More than six months from the start of the National Repertory Orchestra's 2018 season, roughly 1,000 ambitious musicians around the country are vying for 88 coveted spots on the roster of fellows.
With the application process underway, the behind-the-scenes action at the prestigious 58-year-old organization is ramping up. In fact, the work toward each year's 8-week summer concert schedule never really stops at any point throughout the year.
"Everyone assumes there's a lot of down time after August, but there really is no down time in our season," says National Repertory Orchestra Chief Executive Officer David DePeters. "We do everything we can to anticipate all the things we want to be doing in June and July. We can't be reactionary — there's too much going on."
Too much is right, but the staff at the National Repertory Orchestra has their meticulous system mastered — they even have a chance to enjoy office "meetings" out on the slopes every now and then. However, now it's time to carefully select the lucky 88 fellows of the 2018 season.
Countless musicians at symphonies and orchestras around the United States are alumni of the National Repertory Orchestra. Its distinguished reputation in the music world makes it inevitable that up and coming musicians aspire and compete to become the organization's annual fellows.
"One of the reasons it's so competitive is because it's such an intensive program," DePeters says. "They're performing 18 to 21 concerts in 8 weeks, which is more than many professional organizations. When the fellows leave here, they feel like they're ready to get a job — and they do, very quickly."
DePeters played as a percussionist with both the Philadelphia Orchestra and the New York Philharmonic and says many of those musicians — who are considered among the best in the world — went through the National Repertory Orchestra's program.
The National Repertory Orchestra's fame for its notable alumni is well known across colleges, universities and conservatories around the country.
"This is the place you come when you're ready to take that next step to becoming a professional orchestral musician," says National Repertory Orchestra Chief Operating Officer Cecile Forsberg.
The orchestra opens auditions to musicians ages 18 to 29 with the requirement that each applicant has completed at least one year of college, university or conservatory by the start of the season. For the 2018 season, in-person auditions are being held around the country in more than 20 cities between now and February, Forsberg says, adding that recorded audition tapes are also being accepted.
All live auditions are also recorded with audio and video so Music Director Carl Topilow can review them again, if needed. Topilow has the ultimate say in choosing every musician, DePeters says.
Topilow is a rare breed in the competitive orchestral music industry in that he'll provide any applicant with specific feedback and constructive criticism if they ask for it, both Forsberg and DePeters say.
"We are an educational organization, from the beginning to the end," DePeters says. "Even if the musicians don't get in, it doesn't mean we aren't here to educate them."
The 2018 season begins June 9 and finishes July 27. The orchestra staff are currently recruiting guest conductors and artists in residence to bolster and enhance the program, Forsberg says.
"We're also working on all of our community partnerships to make our season successful," she says.
From educational programs in local schools to a winter series featuring visiting musicians for two concerts in February and March, the National Repertory Orchestra is engaging the youth and adults of Summit County in many ways. The fellows learn how to play for their audience, tailor their repertory to that audience and also how to talk to them.
"Everything we do in Summit County is meaningful — not just for the fellows, but for the county," DePeters says.
A concert last season in response to the wildfire in Breckenridge raised funds for first responders and DePeters says the orchestra will be repeating that effort next season. The staff is also working to finalize plans on a couple of other benefit concerts, he says.
All of this planning and organization ultimately comes down to an 8-week experience that musicians and community members never forget. The musicians' palpable eagerness to learn and succeed translates to a concert series that has proved, time and time again, why it's so renowned.
"You can just see how passionate and excited the musicians are about being here," Forsberg says.
The town of Breckenridge will be showcasing a fireworks display this Sunday for New Year's Eve. With clear skies the fireworks should be visible from most locations in downtown Breckenridge. The fireworks are set to start at 9 p.m. and are always a delightful display. There will also be a New Year's Eve torchlight parade, a long-standing tradition in Breckenridge. People employed in the Ski and Snowboard School carry torches from the top of Peak 9 down American to the Village. The torchlight parade on the slopes starts at 6 p.m. and is weather permitting. Copper Mountain Resort will host their own fireworks display on New Year's Eve starting at 10 p.m. Throughout the day, Copper Mountain will host numerous end-of-year activities, such as an open rail jam and live music by DJ Landry. Starting at 6 p.m. they will host a torchlight parade and children's glowstick pageant. For more information on New Year's firework displays, visit TownOfBreckenridge.com or CopperColorado.com.
