The Iceman hopes that 2016 is the year his ice wall forms perfectly on Barker’s Island.
“I can’t be defeated every year. It has to go right one year, and I think this is it,” Roger “The Iceman” Hanson said.
The Big Lake, Minn., resident has returned to Superior for a second time to create an ice wall that — if all his planning and improvements work — shouldn’t collapse like it did last winter.
Spectators already are interested in his newest ice wall, with half a dozen people pulling into the parking lot to look on Friday. Two weeks into constructing the Lake Superior Ice Project, the ice wall stands about 12 feet tall. Hanson suspects that as the ice wall grows larger, more people will be stopping by. He noted that National Bank of Commerce is planning to host events at the ice wall later this winter.
When it’s completed, his European castle-themed ice sculpture should stand about 90-feet wide and 70-feet tall with four castle turrets and a doorway in the middle. He estimates it will weigh 8 million pounds when completed, but he explains that most of that is ice around the base of the wall.
“Hang on, I’m going to make a small adjustment,” he said on Friday afternoon. He grabbed a remote control, one of four in a row, as he looked at the ice wall out the window of his trailer, where he’s living on Barker’s Island during the wall’s construction. Each remote control allows him to change the towers outside spraying water on the ice wall.
The remote controls and additional tower are part of the improvements he’s made since last year. The two towers are designed and constructed by Hanson. The computer system he designed runs an algorithm using weather conditions four times every second to determine how many degrees the tower should be turned to spray water at an exact point on the wall. To keep it all going, Hanson wakes up several times a night to check that the systems are running correctly and has the system set up with alarms to wake him if something malfunctions.
He didn’t expect the strong winds off Lake Superior last year and had trouble with cables due to those winds, but he said he’s prepared this year with modified towers that can withstand the wind. He also has topped each tower with a weather system that provides a continual feed of wind speed and direction and temperature to a monitor inside the trailer. With another tower spraying water this year, he spent four months this past summer developing a new computer system to work the spray towers in tandem.
“It’s kinda like synchronized swimming,” he said.
The multiple spray towers will help him build a bigger base and buttresses where needed to keep it from collapsing this year, he said.
“Last year, I built it too tall too soon and too narrow,” he said.
Although his ice wall stood at 66 feet when it collapsed last year, he began rebuilding it and it grew to 51 feet before the end of winter. The city of Superior paid about $32,000 for the sculpture last year, but it generated more than $300,000 in publicity, according to the city.
His 2015 work gave him insight into what to watch for this year, he said. He’s been creating ice walls for eight years.
Things are running smoothly so far this winter, even with the milder weather in December, but he’s prepared for anything to go wrong and has backup systems and extra tools and equipment at the ready.
“So many things could go wrong, and any of them can take the system down,” he said. “If something goes down, I can’t wait a couple days for parts.”
It’s hard to say how fast the ice wall will grow because it’s dependent on weather, he said. The ice wall will be fine if the temperatures continue to stay below freezing for the majority of the time, but several days of above-freezing temperatures could delay the work.
“Every hour is precious. Every second is precious,” he said.