Roger 'Ice Man' Hanson builds a 64-foot ice castle in his backyard

Roger Hanson is something of a mad scientist meets artist meets Jack Frost. The result: a 64-foot-tall, 85-foot-wide ice sculpture has sprung up in his backyard in Big Lake.

"A lot of people climb mountains," he says of his peculiar hobby. "I built a mountain."

Hanson, a computer programmer by day, first began experimenting with ice in 2007. His home is heated by a geo-thermal system that takes water up out of the ground, extracts the heat from it, then pumps the leftovers into a nearby river. That seemed a waste to Hanson, who rigged up a hose to reroute the water and started getting creative.

The beginnings of the very first ice sculpture in 2007.
The beginnings of the very first ice sculpture in 2007.

Hanson built a frame out of some steel tubing--kind of like a very large doorway--and sprayed it down with the water. It froze into icicles dripping from the tubing, then into sheets, then into stalagtite-like formations. Hanson began adding to it with more frames, and eventually a second tier of frames on top of that. The result was an incredibly ethereal ice sculpture, that was almost glacier-like.

"The master artist is nature itself," says Hanson.

Hanson then entered into a game of one-ups-manship with himself. His sculpture has grown in size each year, and Hanson has had to get increasingly inventive in order to allow the structure to do battle with the weather, with gravity and with his wife.

"I used to climb up the structure," Hanson explains. "My wife really didn't like that."

The first completed sculpture in 2008.
The first completed sculpture in 2008.

This year, Hanson built the steel frame in the shape of a two-towered pagoda and erected it with a series of pulleys. Then he entered the dimensions of the frame into a computer program he wrote himself which controls a robotic hose system--almost like the world's most powerful automatic sprinkler system. For hundreds of hours over the course of the winter, the robot sprayed gallons of waste water onto the steel frame. The program is even fed information from a weather station Hanson built on his roof to help the robot account for wind direction and speed. Hanson can also control the robot manually, and stands at the window of his house beefing up parts of the sculpture that need extra icing.

The result is completely breathtaking:


The 64-foot tall ice pagoda.
The 64-foot tall ice pagoda.
Roger 'Ice Man' Hanson builds a 64-foot ice castle in his backyard
Roger 'Ice Man' Hanson builds a 64-foot ice castle in his backyard

Not that you'd know that from talking to Hanson. He bemoans the fact that it doesn't really look like a pagoda and the fact that he was short-changed the number of freezing days forecast in the beginning of the season.

"That's not fair," he pouts.

And he is surely not satisfied. Although he's done for the year, he has plans in the works for a 100-foot-tall sculpture that he thinks will require him to rent an extra parcel of land.

He's also being sought out to create sculptures outside of Big Lake--he's had interest from all over the world, most seriously from Norway.

"It's like a high, it's like a drug," he says of the process. "It's very fun."

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