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Legendary Return to the York Ice Trail

By Mat Foster on 21st March 2019 (updated: 11th August 2023) in Case Studies

This year’s Ice Trail was the 7th time we have delivered the event and the most successful one to date.

The York Ice Trail used to be called “The Festival of Angels” but was renamed in 2015, we did our first one back in 2012. For the first 6 years the Ice Trail was held on the second weekend in December; it was always a two-day event, both Saturday and Sunday. Back then it was just 10 sculptures a day, this year we created 50 ice sculptures for the York Ice Trail.

The entire project is backed by businesses in the city, about 40 companies large and small sponsor an ice sculpture each. As it was only one day this year we offered the businesses more size options as they only needed to sponsor one sculpture rather than two sculptures. Bronze packages are made from one block of ice, Silver packages are made from 2 blocks, Gold packages are 4 blocks and a Platinum sculpture uses 8 blocks. The more ice we can use, the bigger the ice sculpture and the more detail we can add. With these new size options, the collection of ice sculptures requested became much more exciting than in previous years.

This year we chose the theme ‘Myths and Legends’. The theme is mainly to help the individual sponsors come up with something interesting rather than just an ice carving of their logo or product. They tell us their ideas and then we sketch up several options for them until they are happy with their design, and we’re happy it will make an interesting ice sculpture. This process can take quite a while. We started in August 18th and the last designs were finally agreed early January 2019.

Within this ‘Myths and Legends’ theme we also allowed a few ideas to slip in that aren’t 100% myths or legends. The Millennium Falcon from Star Wars was a particular joy to create and something we have been waiting to carve for years, whilst Jack-Jack from The Incredibles, looked…well, incredible!

When we did the York Ice Trail in December 2017 the city was so busy it literally came to a standstill. It was like being at a music festival, the streets were completely full with people and no one could move in any direction. We knew the Ice Trail was popular, but it was always hard to say if the city was so busy because of the ice sculptures, or because people were doing their Christmas shopping!

After that year it was decided that we would move the Ice Trail dates from busy December to one of the quietest weekends in the city on the 2nd February. This was a huge gamble. In the past we had always been guaranteed large crowds, but moving it to February could have left us looking lost in empty streets. As this was the first time doing the event in February, it was also decided that we would only run the event for one day, just in case no one turned up!

By moving the York Ice trail to February, it left a gap in our diary for December. This rapidly overfilled with us taking on two new smaller ice trails in Darlington and Stockport. We also took on a huge project to install a permanent ice bar into four shipping containers up in Newcastle. Whilst I and the rest of the team worked on the Lonewolf Ice Bar, Big Mat single-handedly carved 45 of 50 ice sculptures for the York Ice trail. He started them in October 2018, spent November on other projects and then worked right through December and January to get them all finished in time. Each piece takes at least a day to make, some of the larger or more complex ones take two, or even three days to carve.

The York Ice trail proves our ability to deliver an absolutely enormous ice event to an exceptionally high standard. The logistics involved in carving, storing, transporting, displaying and removing over 10 tonnes of ice sculptures at 50 separate locations is very complex and time consuming, but boy is it worth it. In the run up to the big day we had printed 35,000 Ice Trail maps and by 2pm on the day of the event we had completely run out! So we can safely say the Ice Trail can stand on its own and has become a huge attraction to the city of York.

It was an amazing thought on the day of the event that there were thousands and thousands of people walking around the streets of York, all with Ice Trail maps in their hands; all here to see over two months worth of Big Mat’s work. The entire city was a gallery of his carvings, not many artists will ever get to witness something like that. Although it took a team of ten people and seven vans to install the sculpture, Big Mat physically carved it all on his own and it really was an incredible collection of work. The Viking Helmet up on Micklegate was one of my personal favourites, when the sun was shining through the ice it looked absolutely magical.

Unfortunately we have to remove all of these sculptures at the end of the day, they are just too dangerous to leave overnight. They become incredibly attractive to partying students and rowdy stag parties. For some reason, intoxicated people get very intimate with ice sculptures and try to climb, lift, hump and hug the ice. It’s a real shame, but there is just no way around it. I have seen comments on social media about people seeing teams of guys breaking the ice sculptures in the evening. That was actually us, not vandals!

Installing 50 ice sculptures, dotted around a windy, cobbled, wonky city is a massive feat of planning. We started at 4am and were finished by 10am. The team then had to man the interactive carving wall, the live carving and the ice shuffle board until 6pm when we started the derig. We were finally back in our hotel at 9.30pm—it was a long long day!

Without doubt the “York Ice Trail” is the highlight of our year and we will keep trying to think up new ideas and raise the bar each time, every year we end up with a string of smaller enquiries directly afterwards. People want sculptures for their weddings, or new bars and restaurants want something for their opening events. Ice sculptures aren’t really something anyone thinks of until they are looking right at one, then the ideas and possibilities pop into peoples minds. Having an entire city looking at 50 pieces of our work, along with thousands of images being shared online always increases our visibility and credibility.

Special thanks to Faye at “Make It York”. Faye is our liaison with all the sponsors in York; none of this would be possible without her huge passion and contribution to the organisation of this event. Huge thanks also to all the businesses of York who sponsor the ice sculptures, without their support this also wouldn’t be possible, so from all the Glacial Art Team, we salute you.

And finally, our thanks to all the people who filled the streets of York and made 2019’s York Ice Trail the most special one yet. Thanks for coming and we will see you next year.