A giant dragon, a knight in armour or a beautiful princess - these are just some of the monumental ice sculptures currently on display at the annual Ice Sculpting Festival in Pustevny in the Beskydy Mountains in the northeast of the Czech Republic.
Pustevny is a mountain saddle and one of the major tourist resorts of the Beskydy mountains. It was named after the hermits, who used to live there in caves until the mid-1870s. Today the place is known mainly for its picturesque, Art Nouveau Folk mountain chalets, designed by architect Dušan Jurkovič at the end of the 19th century.
In recent years, Pustevny has also become famous for its annual Ice Sculpting Festival, which attracts thousands of visitors each winter. Dita Korčák Hrtusová, one of the festival organizers, outlines more details about the event, which is now in its 19th year:
“The festival actually started with snow sculptures but in the year 2000, we decided to create ice sculptures as well. This year’s edition started on January 12 and runs until January 27. Over the course of three weeks, visitors can come and admire the floodlit statues.
“The main topic of this year’s event are fairy tales. One of the tents might be a bit frightening for small kids, because it represents hell. It is beautifully illuminated and looks really convincing. The other one is a dragon’s den with a small dragon and a princess.”
The tent depicting “ice hell” can be found just a few steps from the chairlift station. At its entrance is a huge head of a devil with its tongue sticking out. With over 20 metres, it is the biggest ice statue in the history of the festival.
The preparation works took more than a week, during which the six sculptors shaped over 40 tonnes of ice. Most of the time they worked in freezing conditions, says one of the members of the technical team:
“The statues are made of huge, 70-kilogramme ice blocks, which are shaped by chainsaws, grinders and all sorts of other tools. It takes the artists about a week to complete the statues. Some of them are partly made of snow, to achieve a different structure and a different colour.”
Dita Korčák Hrtusová adds more details:
“The blocks of ice are made for us in a frozen foods warehouse in Opava with work on them starting as early as September. This year, their transport to Pustevny was a bit complicated due to heavy snowfall.
“After they are brought up here, the artists use the blocks of ice to build an ‘ice wall’ and only then they start carving the statue itself.”
The team of sculptors comes to Pustevny twice a year, creating ice statues in winter and wooden or sand ones in the summer. Most of them come from the Czech Republic but there are also artists from neighbouring Slovakia and Poland. Their sculptures attract dozens of thousands of visitors each season, who greatly appreciate the event:
“We have been coming here for three years already and it gets better each year. It is a great event. We saw the Ice Hell, which was really frightening for kids, especially the people being boiled in cauldrons. I was really impressed.”
“I have been coming here for several years now and I am always impressed. Both of the tents are really interesting. It must be a hard work for the sculptors but it’s a great experience for the visitors.”
So what happens with the statues once the festival comes to an end? Dita Korčák Hrtusová once again:
“We keep the statues in a special tent to make sure they last for the three-week exhibition. If the weather allows, we would like to prolong the festival by an additional two weeks, just like we did in previous years, because there is such a huge interest in the event.
“Once we remove the tent and the sun starts shining on the statues, they usually melt within a day or two.”
The annual Ice Sculpting Festival is not the only highlight attracting visitors to Pustevny. In addition to ice art, there is also a rich entertainment program for children, sledding, sleighing, an outdoor market, and a popular walk to Radhošť offering beautiful views of the entire Beskydy mountain range.
Just last week, a new tree-top trail was opened in Pustevny, just below the peak of the Tanečnica mountain. Its glass observation desk, located 1,099 meters above sea level, offers stunning views of the nearby landscape. When the skies are clear, you can see all the way to Jeseníky or the Fatra Mountains in Slovakia.
How to get there Pustevny can be reached from two different directions. You can either take a chairlift from Ráztoka or reach it from the opposite direction from Prostřední Bečva. The bus leaves every 30 minutes from the parking lot and takes you just below Pustevny. The journey takes approximately 20 minutes.