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Ice castles help raise funds for missions

MIDWAY — Brent Christensen is using ice and magic to pay for his two sons' LDS missions.

In addition, he's created something artistically unique — castles made of icicles large enough to walk through.

The 18 castles made entirely of frozen water are currently on display at the Zermatt Resort in Midway.

One of the castle towers reaches up 40 feet. After sunset, they are lit, illuminating the natural colors of the ice.

"This is something we started when we lived in Alpine," Linda Christensen said. "We had two missionaries out at once, and we have six kids. To pay for their missions, we rented our house, moved to Pleasant Grove, to an old, old 1900s house across from the junior high where we could live for nothing."

There, Christensen created an ice castle like the one he'd built in Alpine the year before. Zermatt managers heard about it and asked if he'd come build some for the resort.

Now that they live at the resort, thousands of people are checking out the castles, and Christensen works on his cold creations full time.

"He works way too much," said a daughter, Cheyenne. "He's out there whenever it's light, sometimes to midnight."

"If I'm not sleeping, I'm out here," Brent Christensen said.

Christensen stays warm by wearing multiple layers of clothing. He burns through gloves and cramp-ons as he works to keep the ice castles growing and the paths inside them safe.

"He now uses a special two-layer glove, plastic gloves pulled over cloth gloves. He's had to resolder his cramp-ons several times because he just wears them out," his wife said.

Christensen's icicle castles are unique in the world. There are ice houses in Canada, and even an ice hotel in Russia, but they are built of ice blocks.

"These are more organic-looking with Mother Nature doing most of the beautiful work," Christensen said.

Christensen started with a single sprinkler and grew. On a cold night, they can grow anywhere from 10 to 12 tons.

The castles are drawing quite a crowd. "We've met people from all over the world," Christensen said. Visitors from Russia, Germany, France, Japan, Vietnam and Poland have been out to see the ice castles. "We're close enough to Park City to get people from all over the world who meander through," Christensen said.

"I never saw anything like it, Patricia Kusenbach, a visitor from Germany, said. "It's impressive to see the color of it — blue, bright blue."

"We were driving by just exploring when we saw this," Josh Houser of Saratoga Springs said. "We were so impressed that we stopped."

Jane Rowland, a visitor from Texas, was not only impressed by the view but by the price as well. "The price is perfect for families," she said.

It costs $2 a person to walk through the castles. On Sundays, visitors are encouraged to donate to various humanitarian causes.

The family's missionaries are coming home. Tyler just returned from Nova Scotia, and Brandon is returning from San Bernardino, Calif., in August. But the Christensens intend to stay with the ice castle building.

Christensen is hoping to hire some people to help him next year. "I could use one or two guys just as a maintenance crew," he said, "to repair pipes and harvest icicles."

"It's just beautiful," Linda Christensen said. "It's changing, evolving all the time. Sometimes it looks surreal. Other times it's more shiny and icy."

"I don't think there's anything like it anywhere," Cheyenne Christensen said. "I like that my dad created it."

Weather permitting, the castles will be on display through the end of February. In Midway, the temperatures stay cold enough to refreeze the ice at night even if it's warmed during the day.

"Up here, it works much better than it did in Pleasant Grove," Christensen said. "It's a few degrees colder here, and every degree really helps."