- By Bill DiPaolo Palm Beach Post Staff Writer
The champion in the 2018 Ice Magic International Ice Carving Competition held in the Canadian Rockies in January is from — Jupiter Farms?
About 20,000 cheering spectators stood in the snow in subfreezing temperatures at Lake Louise to watch Ben Rand and his team partner, Scott Harrison of Canada, carve their design. Chisels, chain saws, blowtorches, disc sanders and drills were their tools to carve “Moonlight Meeting,” two 10-foot-tall wolves dancing in the night.
“U.S. EH!!” — the name of their two-man team — took home the victory and the $2,500 prize in the prestigious 11-day annual Canadian competition in Alberta.
Basking in the warmth of home, the 39-year-old Rand declared: “I love ice carving. I would do it for free.” He spoke as he worked on an ice sculpture inside Styled Ice Inc., an ice-carving shop tucked in an industrial area of Mangonia Park.
Ten two-man teams competed. Their raw material? Fifteen blocks of ice weighing 4,500 pounds total. They had 34 hours over three days to carve. The theme? “All in the Wild.”
Most teams were from cold-weather nations: Russia, China, Poland and Canada. Surprisingly, one of the top competitors came from the Philippines.
“Those guys from the Philippines are incredible. They get lots of practice from the ice carvings they do from all the cruise ships that dock there,” said Rand, a bearded native of Casco, Maine, who still has a twinge of a Down Mainer accent.
Rand started out as a chef growing up near Sebago Lake. As he traveled around the country for cooking internships at seasonal resorts, he was drawn to ice carving.
He met Dean Carlson, who did ice carvings in his garage in The Acreage, while interning as a chef in Vero Beach in the mid-1980s. The two began to work together.
Carlson opened Styled Ice in 1989. He hired Rand three years later.
“(Rand) is passionate about carving ice. He loves it,” said Carlson.
That passion was needed in the 10- to 15-degree temperature during the Lake Louise competition, Rand said.
The jolly spectators also helped. They would respond with a rousing cheer when a competitor would use a blow torch to bring a shiny sheen to the surface of the ice. A just-right move with a chisel brought applause.
“Canadian lollipops” — ice on a stick with maple syrup poured on top — sold briskly at concession stands.
The judges were ruthless. A frozen drip of water hanging from the edge of a carving brought a deduction. Points were dropped if the ice surface was not the right texture. Or scratched.
“We won by 2.7 points out of 300. That’s how close the competition was,” said Rand, who lives in Jupiter Farms with his wife, Nickey, a financial adviser, and their son, Jasper, 3.
Back in the Mangonia Park shop, the three workers at Styled Ice keep the ice-carving area a balmy 18 degrees. That’s the prime temperature to carve ice. The lower the temperature, the denser the ice and the tougher it is to work with, Rand said.
The ice sculptures in Mangonia Park start out in 10-inch-thick blocks that are 40-inches tall and 20-inches wide. They each weigh about 300 pounds. They are stacked together to meet the required size.
To keep the ice crystal clear, they rely on a reverse osmosis treatment system and they circulate the water while it is being frozen.
“Otherwise, the ice would come out cloudy like the ice cubes in your freezer at home,” Rand said.
Seahorses, sailfish, dogs — the shop gets all kinds of requests. Lobsters, tropical fish and roses are encased in ice. They carve company logos. Five-inch-thick “draft beer walls” keep beer kegs cold. Colored LED lights are encased in carvings.
A 6-foot-tall carved ice sailfish costs about $500. It lasts about five to six hours.
“We made frozen ice appetizer plates for Sofia Vergara when she got married at The Breakers,” said Rand, speaking about the star of TV’s “Modern Family,” who got married in Palm Beach in 2015. “We do a lot of work for resorts like Mar-a-Lago and the Boca Resort and Hotel,” he said.
Rand has competed five times at Lake Louise, with this year marking his first victory. But the real thrill, he said, is attending the overall event.
“I love working outside and being surrounded by the incredible mountains. It’s such a blessing for all of us carvers to get a chance to create the best sculptures we can dream up,” he said.