After the snow festival, it’s on to opening night at the ice festival.  This is the grand three-arch entryway greeting visitors to “The Sixth Annual Harbin Ice and Snow World.”  Like the other structures here, this archway was made entirely of ice blocks cut from the Songhua River just hundreds of meters away.

Despite this festival’s name, snow and ice festivals have taken place in Harbin for decades, primarily in Zhaolin Park south of the river.  However, in 2000, this massive sponsor-driven event began on Sun Island north of the river, overtaking in importance the low-key festivities of the past.  This ice festival is now the main event, and it gets bigger every year: the 2003 festival was huge, but this 2005 ice festival dwarfed even that.  Structures were now larger, more plentiful, more colorful, more detailed, and more stunning.  This is the path beyond the entryway leading into the event, consisting of ice blocks with embedded lights.

The Harbin Ice and Snow World continues to focus on large buildings and structures, but some ice carvings can be found throughout the frozen grounds, such as the life-sized horses shown here.  While each head is carved from a single block of ice, each body is a fusion of many ice blocks.  And unlike the large ice structures and walkways that are lit from within the ice blocks, the sculptures are lit by exterior spotlights below the sculptures.

A key attraction of the ice festival two years ago was a copy of the Great Wall of China that doubled as a long ice slide.  This year’s key attraction was a copy of the Summer Palace in Beijing, as shown here - complete with the Tower of Buddhist Fragrance, the seventeen-arch bridge (reduced to seven arches), and even Empress Dowager Cixi’s marble boat.  This complex also included an ice slide, which was more like a luge track; bodies flew by in a blur and at the bottom thumped solidly into a two-meter-high snow bank.

Candied haws are a favorite outdoor treat throughout China - even in Harbin in winter, where they’re harder than frozen Snickers bars.  A steady diet of these will keep your dentist in business for years.

Janggochum.  A janggo is a double-headed hourglass-shaped drum often used in Korean traditional music, and a janggochum is a dance using that drum.  This is an ice sculpture of Korean women performing a janggochum.

One advantage of attending the festival on opening night was seeing fireworks explode over the ice sculptures.  Unlike most fireworks shows that build to a climax, this twenty-minute barrage was essentially a sustained finale.  In the foreground, four flights of ice stairs lead up to an ice tower tens of meters high serving as the centerpiece to the festival grounds.  The good news is that, unlike past festivals, the icy stairs now had handrails.  The bad news is that they too were made of ice.

An American lawyer’s dream: a maze of hallways with walls and floors of solid ice designed to cause as many spills as possible.  Many people tried it out, and the design appeared to be quite successful.  Here, a father keeps his son on his feet while trying to keep himself on his feet.  Most kids were so bundled up this night that had they fallen, they wouldn’t have noticed.

Fireworks over a Yunnan-style Buddhist temple of ice.  Structures throughout the festival were made to resemble famous buildings in Europe and Asia - including the Louvre in Paris, complete with its pyramids - and the level of care in the model detailing seemed greater than in previous years, with more rounded surfaces and less blockiness.

This wall of ice gets steeper every year.  Pictures I saw from an earlier festival revealed a wall of ice that was little more than a hill; people could run over it if they started fast enough.  Two years ago the hill had grown to about a 45-degree angle, as shown in my previous ice festival photographs, but most people could still make it to the top with the help of knotted ropes.  This year the wall was practically vertical; very few were making it to the top, and many were plunging back into the snowbank below.

Bursts of fireworks over bursts of color.  The ice structures at the top of the stairs here are peacocks.  Other sculptures appearing in the festival included ships, a giant snow Buddha (complete with an altar where people worshiped and planted burning incense sticks in the snow), and of course, snowmen.  A small Chinese automobile company even displayed full-sized ice sculptures of its cars alongside its real cars as a promotion.

The silhouettes of people on the icy stairways of the central tower appear remarkably upright and uninjured.

Unlike the Summer Palace slide, this was an ice slide most people could handle.  The endless, steady stream of people coming down this slide kept it nice and slick, and a few times I almost got knocked over trying to take this shot.

Beyond that slide was a series of European-styled ice buildings - and they were actually functional; grounds crews could be seen inside those buildings drinking tea and warming themselves between their rounds.  Full restaurants constructed of ice could be found at the festival as well, complete with much-appreciated space heaters.

A horse overlooks the festival events at the Harbin Ice and Snow World.

A view of the Summer Palace ice sculpture from the top tier of the ice tower at the center of the festival grounds.  A maze of fluorescent lights encased in ice form the floor here, much like the entryway path shown earlier.  Considering the advances this event has made over the past two years, other cities in the world trying to catch up to Harbin’s festival have their work cut out for them.

My Harbin winter festival photographs through 2007 have been published as a book entitled “Hot Ice and Wondrous Strange Snow: The Winter Festivals of Harbin, China”.  The book, available through Blurb.com, can be previewed and purchased below.