NEW YEAR REVIVAL
Trout Steak Revival sits somewhere amidst a jumble of overlapping sub-genres: progressive bluegrass, mountain music, American roots music, jam grass and Colorado indie-grass. The Denver-based group of five consists of Travis McNamara on the banjo, Steve Foltz on the mandolin, Will Koster on dobro and guitar, Casey Houlihan on stand-up bass and Bevin Foley on the fiddle. In 2014, Trout Steak won the Telluride Bluegrass Festival Band Competition. To add another feather to their collective hat, the band won an Emmy for their soundtrack for Rocky Mountain PBS' "Great Ingredients," a documentary about local farms and small-scale food production. All of the band's members are lead vocalists, songwriters and instrumentalists exerting equal input and energy. The art of learning and mastering string instruments has been a shared journey — when the band was created, some of the members picked up instruments that they'd had no prior experience with. It's the band's High Country follies and frolics that inspire their music. Themes of home, love and positivity live inside of their songs, ranging from tap-your-foot-on-the-floor instrumental jigs to lyrical ballads about connecting to the landscape. This weekend, Trout Steak returns to Warren Station, playing a New Year's Eve show for the third consecutive year. Last year's show was a foot-stomping, hooting and hollering good time. This year shouldn't disappoint, especially with the band releasing a new album "Spirit To The Sea," which expands Trout Steak Revival's repertoire beyond Colorado bluegrass to a more diverse sound. The album was produced by Chris Pandolfi of the Infamous Stringdusters and is the second album that Pandolfi and Trout Steak Revival have worked on together. Pandolfi also produced the band's last album "Brighter Every Day." Catch a fresh Trout Steak set to kick off your new year. Tickets can be found at WarrenStation.com.
TRIBUTE TO CHICAGO
On Saturday at the Riverwalk Center, Transit Authority will play a tribute set to the '70s group Chicago. Since performing their first shows together in the early spring of 2004, Transit Authority has become known throughout the country as the premier tribute band to the iconic group Chicago. This eight-piece ensemble creates an accurate musical salute to one of the best horn-driven rock bands to ever hit the stage. Transit Authority's mission is to recreate the excitement of the original Chicago's sound with every song. The night's proceeds will benefit Domus Pacis Family Respite whose mission is to provide families affected by cancer with a week of respite and peace in Summit County's High Country. For more information, visit DomusPacis.org. For tickets, visit BreckCreate.org. The show starts at 7:30 p.m. Doors open at 7 p.m.
Few people could survive in Summit County on the wages Breckenridge pays its elected officials alone, but Councilwoman Wendy Wolfe knew she was still broaching "a difficult" topic when she recently suggested now might be a good time to revisit their pay scale.
Elected to a second term in 2016 and unable to run again because of term limits, Wolfe wasn't advocating for herself when she said that, "it's time to consider raising council's pay and the mayor's pay," at the Dec. 12 council meeting.
Rather, the two-term councilwoman was simply expressing her belief that the responsibilities of a job she's done since 2012 aren't adequately being compensated by the salaries council members receive. And shortly after Wolfe brought it up, Councilman Mark Burke offered his support.
"I'm right with Wendy," he said. "I think it's a major time commitment. It's not just council meetings — it's researching, studying, going to committees. I just think $800 for a councilperson and $1,200 for the mayor is just — I've been on eight years and we've never done salaries at all."
Per town ordinance, members of Breckenridge Town Council are currently being paid $800 per month while the mayor receives $1,200, making Breckenridge's elected leaders the highest paid out of any town in Summit County. Still, based on the amounts they receive, no one's getting rich serving as mayor or on town council anywhere around here.
In Dillon, for example, the mayor makes just $900 per month, while newly elected council members are paid $400. This reflects Dillon's decision in 2016 to raise council's pay, taking each member's salary from $300 a month to the $400 level after their next election.
Frisco's elected officials are also scheduled to receive a pay hike, and starting April 30 the mayor's salary will increase from $950 to $1,050 a month. At the same time, Frisco Town Council members will see their paychecks jump $100 every month to $600 per month, according to town code.
