Editor's note: This article was published in Grand Traverse Scene magazine's Winter 2019 issue. Pick up a free copy at area hotels, visitor's centers, chambers of commerce or at the Record-Eagle building on Front Street. Click here to read GT Scene in its entirety online.

A sure way to survive the long north country winter is to embrace it. Taste it, admire and explore it. Make “ice is nice” your mantra and before you know it spring will come calling.

Ice formations sculpted by Lake Michigan, artist carvings, ice wine and ice rinks give wings to beauty, wonder, challenge and fun.

The town of Bellaire dedicates a party to elevating ice to artistic status. Bellaire Chamber of Commerce, Shanty Creek Resorts and the American Culinary Federation of Northwest Michigan partner in presenting the third annual “Art in Ice, Sweet & Nice” event March 8 from 4 to 7 p.m.

Three thousand pounds of ice are dropped onto staged locations along downtown Bellaire streets the morning of the event. At the strike of four, ice carvers pull out their chisels and chain saws to create 10 frozen sculptures. The 20-by-40-inch ice blocks become ephemeral works of art, while as many as 800 people watch frozen images emerge.

“They are literally carving on the scene — taking about two hours for each,” said Rachel Krino, Bellaire Chamber spokesman.

The area’s top ice sculptors bringing their art live to the street include Robert Rodriguez, one of the event’s co-founders. Rodriguez is spokesperson for the American Culinary Federation of Northwest Michigan and an instructor for Northwest Michigan College’s Culinary Institute. The ice carving champ learned the art on the job 45 years ago when working for a chef in Philadelphia.

Rodriguez said most of the time ice sculpture is created for a business, buffet or weddings. Hearts and swans are typical requests, but he most enjoys carving animals. “You can show some depth, as opposed to geometric forms like basketballs,” he said. “Animals give you the freedom to be flexible and creative.”

Andrew Reh, also an event co-founder, takes his artistry to the street on behalf of Shanty Creek Resorts. Before becoming the resorts’ chief operating officer and general manager in 2017, he served as Shanty Creek’s executive chef. Reh took up ice carving in the late 1990s when attending college in Rhode Island to pad his resume. He competed on the national level and has participated in numerous street events. His resume includes experience at the White House in Washington, D.C. and several Ritz Carlton properties

“People are drawn to seeing a square block of ice transformed into something,” Reh said. “It’s an interactive experience.”

Even top carvers are challenged to beat Mother Nature’s handiwork in the creation of ice sculptures along the area’s coastline, as captured by photographers like Mark Lindsay and Ken Scott. The two are known for their images of naturally formed ice caves along the western shores of Leelanau County and of ice formations at Point Betsie Lighthouse in neighboring Benzie County.

Artist Colleen Higgins parlayed her love of ice, photography and figure skating into compelling fine art photos of a different sort. The Interlochen Arts Camp darkroom photography instructor was a synchronized skater at the collegiate level for Adrian College. While in grad school at Cranbrook Academy of Art, she came up with the idea of photographing her old skating competition dresses trapped in ice.

“Ice has been in my life for so long. I practically grew up on an ice rink,” said Higgins, who works in marketing and promotion at an Ohio ice rink when not living and working in Interlochen. “Ice came to me easily in wanting to work with ice in fine art.”

But the frozen stuff is more fragile and difficult to work with than it may seem.

“It’s slippery, first off,” she said. “I’ve gone through more big blocks of ice than I can count. And it melts, of course. The (studio) floors always got mopped really well, after.”

The photographs were exhibited locally in galleries at Interlochen Center for the Arts and Cowell Family Cancer Center in Traverse City.

Locally produced ice wine captures its own enthusiasts. Chateau Chantal winery reserves a half-acre of mostly Riesling grapes every year in hopes of producing 100 cases of “liquid gold.”

“We have to start with a good harvest — and we had a good 2018,” noted winery CEO Marie-Chantal Dalese.

Frozen grapes are hand-picked in December or early January, then hand-pressed and aged until summer. The resulting golden-colored wine provides a taste of luxury — perfect for warming up beside a blazing fireplace on a chilly late winter evening. It also places its tasters in good company. Chateau Chantal’s 2013 vintage ice wine was served during the Canadian State Dinner with President Barack Obama and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in 2016.

Ice perfection is the name of the game for Centre Ice’s building manager Tod Cook. Cook applies his own version of ice artistry to maintain a smooth-as-glass, manicured rink for skaters. The Traverse City site hosts the Detroit Red Wings Training Camp and National Hockey League Prospect Tournament, among public and team events.

Cook has 20 years of experience driving the Zamboni ice resurfacer. “It’s a dream job and one of the most fun things in the world to do,” he said. “Every man and woman needs to do it at least once in their life.”

The ice resurfacing machine keeps the facility’s two 200-by-85-foot rinks in prime condition. On any given night, the Zamboni drops fresh heated water on the rink four to five times to maintain ideal conditions.

Operators must follow a set pattern in moving the Zamboni across the rinks. “But it sure would be fun to do circles and figure eights,” Cook said.

Skate on it, sip it, or admire it as an artistic medium — ice is nice in all its shapes and forms.