edmonton, including the winner of the Canada Cup of Ice Carving.
“Then, they go on next weekend to Ottawa to compete there as well.
“By having our events three weekends in a row, we bring out of better calibre of artists and we get to share them with all of Canada.”
This is the Baisas brothers’ first year carving in Edmonton, where they are competing alongside artists from the Republic of Sakha in Russia, the Netherlands, Mexico, Malaysia, Nepal, France, Poland, Quebec and Alberta.
“Everybody’s a good carver,” Ross said. “So you just have to do as much as you can, the best you can, and you might come out on the top.”
So how have two guys from a tropical country made a name for themselves working with ice?
“You have to be passionate about it,” Ross said. “Working outside for 34 hours is hard in cold temperature, wearing this bulky jacket and gloves and stuff like that. You have to like what you do, and fortunately, we like what we do.”
They said the hardest part of of ice carving is getting the proportions and details right, and putting together the legs. Their favourite part is applying the finishing touches.
“When you are showing all the details, all the fancy stuff, cutting the support — this is the happy moment because you know you are going to be finishing soon.”
Two semi loads of crystal-clear ice — shipped in from a specialized producer in Ontario — will be used between the 10 international teams.
In total, there are 320 blocks of ice, weighing a total of 48,000 kilograms or 96,000 pounds. That’s the equivalent of eight African bush elephants!
“It takes some incredible talent to do what they do,” Bornn said. “First of all, they have to be strong have to be able to lift 300-pound blocks of ice and stack them. I have no comprehension for how a person can turn it into something so magical and so beautiful.
“That level of talent is unprecedented, and to be able to have those artists come to our city and show off their work — that’s a privilege for us.”
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Ice on White is thrilled to have the brothers, who live in Montreal and Ottawa, at the competition.
“We are very honored that they come here and share their talent with not only just us and our judges, but also all of Edmonton and all of the visitors that come from outside of the city to see their incredible work,” Bornn said.
Spectators can watch the carving from 2 p.m. to 10 p.m. Thursday. The competition wraps up at noon Friday.
“So if you want to see the art in action come on Thursday, if you want to see the completed masterpieces come on Friday all the way to February 4.”
The Ice on White Festival, located at Whyte Avenue and Gateway Blvd., runs from January 25 to 28, and February 1 to 4. Thursdays and Fridays it is open from 2 p.m. to 10 p.m., and on Saturday and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m.
Tickets are $7 for adults, $4 for children (two to 13), and free for babies under two.