In Silverthorne, public service is apparently more of a labor of love than it is anywhere else in the county because Silverthorne hasn't updated its elected officials' salaries in over a decade, according to town manager Ryan Hyland. As a result, Silverthorne pays its council members each $300 a month and its mayor $750, making them the lowest-paid elected town leaders in Summit County.
Looking at another comparable Colorado town, Vail's mayor is paid $1,000 per month, for instance, while council members each receive $625 a month, according to a human resources employee who described Vail's elected officials as "very similar" to Breckenridge's.
During the December council meeting, Breckenridge Mayor Eric Mamula asked town staff to collect more information comparing Breckenridge's elected officials pay to that of other Colorado towns. Town manager Rick Holman responded that they already have access to much of that data, and based on a "cursory glance," he could safely say Breckenridge is "probably middle of the pack."
If Breckenridge went up to $1,100 or $1,200 a month for council members and $1,500 a month for the mayor, Holman hypothesized, "there'd still be people above that, but it would probably put (Breckenridge) in the upper 25 to 30 percent in the state."
While Breckenridge stands atop Summit County's pay scale for town leaders, its elected leaders' salaries are a paltry sum compared to what Summit County's three commissioners make.
The primary reason for that is the commissioners are expected to be full-time lawmakers, while Breckenridge has a citizens council, in which the elected officials are expected to have other sources of income.
Burke said he doesn't think someone should ever run for office for the pay, but he also said a higher wage "might make it more affordable for someone who doesn't have the resources to serve this amount of time for the dollars they're getting."
Also the commissioners' salaries are now being buoyed by a new state law that was signed by Gov. John Hickenlooper in the summer of 2016 and set into effect a cascade of pay spikes for a number of state and county officials alike.
As a result, Summit County's three commissioners either saw or will see their salaries jump roughly 30 percent — from $72,500 to $94,250 annually — at the beginning of their next term.
One provision in the new state law also provides for a regular cost-of-living increase once every two years, and after Wolfe raised the issue in Breckenridge, discussions briefly swung to county commissioners' salaries before Breckenridge town officials arrived at some of the same conclusions state legislators did less than two years ago.
Responding to Burke's and Wolfe's suggestions that any decision Breckenridge makes this year on elected officials' pay could remain in place for the next 15 years or more, Dudick proposed tying elected officials' salaries to something like the consumer-price index, so the town won't have to come back to the difficult topic nearly so often.
"You can say it's going to increase 3 percent a year, and that is a done deal," Dudick said, providing an example of how a system like that might work.
"That's a good point," Burke replied. "It never has to be revisited."
Dudick didn't seem to advocate for or against raises during his remarks, but he was agreeable to putting it on a future agenda while offering up one fact that might be pertinent to the discussion: "Our tax revenue is greater than the other four jurisdictions of the county combined."
Other council members were more apprehensive about discussing the possible pay hikes, including Councilwoman Erin Gigliello, who asked to be let out of the discussions entirely.
"I would like to be recused," she said, citing her plans to seek re-election and the impact any council-approved raises could have on her paychecks if she is successful.
For elected officials to recuse themselves, however, the move must be OK'd by a majority of the remaining council members, agreeing there's a significant enough conflict of interest to warrant one.
Because the council's raises, if approved, wouldn't go into effect until after a sitting council member is re-elected or until a new person is seated into the position, two decisions that would both be made by voters, Gigliello wasn't getting off the hook on this one.
"I don't know that you can recuse yourself just because it's a difficult conversation," Mayor Mamula responded to her request. "I think you're better off, if it's that uncomfortable, you're better off voting no."
On Thursday, Breckenridge town staff confirmed that, at council's direction, they are working on such a proposal regarding the council and mayor's pay, and it should come up at town council's next meeting on Jan. 9.
By two different measures, Summit County's real estate sales slipped slightly in November, the most recent month for which records were available at the Summit County Assessor's Office.
Of course, the housing estate market remains historically tight in the High Country, pigeonholed by few listings and rising prices. Still, there's some room for optimism on the horizon, with one local real estate agent eagerly awaiting the release of some new homes, even though few people believe real estate prices will come down here anytime soon.
As previously reported, Summit County's real estate listings were at a record low in October. That trend, which tends to drive up prices, has apparently continued into November, according to statistics provided by Land Title Guarantee Company of Summit County.
