• Ryle Eddings

A Pedacito of The Harbin Snow & Ice Festival

In 1963, a group of local citizens took advantage of Harbin, China's freezing winter temperatures by hosting an ice lantern garden party. Party-goers used huge blocks of ice that they would hollow out to make decorative lanterns.

Entire castles are built out of huge blocks of ice at Harbin's Snow & Ice Festival
Entire castles are built out of huge blocks of ice at Harbin's Snow & Ice Festival

Each year afterward, the party grew larger and began to include games and activities, as well as larger and larger snow and ice statues. In 1985, realizing the potential revenue from tourism, the Chinese government named the party the Harbin Ice & Snow Festival and began pouring money into the event.


Each year, over 10,000 professional ice-sculptors travel to Harbin to begin the difficult process of building an entire small city out of ice. Once complete, the festival opens to more than 18 million tourists from all over the globe. With tickets costing 330 Yuan (about $50) for adults, and 135 Yuan (about $20) for students, the festival brings in an estimated $4.4 billion annually.

My brother and I on our way to the Harbin Snow & Ice Festival
My brother and I on our way to the Harbin Snow & Ice Festival

Though the festival is held for two months of each year, and though I lived in Harbin at the time, I almost didn't make it to the festival. The reason? I was too scared of the cold. Harbin is an extremely cold city during the winter months as it is.


I had been told that, because of all of the ice and snow, one could expect the park where the festival is held to be at least 10 degrees cooler than the rest of the city. That may not seem like much, but when temperatures are in the negative numbers already, every degree counts.

Harbin's Snow & Ice Festival is only possible because of Harbin's Winter temperatures
Harbin's Snow & Ice Festival is only possible because of Harbin's Winter temperatures

The first test of endurance came when my friends and I walked across the now frozen Songhua river. This river runs through the center of Harbin and completely freezes during the winter months.


Once it freezes, sculptors take large chunks of the frozen ice from the river to create the sculptures. On our way to the festival, we had to cross the frozen river. Though beautiful and fun to walk across, it was already getting unbearably colder.

Crossing the frozen river on our way to the Harbin Snow & Ice Festival
Crossing the frozen river on our way to the Harbin Snow & Ice Festival

Once we arrived at the entrance to the festival, we waited in line to pay our admission. I would soon discover that waiting in line while freezing to death is just a part of the overall experience. Throughout the day and into the evening, if we wanted to eat, or go down one of the large slides made of ice, we would have to stand in line to do it.

Even the smaller sculptures at Harbin's Snow & Ice Festival are incredibly impressive
Even the smaller sculptures at Harbin's Snow & Ice Festival are incredibly impressive
During the day, you can really see the detail that goes into these gigantic ice sculptures at the Harbin Ice & Snow Festival
During the day, you can really see the detail that goes into these gigantic ice sculptures at the Harbin Ice & Snow Festival

That being said, the sculptures and buildings made completely out of snow were truly spectacular. I had seen videos before of entire bars made completely of ice and thought that was really impressive.


Imagine, instead of just a bar being made of ice, you were surrounded by an entire city made of ice. We took advantage of the daylight hours to look more closely at how skillfully crafted each sculpture was, and how much hard work went into the whole process.

Nighttime is when Harbin's Snow & Ice Festival really comes alive
Nighttime is when Harbin's Snow & Ice Festival really comes alive

As day turned into night, however, our sense of curiosity turned to one of excitement. As soon as the sun went down, lights from inside the giant ice sculptures were illuminated, giving the entire festival a more celebratory feel.

Walking through Harbin's Snow & Ice Festival at night feels like walking on another planet
Walking through Harbin's Snow & Ice Festival at night feels like walking on another planet

Expecting to not be able to withstand the cold for more than a couple of hours, I was surprised to find myself enjoying the festival until well into the night. Except for rare instances, I almost completely forgot how cold it was. With so many happy people, and with so much frozen beauty, it was easy to forget about the temperature for a while.

 

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