Roger 'Ice Man' Hanson builds another 100-foot-wide, 62-foot-tall sculpture, wants the world record [IMAGES]
The sculpture as of February 13.
all photos courtesy Roger Hanson
Computer programmer Roger Hanson started building ice sculptures in his yard in Big Lake in 2007 when he needed something to do with the waste water from his house's geothermal heating system.
Jump forward seven seasons of experimentation, and Hanson's designed a long list of sculpting equipment, from a software program to a robotic water-sprayer. Those innovations, combined with his own obsessive attention to detail and a cold winter, have created a mammoth masterpiece that, this year, stretches 100-feet-wide by 62.5-feet-tall, and draws crowds of up to 300 people on weekends.
Hanson now hopes to break the Guinness World Record for largest ice sculpture, but says part of the reason he keeps experimenting with new, icier heights is strangers' curiosity.
"I do enjoy people that come to me, and they want to know how this works, why is the color blue, how does this happen," says Hanson. "When people want to understand why our natural universe acts this way, that definitely impresses me more than what Justin Bieber's doing."
A 54-foot sculpture in China currently holds the record for world's tallest. Hanson's beats that number for sheer height, but his sculpting method was previously based on internal supports, which disqualified him.
So this year, he's rigged a new system.
In the past, Hanson built around steel tubing and pulleys. This year, though, he's experimenting with removable metal cables. Hanson (or his robot) sprays water on the cable, and then, once the ice has formed a thick enough layer to stay stable, he heats the cable and slides it out.
While the first tier of the sculpture remains intact, Hanson draws the cable up a level and begins again.
He's treating this year as a test year, and once he knows for sure that this method works, he'll call out the Guinness World Record testers for official measurements.
Hanson continues to innovate in other ways, too. This year, he implemented safety improvements such as a breakaway mechanism to remove the cables if the ice starts collapsing.
This kind of troubleshooting is part of what keeps him interested in the sculpture, and drives him to construct it season after season.
"I hate solving problems," he says. "But I absolutely enjoy the feeling one gets once you resolve a problem. Something like this, it takes all my skills that I've learned throughout the years."
With ice sculpting on this scale, there's always a problem that needs solving. They range from the technical -- like intense water pressure breaking Hanson's shock absorbers, or debris getting in the pipes -- to issues over which the sculptor has little control.
Chief among those is what's on the thermometer. But wind is as important as temperature for turning water into ice, and then getting that ice to stick and accumulate.
"The ideal condition is colder than hell, but temperature is not the main factor," Hanson explains. "You can produce just as much ice at 10-below as you can in 25 degrees with a 45 mile-per-hour wind."
So far this season the cold has cooperated, but wind has been trickier. For much of the winter, air has blown south and southeast, or away from the sculpture. Hanson's spray is directed north, and the water will only go so far.
His geothermal heating system creates about 750,000 gallons of water over the course of a season, and right now, only about 25 percent of that accumulates on the sculpture.
Still, he's made progress, and hopes to get the sculpture up to 73 feet -- his biggest yet -- by March 1.
Hanson's robotic targeting machine sits at 40 feet. Above it are a wind direction and speed sensor and a lightning arrestor.
The sculpture is visible from the highway near Hanson's home, and he says drivers who see it often detour over to take a closer look. He has flyers explaining the process in front of his house, and up to 300 of them can disappear on a busy weekend. Hanson's neighbors, though, don't seem to mind either the extra traffic or the ice wall itself. "They think it's pretty cool," he says.
Hanson designed the water-spraying software to run independently, but increasingly, maintaining and expanding the ice castle eats his days. Luckily, his job as a software developer and computer programmer lets him work from home.
Even though he shaped a pagoda two years ago, this year, Hanson didn't decide on a particular design. "It's not necessarily up to me," he says. "My goal is to get this thing as high as I can get this thing. But nature's got her own ideas."
Hanson built this software to operate the robot.
Humble beginnings on December 19.
Hanson started a second tier on December 28. Here it is two days later.
The sculpture as of February 15: 100-feet-wide, 62.5-feet-tall.
The sculpture looms over Hanson's home. Here it is on February 16.
For a full gallery of images, check out Hanson's website, which includes directions to see the sculpture in person: icemanroger.com
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