In fact, the company's director of sales and marketing, Brooke Roberts, said that November's numbers were down compared to November 2016, both in terms of the monetary volume of all real estate sales and for the actual number of transactions, which she's attributing to the low inventory.
Roberts regularly tracks Summit County real estate transactions, and she said that the total volume of sales was 18 percent behind what it was in November 2016. At the same time, the actual number of transactions was off by 14 percent, she said.
Despite November's decline, Roberts was careful to point out Summit County remains 17 percent ahead in total sales volume and up 4 percent for the actual number of transactions in year-to-date comparisons.
"October was phenomenal, but it's a tight market," Roberts said of the current real estate picture in Summit County. "Listings are way, way down, and there's just not a lot that's for sale right now at all."
The winter months generally aren't the best time to sell or buy a house anyway — largely because of the cold weather, a reduced number of sellers and buyers, and the holiday season — but "what is on the market goes pretty quick," Roberts said.
She is still seeing a large number of "pocket listings," in which buyers find properties before they've ever been included in Summit County's catalog of active listings.
"We're still pacing ahead of last year," Roberts said of the market before diving into statistics. "We're just really low on inventory."
As of Dec. 12, she said, there were 324 active listings for residential units and 184 for vacant land in Summit County. That's 508 active listings total, the fewest Roberts has seen so far in 2017, a year that's already set records for its low number of listings.
As for Summit County's luxury housing sales, defined as any sale at $1 million or more, the market has "demonstrated balance with 26 homes with a price tag of more than $1 million selling in both November 2016 and November 2017," according to a Dec. 19 market report prepared by LIV Sotheby's.
Citing other statistics from Summit Board of Realtors, LIV Sotheby's also has noticed the total sales volume of luxury homes is up 11 percent year-over-year. Also, the number of days the average luxury home spends on market is down 61 percent, which LIV Sotheby's characterized as "an excellent time frame for the resort luxury home market, where properties typically stay on the market longer."
It might not be nearly as concrete of an indicator, but Paul LaFontaine, whose moving business is closely linked to the local real estate industry, said he has noticed another interesting trend here that he believes might be related to the tight market.
LaFontaine owns two moving businesses based in Summit County — Majestic Mountain Movers and Freedom Movers — and he said he's noticing more and more homes are being staged nowadays than have been in the past.
"It seems like prices have gotten to the point that people really have to stage their homes," he said, adding that the moving business has been busy this year with "very solid" growth.
At the same time, Cody Thomas, a broker associate with Paffrath and Thomas Real Estate, said he wholeheartedly agrees with anyone who says that Summit County's real estate listings are unusually tight right now.
"There's just not much out there to sell," he said. "That about sums up our market."
However, for Thomas there's some optimism on the horizon because he believes "a lot of new inventory will be coming on" from new construction that's taking place right now in Summit County.
There should be a good mix of deed-restricted workforce housing units in addition to market-rate homes that come up for sale in the near future, he said, adding "that's good because we need it."
NOVEMBER BY THE NUMBERS
221: Total real estate sales
256: Total real estate sales (2016)
$148.9 million: Total value of sales
$142.9 million: Total value of sales (2016)
$3.5 million: Most expensive sale
26: Sales of at least $1 million
TOP 5 SALES: NOVEMBER
1. $3,500,000 — Silverthorne, Lot 9 at Silverthorne Heights (condominium unit)
2. $3,050,000 — Breckenridge, Lot 11,12,13 and 14, Block 10, at Abbetts Addition (single-family home)
3. $2,805,000 — Breckenridge, Lot 6 at Swan River Ranch at Summit Estates (single-family home)
4. $2,799,800 — Breckenridge, Lot 56 at Summit Estates (single-family home)
5. $2,600,000 — Lot 67 Highlands at Breck-Highlands Park (single-family home)
The 11 ski areas that use public lands in the White River National Forest paid a record $20.18 million in fees last fiscal year but none of the funds helped create trails, patrol the backcountry or improve campgrounds.
The revenue was returned to the U.S. Treasury.
The White River National Forest, which attracts more visitors than many national parks, raises more in revenue than it costs the government in expenses. The irony is the sprawling, 2.3-million acre national forest has a shrinking budget to tackle its core missions even as it’s collecting a record amount from the ski areas.
