There’s plenty of frozen fun to be had this season, even if Mother Nature dishes up nothing but slush. Here are some places to chill, literally, where the ice is sparkly, the drinks are cold (even if it’s just your water bottle), and the whole thing will melt like Frosty come springtime.
We jumped in line behind a bunch of parka-ed people at Ice Castles because there had to be some reason people were queuing up. Yep, ahead of us was an ice-carved throne, perfect for posing. This icy fantasyland in North Woodstock, N.H., one of six Ice Castles installations in North America, seems tailor-made (or sculptor-made) for social-media sharing. A wander around the property reveals thousands of icicles lit by LED lights, colorfully lit sculptures, frozen thrones, ice-carved tunnels, icy slides, and fountains. Add some piped-in music, and it’s a fun-and-frosty scene. “It looks just like ‘Frozen’!” a toddler chortled, as he watched water spurt and sparkle from an ice-carved fountain.
Ice Castles is constructed on three levels, with 20 million pounds of ice, and it gets better as winter revs up: Mother Nature takes over where the ice artists leave off, and the icicles freeze, drip, freeze, and drip again. This isn’t the place to bring anyone who’s unsteady on their feet, since it gets icy underfoot (which may be a reason that nimble young’uns are the major demographic here.) Staffers break up ice with shovels to make the surface less slippery in some spots, but still, we’d advise wearing boots with some decent tread. Ice Castles, 24 Clark Farm Road, North Woodstock, N.H.; 866-435-2850; www.icecastles.com. Adults, $16.99 Mon.-Thurs.; $20.99 Fri.-Sat. Open noon-10:30 p.m., weather permitting (closed during extreme warmth, extreme cold, or heavy rain). Typically open until early March.
Ice beds (but please don’t sleep here)
Game for a winter hike or snowshoe trek? White Rocks National Recreation Area, a part of Vermont’s Green Mountain National Forest, is home to a trail with a secret: ice beds. This short, energizing hike along Ice Beds Trail, accessible from the tourist hub of Manchester, offers cool views of boulder slides and ice beds, where the ice remains even into summertime. The ice beds are a tumble of quartzite chunks that have slid off White Rocks Cliffs over the centuries. The cliffs themselves were sheared by shifting glaciers, about 12,000 years ago. Cool downdrafts keep the area cold year-round, so the ice remains.
The in-and-back trail is 1.8 miles long and will take you about two hours of hiking; it’s rated “moderate” due to a steep hike up a series of switchbacks. “The White Rocks Ice Bed Trail is a fun spot for the young and not so young with adventurous hearts to enjoy a little rock scrambling in summer or snowshoe tromping in winter,” says David Francomb, Manchester District Ranger. White Rocks / Ice Beds Trail, Green Mountain National Forest, Wallingford, Vt.; ;https://www.fs.usda.gov/Internet/FSE_MEDIA/stelprdb5315073.pdf
(Note: The Ice Beds trail is primarily managed as a summer-use trail — parking access to the trail in the winter months can be limited.)
The Ice Bars Cometh
As if Maine weren’t frigid enough in winter, three ice bars are popping up, created by the skillful (and chilly) hands of master ice carver Tim Pierce and his team. At Samoset Resort in Rockport, Timber Ice Bar in Bangor, and City Farmhouse in South Portland, outdoor ice bars will entice revelers to bundle up and celebrate the season. The theme at the three locations of Glacier Ice Bar & Lounge is Maine’s farmland heritage. Think life-size tractors, trucks, and farm animals. Award-winning ice carver Pierce (who’s also the executive chef at the Samoset Resort) and his crew are carving these temporary masterpieces from more than 50,000 pounds of ice. Adding to the experience: live music, and an array of special drinks, including a Snowball Martini (vodka, vanilla liqueur, white creme de cacao, and a toasted marshmallow garnish). To eat, there’ll be smoked seafood chowder, grilled chicken wings, and chili. Glacier Ice Bar & Lounge at Samoset Resort, Rockland (Jan. 17-19 and Jan. 24-25; www.samosetresort.com); Timber Kitchen & Bar, Bangor (Jan. 31-Feb. 1 and Feb. 7-8); www.timberkitchenandbar.com; and City Farmhouse, South Portland (Jan. 31-Feb. 1 and Feb. 7-8); www.city-farmhouse.com.
Igloos without all the work
A good reason to head to a summer playground this winter: Gurney’s Newport Resort on Goat Island has transformed into a wintry party zone on the sea. Although the resident goats move indoors when the wind blows off the Atlantic (they stay in a replica of Newport’s Marble House mansion, no less) intrepid winter-loving humans play outside. You can skate on a rink with views of the twinkly Newport Bridge, and get comfy in one of six heated igloos, set on the hotel’s three ocean-facing decks. The igloos are not made of actual ice, but they’re transparent, and plenty cozy when you settle in with your besties and order one of the special cocktails and snacks. Themes include starry night, the tropics, and Harry Potter (Griffindor throws!)
Demand is high, so if you don’t luck into one of these, grab a seat on a cushioned bench alongside an outdoor fire pit. On Saturdays, there’s a hot-chocolate station in the lobby, and live music in the bar on weekend nights. “We don’t look at this as just a summer place,” says Gurney’s wedding and event specialist Steven James. “There’s an energy you feel when you walk in, and everyone mixes together,” even in the dead of winter. Or especially now, when we can all use the body heat. Igloo rentals, $25 per person; all proceeds go to Big Brothers/Big Sisters of Rhode Island; skate rentals available; room rates from $139; www.gurneysresorts.com.
You might have noticed some igloos sprouting atop The Envoy Hotel in Boston. From November through spring, weather permitting, the Envoy’s popular Lookout Rooftop adds an enclosure (the better to keep patrons in cute outfits warm) and opens five 12-foot, heated igloos. They resemble the igloos at Gurney’s, but they’re enhanced with LED lighting, not themes, and offer lofty Instagram-worthy views of the twinkling Boston skyline.
There are two ways to cozy up in these igloos: BYOPP (as in Bring Your Own Party Posse) and communal. Reserve an entire unit for up to 10 people for two hours for a cool $500 bar minimum. “We see a lot of birthday groups and bachelorettes. It’s something different than the usual bar,” says the Envoy Hotel’s Mark Strauss. Huddle up and order from the menu of bar snacks — duck confit poutine is a good, gooey choice — and specialty cocktails like Apple Butter Jeans (pumpkin vodka, apple butter, and soda). Igloos that aren’t booked privately are open to all for communal seating. “People come together and get to know each other,” and often head out together for more partying, he adds. You might say the igloo experience helps break the ice. Igloos at The Envoy, Tues.-Sat., 4-11 p.m. (closed for high winds or frigid temperatures) www.theenvoyhotel.com.
Diane Bair and Pamela Wright can be reached at email@example.com