Welcome to Narnia: Towering ice castle returns to Edmonton's river valley

A frozen fortress has once again taken a foothold in Edmonton’s river valley.

'We've got some really magical stuff happening here'

The first Ice Castle in Edmonton was built in 2015.The structure features about 10,000 icicles that are embedded with LED lights. (Roberta Bell/CBC)

A frozen fortress has once again taken a foothold in Edmonton's river valley.

The ice castle has returned to Hawrelak Park, with its icy gates set to open to the public on Friday.

The Narnia-like display was constructed by Utah-based Ice Castles, which has a second Canadian castle this year in Winnipeg. It is the third year for the Edmonton ice structure. 

Crews on the site have been toiling through a recent cold snap to construct the towering castle, which covers more than an acre of park land and includes tens of thousands of individual icicles. 

Thanks to the unpredictability of the weather, the structure will be unique to ones built in previous years, said lead artist Christian Denis.

"Part of the magic and the beauty of this kind of castle is the really cool ice formations," Denis said as he took CBC Radio's Edmonton AM on an exclusive pre-opening tour of the castle's interior.   

"That's the beauty part. I don't have to do all that much. Mother Nature does that for us."
The Edmonton Ice Castle at Hawrelak Park opens to the public on Friday, Jan. 5, 2018. (Roberta Bell/CBC)
 The structure, built entirely by hand, includes a throne room, an ice slide, a winding ice maze and intricate archways. Hundreds of coloured lights are encased in the frozen structure, ensuring the castle will glow in the dark.

The brutally cold temperatures of late December made it difficult for crews who were "harvesting" icicles and shaping the icy tunnels, said Denis — but the bone-chilling weather made the structure even more stunning.

"Having the fluctuations is when you get some of the really gnarly formations happening," Denis said. 

"As tough as it was to have balmy weather, then freezing deep cold, then back to this, we've got some really magical stuff happening here."
The Ice Castle will be open every day except Tuesday, with adult ticket prices ranging from $12.95 to $20, depending on the day of week and whether tickets are bought in advance. (Roberta Bell/CBC)
The ice castle will be open until March 2018, or until it melts. More information on tickets and admission hours is available online.

"Every single day that goes on, it keeps morphing and changing," said Denis.

"We're always adding, tweaking and spraying. You can come back again and again ... and it's always a different castle."

Listen to Edmonton AM with host Mark Connolly, weekday mornings at CBC Radio One, 93.9 FM in Edmonton. Follow the morning crew on Twitter @EdmAMCBC