Winter Chemistry: Fun Things to Do When Water Takes the Form of a Solid

This month the astonishingly large and complex 22nd Ice and Snow Festival is taking place in Harbin, China. It's rather cold there, as we went to press the high of the day was expected to be -14 centigrade. Despite the less than enticing weather thousands of people will visit the festival, admire the sculptures, climb the ice buildings, slip and fall in the ice maze, watch the fireworks and slide down the ice slides. All of this will be lit by the neon lights embedded in the ice. There are also ten lovely penguins, a charming appellation if I ever heard one and tourists can take a ride in a dog sled. However since China is a bit far away for our average reader I've made a list of events happening this month that should be a little closer to home for most of us.

Leavenworth, WA is home to an ice festival that has an intriguing array of events, including a smooshing contest. This is not when your big sister sits on and screams "I've smooshed you" until you cry like a baby, it's, well, I'm not quite sure. Let's take a look at the equipment directions. "EQUIPMENT: Two 2”x4”x10’ boards with foot straps for 4 people. No alterations may be made to any part of the boards (no waxing, planing, etc.) Evidence of tampering results in disqualification. A Board Buster at the start line inspects boards prior to each heat." I read that the two people manning the boards are strapped together. And then they race. It sounds like quite the spectacle, doesn't it? If it sounds like a spectacle you don't want to see you'll be glad to know there are loads of other things to do like watch the fireworks or zoom around in the dog sled or try out the snowshoe obstacle course or dance or try your hand at some snow sculpture yourself. The one thing you probably won't be able to do is be bored.

Maine Winterfest runs through the 16th in Freeport. You'll have the opportunity to clothe a field of snow people. You can learn how to snowshoe and try a snowshoe obstacle course. There is a luge run for adults, age ten and up, and a junior luge run for younger patrons. If this sounds a bit intimidating don't fret, training is available from assorted members of the USA luge team. There is also a snow sculpting competition and ice carvings. But not just any old ice carving, there will be a 15-ton scale size aircraft carrier made of ice. I don't know about yours, but my mind is now officially boggled.

For a change of pace that still involves ice, check out the Ouray Ice Festival, an event geared towards ice climbers and those who are thinking about trying a new entrancing sport. Located in Ouray Ice Park, Ouray, CO, the festival runs through the weekend. There will be clinics taught at various levels of expertise so you can advance your ice climbing skills, there will be a fashion show where you can see the latest in gear and see some antique climbing clothes. There is a climbing wall for children, set away from the more perilous events for the adults. There are a variety of events from speed climbing to axe throwing to a tightrope walk across the gorge. Spectators are completely welcome so come along if you've ever wondered just how someone climbs a frozen waterfall.

The Saint Paul Winter Carnival takes place January 27 - February. This event is famous for their ice palaces. The first one was built in 1886 and they have been getting bigger and more elaborate ever since. The 1992 ice palace was 15 stories tall. There is much more to the Carnival than the fabulous palaces though, there are a surprising number of ice and sculpture contests, hockey, broomball and a parade. There is a skating rink and a royal court, complete with Klondike Kate, famous historic personage and entertainer. There is a fishing contest. Of all things there is kite flying and a cat show. Do cats and ice mix? Will your fingers freeze off as you fly your kite? I guess there's only one way to find out.

I know that some of you don't want to go outside again until the temperature is a decent, civilized 72 degrees Fahrenheit and some of you live in an area where the only ice is made by your refrigerator/freezer. For you I offer this site chockfull of beautiful photographs of the Harbin Ice and Snow Festival. You can enjoy them as you sit and sip your hot chocolate, in front of a roaring fire, with your favorite kitty warming your precious toes.