The U.S. Forest Service has been forced to use more of its funds to fight catastrophic fires in recent years. That has affected the money the agency has available for many other duties.
“We’re hurting everywhere. More and more is going to fire,” White River National Forest Supervisor Scott Fitzwilliams said.
The White River’s budget for 2018 is probably going to be flat. The forest receives about $16 million from funds appropriated by Congress and it will be allowed to keep roughly $2 million in fees collected from visitors to the Maroon Bells as well as outfitter fees. Unlike other fees collected on the forest, the ski-area payments have always gone back to Washington.
The White River’s annual budget has plummeted from $30.39 million in 2009 to around $18 million in recent years, yet the number of visitors has continued to climb.
That creates a budget foundation that Fitzwilliams has previously labeled “unsustainable.”
The prospects for retaining ski-area fees appear dim. There has been occasional noise in Congress about passing legislation to allow national forests to retain at least a portion of ski area fees. The Recreation Not Red Tape Act, which addresses broader funding issues, was introduced in 2016. It went through a hearing in the U.S. House last fall but hasn’t been heard by the Senate.
Rep. Scott Tipton, the Republican representing the 3rd Congressional District, which includes Aspen, supports the act.
Colorado Ski Country USA worked with legislators on the fee retention portion of the bill and supports it.
Sen. Michael Bennet, a Democrat from Colorado, has not taken a position on that act.
“Michael supports locally retaining a portion of the fees that ski areas pay to the U.S. Forest Service,” said Laurie Cipriano, Bennet’s press secretary. “He believes the funds should be used at the national forest where they were generated to help address backlogs and improve recreation.”
Meanwhile, the fees paid by ski areas continue to grow. The cumulative amount paid by the 11 ski areas increased 11 percent in 2016, reflecting strong growth from the season before.
For fiscal 2017, the fee revenue grew only 1.2 percent.
“It’s good to see these revenues coming in because that means they’re doing well,” Fitzwilliams said of the ski areas.
The fees are determined by a complex formula that takes into account how much public land is used for the ski operations and how much revenue is derived from use of those lands. Skier visits and related business, such as ski school lessons, figures into the formula.
Aspen Skiing Co. paid $2.44 million last fiscal year, an increase of 2.75 percent above 2016. Skico paid the highest amount ($1.62 million) for Snowmass and the lowest amount ($105,917) for Aspen Mountain. Much of Aspen Mountain’s ski operation is on private rather than public land.
Vail Resorts paid $15.9 million in fees for its four ski areas — Vail, Beaver Creek, Breckenridge and Keystone. That was cumulatively $160,163, or 1 percent, more than in 2016.
The fee for Vail Mountain alone was more than what Aspen Skiing Co. paid for all four of its ski areas. Vail’s fee was $6.39 million.
Sunlight Mountain Resort outside of Glenwood Springs paid the smallest fee of the White River ski areas. Its payment was $20,626, an increase of 4.6 percent.
SKI AREA PAYMENTS
The 11 ski areas in the White River National Forest paid $20.18 million in fees to the U.S. Forest Service in fiscal 2017. That was up marginally from $19.94 million the year before. Following is the amount paid by each of the 11 ski areas and the difference from the prior year.
Through January 20 at 4 p.m., the Town of Frisco is accepting Christmas trees to fuel the Spontaneous Combustion bonfire on Saturday, January 20. Trees must be stripped of all lights, tinsel, garland, tree stands and decorations prior to drop off at the Frisco Bay Marina dirt lot at the corner of Summit Boulevard/Highway 9 and Marina Road. Only real trees will be accepted, and no other materials will be accepted including, but not limited to building supplies and packaging. The tree drop off is open 24 hours a day.
Spontaneous Combustion is a community celebration, which features a bonfire and fireworks, as well as beverage and chili sales to benefit the Summit Nordic Ski Club. The Spontaneous Combustion bonfire fueled by Christmas trees will begin at 6 p.m. with fireworks at 8 p.m. on Saturday, January, 20.
For further information about tree drop off and Spontaneous Combustion, please contact Nora Gilbertson at 970-668-9132 or NoraG@townoffrisco.com.
