Exploring & Photographing Colorado’s Ice Castles
Every winter a series of Ice Castles are built in select destinations that are cold enough to accommodate consistent below freezing temperatures to maintain the man-made ice features. Usually the castles are open for business between December and March in Dillon - Colorado, Edmonton - Alberta, Excelsior, Minnesota, Lake Geneva - Wisconsin, North Woodstock - New Hampshire, and Midway - Utah . You’ll need a ticket to get into the Ice Castles, which will cost you about $18.95.
During the day they sparkle in the sunlight and cast beautiful deep blues as the ice absorbs only certain colors of the light spectrum. At night, the features come alive to display an LED light show as the ice glows deep blues, purples, greens, and oranges. The Ice Castles are truly a spectacle that you should add to your bucket list!
Planning and Logistics (Day & Night)
Since the Ice Castles are usually very busy during all hours of operation, you’ll need to consider a few things while planning your visit. The entrance lines are usually pretty long and standby tickets are difficult to plan for and often sell out. Your best bet is to book well in advance online to reserve a specific timed entry for your trip.
In 2018, I went at night to see the light show, and in 2019 I went during the day to see the deep reflective blues of the sunlit ice. In either scenario you’ll want to plan for the occasion, keeping in mind preferred lighting style, wardrobe (if shooting with a model), and gear.
Night (Feb 2018)
Even though they illuminate the ice at night with colorful displays of LEDs, conditions will still be very dark for photography. You should plan to bring a very small tripod (and hope the event staff let you in with it since they’re technically a tripping hazard) and/or your widest aperture lens possible.
Day (Feb 2019)
In the afternoon, the lighting conditions are much easier to work with since you won’t be restricted by lens type. Since the ice remains a constant dazzling blue in the sunlight, Jessika and I decided to contrast the tone using a bright red lengthy dress. We had hoped this would also add a sense of grandiosity for scale and intentional color tones since I was shooting with my Sigma 14mm f/1.8 Art Lens. Using a wide angle lens at the Ice Castles can certainly yield some pretty amazing results.
Plan accordingly! If you are visiting the Colorado Ice Castles from Denver during the weekend, please note that you will need to factor in ski traffic for a timely arrival. You’ll be on I-70 for most of the drive, traffic us very dense west bound from Denver from 8am-10am. Traffic is also very dense east bound towards Denver from 330pm-530pm. What is usually a 90 minute drive from Denver to Silverthorne could easily turn into a 4 hour drive depending on road conditions and road congestion.
Finding the Perfect Spot
Since the crowds will likely be very dense, it’s extremely difficult to find a composition without people running through every shot. There’s no other way to say this but to be courteous and patient. Once you enter the ice castles, you don’t have to leave until you want to. There is technically no time limit for how long you can spend inside. That being said, sometimes it takes a few test shots to find the comp, a few shutter clicks to get comfortable with the image, and time to pass to wait for the perfect moment where no one unplanned hops in your frame. Usually people will notice if you’re trying to take a photo and they will do their best to stay out of your shot. Just stay on course with your vision and you’ll exit having shots that you’re proud of.