{travel} Harbin Snow and Ice World! Part One: THE SNOW

The Harbin Snow and Ice World (henceforth known as HS&IW) is a giant world of snow and ice, in Harbin, China. Whoa! I bet you didn’t see that coming from the title, eh? They gather the best snow and ice carvers and constructors from all over the world for the biggest, coldest, neatest, frozenest festival you will ever see.

According to this sign, it’s actually called the Har Bi  Sno  Wan  Dic  Ebig  Wo  Rld!

Harbin is cold.
Obviously it has to be pretty cold, or it wouldn’t be such a great choice for the HS&IW. I mean, I have been to cold places before, but this place is way colder. It’s on the same latitude as North Dakota, for example, but it’s much colder in Harbin. It is the capital of the Northernmost and Easternmost province of China, Heilongjiang province. Go north, you’ll hit Siberia. Go south, you’ll hit North Korea (ahem, DPRK.) Go east, you’ll hit Mongolia. So that might clue you into the bleakness a bit. The temperatures while we were there, in January, hovered between about 12 F at the warmest point of the day, and dipped to nearly -20 F at the coldest. But those figures belie the additional cold wreaked by the biting, bonechilling, boreal winds that alight from Mother Russia’s icy bosom, seemingly enveloping even your very bones and veins in pure numbness. Why, it’s so cold, some of the rickshaw drivers light trash can fires inside their rickshaws and drive around with lit fires under the steering wheel! See?

Yeah, it’s on fire, but he did it on purpose. Moments later he slammed the door and sped away in a plume of lung-choking coal smoke.


There are actually 2 parts to the Snow and Ice World- SNOW, and ICE. This post is going to cover the snow, with the ice covered in a separate post. Obviously there is a little overlap, but not as much as you might think. The sun is day, the ice is night- kind of like a yin/yang thing. You see, the daytime is the perfect opportunity to go out to Sun Island, a huge outdoor park, where they have all manner of giant sculptures made out of snow. They are amazing! And they are really big. I have tried to include people (usually strangers, the occasional myself or Ross) in the following pictures to give a sense of scale, because without the people I could be showing you super closeup pictures of mini-marshmallow carvings, right?

See, with people in the photo you can tell this thing is enormous. Without the people, who knows, it could easily be a cake topper, or a Barbie house, or made out of legos, right?

The incredibly random-seeming theme for the snow world in 2008 was something to do with the burgeoning friendship between China and France. (It seemed random to me anyway… but maybe I’m not following world news closely enough? Does it have a relevance I’m missing?) So, among hundreds of others, you’ve got your Parisian Chinoiserie goddess montage at the entrance… already getting pockmarked with pollution after only a couple of days by the roadside. (For reference, that Snowffel Tower was around 4 stories high.)

The life-size Arc de Triomphe for 2 lanes of traffic to pass under…

Napoleon “un”…

and Napoleon “deux”…

This awe-inspiring behemoth, which also takes the official prize for largest snow sculpture in the whole world…

You’ve got your Rodin… or should I say Snowdin?

The tres classy “China Beer & French Wine” sculpture…

And so forth, ad infinitum. Truly, there are hundreds if not thousands of sculptures ranging from a little bit bigger than me to as big as a building.


Now, that’s all well and good, but let’s get to my favorite part. We were actually there just as the HS&IW was getting going- it starts officially on January 5, and we arrived on January 6. So we had the great fortune to see some of the snow sculpting in action, and were able to chronicle the steps it takes to create these enormous snow sculptures. Which I frankly think was cooler than even just seeing the finished sculptures. These pictures are not time-lapsed over one snow sculpture, but rather an amalgam of folks in various stages of creative repose, working on their structures.

  • First, bring in truckloads of snow encased in plywood shells, and move them in place with cranes.

  • Next, remove the plywood and get it out of the way so you can size up the structure.

  • Working from the top down, go ahead and start the rough-shaping process. It helps to grab 20 or 30 guys with shovels to help out. Oh, and you’ll have to get rid of all of that snow before carrying on as well.

  • To add colors, sculpt special colored ice blocks into the appropriate shapes (in this case, purple for grapes and green for leaves.)

  • Also, you might need to put up a scaffolding at some point.

  • For fine-tuning of faces and such, get an expert to work his magic with a small shaping tool.


There are activities at the HS&IW as well. You don’t just look at the snow stuff. Allow me to share some of the odd activities in which you can partake, for an additional fee…

You can:

  • Get a ride in a dog sled, but the dogs were fighting a lot. Some of them weren’t even huskies, they were like golden retrievers or something. Also, the dogs didn’t seem to be under their masters’ control too well. Hmm.

  • Sit on these weird bicycle/ice skate mashup gadgets things and pedal around the ice. I call them “bicicles.” Get it?

  • Take a ride on a yak. Looks lumpy.

  • Warm up in an ice and snow log cabin-shaped cafe (not snow inside, only snow outside) and drink expensive yucky “chocolate milk tea.” However unpleasant and overpriced, this is an absolutely necessary activity because of the freezing temps outside.


  • Take a photo with a teletubby and/or Santa, or get a snapshot of a man in a chicken suit posing in front of a giant snow head, natch.

CLICK HERE for Part 2… The ICE!

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