After years of talking about it, Breckenridge is finally getting serious about building a town-owned campground within walking distance of downtown businesses.
Discussions at the Dec. 12 council meeting, along with a memo from Breckenridge Director of Recreation Scott Reid, revealed what such a campground might look like, along with a few amenities, some concerns and a possible location.
"For several years, the idea of an in-town campground has been discussed, but not highly prioritized by town council," states Reid's memo to council, sent on Dec. 4 as a primer for the ensuing Dec. 12 discussion.
Under council's direction, town staff gathered information from other municipally owned campgrounds in places like Telluride, Golden and Lyons, according to Reid's memo. However, the idea for a town-owned, town-operated campground in Breckenridge has come up off and on throughout the years.
A vision plan adopted by town council in August 2002 mentions a campground "in proximity" to Breckenridge as one desired amenity, like a disc golf course or equestrian center, that could improve the quality of life here.
Five years later, an open space plan again referenced campgrounds, among other items, as an "additional facility" suitable for open space in Breckenridge that should be considered on a case-by-case basis.
There are more mentions of possible campgrounds in Breckenridge's agendas and meetings throughout the years, but more recently Mayor Eric Mamula revived the issue by asking town staff to revisit the idea during a town council meeting earlier this year.
In response, Reid crafted the memo lying out what town staff feel would be a best-case scenario for a town-owned campground, including a possible location and operational model.
In the memo, Reid contends any such campground should be kept small, no more than 20 campsites, with gravel pads, fire rings and one picnic table per site. He says staff are open to making the parking spaces big enough for small campers or trailers up to 30 feet long, but the campground itself wouldn't necessarily have all those hookups, at least not initially.
Furthermore, the campground should be within town limits, "substantially closer to downtown than the existing U.S. Forest Service campgrounds and dispersed campsites," according to the memo. However, staff also want to hide it from view off Highway 9 and other major roads. Some walk-in tent sites are being considered, and the town is thinking about a seven-day limit, a move designed to prevent long-term stays and promote turnover.
The campsites could be reserved on a first-come, first-served basis, likely in the ballpark of $25 to $50 a night, according to the memo, which also suggests that some kind of reservation system, if only for some of the campsites, might be worth evaluating.
Drinkable water, restrooms and trash service would be provided. The campground should be "easily operated," Reid wrote in the memo, which presents the question of showers as a topic of discussion.
"Nothing is clear cut at this point," he told council during the meeting. "We just want to see if we're aiming the right direction."
Given those perimeters, council discussed the topic for more than 10 minutes before agreeing to commit up to $15,000 for a feasibility study, conceptual design and more accurate cost estimate for council's consideration.
Councilwoman Wendy Wolfe said she could foresee the need for a propane refilling and billing location, and asked staff to look into it.
Other questions hinged on a site manager, including if it would be a volunteer position, a seasonal town-hired position or if management services for the campground would be contracted out to a private company. Reid estimates the campsite would require two, full-time seasonal employees.
The memo also identifies a handful of concerns that shouldn't be overlooked, such as the limited supply of flat ground in Breckenridge, the campground's visibility, operational costs and potential effect on competition, and the relatively short camping season, generally from mid-May to mid-October.
Based on the pros and cons of all the sites considered, town staff narrowed their focus down to one town-owned piece of land next to the Public Works Department's "boneyard" on Iowa Hill, a relatively flat parcel off Airport Road.
The campground would be mostly out of sight there, according to Reid, but close enough to existing water, sewer and electric utilities that the town could easily tap into them, should they want to provide those services.
The proposed campground site also sits along an existing bus route, is close to the town core and would be easy to monitor for the police and public works departments, according to Reid.
Public Works supports the proposed location, he noted in the memo, but would "need to tidy up" a bit and install a privacy fence prior to construction of any campground there.
"Of the other potential campground sites evaluated, several remain feasible but are considered less desirable at this time because they do not offer the same mix of site characteristics," Reid concluded in the memo.
Dan Beck moved to Silverthorne to be a ski bum seven years ago but he hasn't had much time to hit the slopes in the winters since.
Instead, he puts in grueling hours with a crew of 15 to 20 people building up and then maintaining magnificent ice castles, locking several million gallons of water into intricate mazes of tunnels, slides and half-frozen waterfalls.
"It's kind of crazy when I look back on it," he said during a walkthrough of the still incomplete Dillon ice castle on Thursday.
Beck got started in the trade after seeing a "help wanted" ad at the south branch library in Silverthorne. He turned out to have knack for ice, and by the next year was a site supervisor for Ice Castles, a Utah company that builds a half-dozen castles around the country each winter.
“The ice is very much a living thing. ... Ice isn’t like a true solid, it’s a little bit liquid. It moves, like glaciers.”Dan BeckIce Castles site manager
This is the first year Ice Castles has come to Dillon, setting up shop at Town Park. When it opens to the public on Dec. 27, it will include a 50-foot ice slide, crawl tunnels, a throne and a host of other icy features.
On Thursday, there was still plenty of work to do, with crews still rushing to make up for lost time after an unseasonably warm start to winter.
"We were able to start growing on November 17, but then we had to stop for a while and we shrank," Beck said.
When he first started, Beck quickly learned that building ice castles is never straightforward. Since early December, when it was finally cold enough to keep building, he and his team have been putting in 80-hour weeks to get the castle up in time for the holidays.
"It's the weather — you can't control it," he said with an easygoing shrug.
Beck and his crew build the castle around a network of pipes extending up into the air and ending with sprinkler heads that dribble out water. Overnight, they grow taller, while horizontal pipes drop wide curtains of icicles.
"The actual building process with the ice is pretty basic geometry, but it definitely takes some time and you're really slow at first and all of your icicles fall down until you get the bonding technique down," Beck said.
In open spaces within the castle, crews have set up icicle farms, or nests of hanging chain link connected to a central sprinkler. Overnight, hundreds of icicles form underneath, and in the morning, workers harvest them to use as the day's building material.
At places where they need to build walls higher, workers will pull an icicle from a holster wrapped around their waist and use slush to bond it to the top of the ice surface. They'll then run sections of pipe to the top of it, and by morning it will have widened it a thick column.
The operation draws about 300,000 gallons of water a day during the building phase and will use 10,000 to 30,000 gallons a day during the maintenance phase, Dillon town officials said. But since the water will eventually melt and flow back into the groundwater, it's considered a non-consumptive use.
Depending on the temperatures and humidity, the growth can sometimes be disappointing. But the feeling of coming back in the morning and seeing how the castle has expanded is one of the thrills that has kept Beck coming back each season.
"After you place the icicles, you come back in the next day and you get to see how much they've grown, so there's that gratification in seeing all of that hard work pay off," Beck said. "The ice is very much a living thing."
Sometimes, though, that living thing can cause headaches.
"Ice isn't like a true solid, it's a little bit liquid: It moves, like glaciers," Beck explained. "My site last year in Wisconsin was on a sloping parking lot, and it flowed quite a bit and just destroyed the lights. Some of them got crushed, some of them got impaled on the posts that were holding them up, some of them just had their cords ripped out."
The castle walls look like frozen porcupine quills all matted down toward the ground. The delicate appearance of the ice betrays its strength; even narrow arches can be strong enough to walk on top of, because ice grows exponentially stronger the thicker it gets.
Unlike icicles hanging from buildings or tree branches, those inside the castle are remarkably stable. Because the ice is bonding with itself, rather than a gutter that warms in the sun, it's not at risk of falling spontaneously.
"The only ones that we have to worry about are the ones where people could actually hit them, because then they could break it and make it fall, so we'll clear all those out," Beck said, plucking a large icicle hanging over a passageway. "This will be a great icicle for building."
On Thursday, there was plenty more building to be done. Like being a ski bum, Beck has found that the castle-building trade is a lifestyle of its own: He had worked 21 days in a row, averaging 13 hours a day. Only when the building slows down will he have a day or two off to visit his wife in Salt Lake City, where he lives during the summer.
"Once we're open we stop pulling the crazy hours," he said. "It's still a lot of work, but it's sustainable. We still build — it melts, it grows, it changes. It's never the same castle twice. Every day it's a little bit different."
The big payoff will come when the first guests start streaming into the fully built castle, glowing with turquoise and lavender lights embedded in the ice.
"Building something that's incredibly beautiful that can bring joy thousands of people is very rewarding," Beck said.