The Harbin International Ice Festival is one of world’s four largest international ice festivals, along with Japan’s Sapporo Snow Festival, Canada’s Quebec Winter Carnival, and Norway’s Ski Festival. It usually starts annually on January 5 and lasts typically to the end of February, weather permitting, but this year the organisers have opened the famous snow sculpture park to visitors two weeks early for a special preview event.
Situated in the most north-easterly part of China and bordering Russia, Harbin is the capital city of the Heilongjiang Province and during the long cold winter months the temperature can drop down to as low as -22°F (-30°C). Snow carvings, ice lanterns, fireworks display and snow recreations make Harbin one of China’s most popular winter destinations.
Special attractions of the festival include the Snow Sculpture Expo, Ice Lantern Garden Party, the skiing contest, football match on the snow covered land, figure skating competition, tauto rally on ice, theatrical performances and economic and trade talks. The temperatures were well below freezing but this did not deter visitors flocking to the trial opening of Harbin Ice and Snow World, which has been described as the best-known winter theme park in China.
The park covers nearly 600,000 square metres and is the mainstay of Harbin’s month long Ice and Snow Festival, now in its 29th year. The park is said to draw crowds not just from across China, but it it holds a special fascination from overseas visitors as well, as each year, thousands flock to gaze at the magnificent and unique sculptures, which are illuminated with multicoloured electric lights encased in translucent ice.
“The park is putting on an even grander show than past years,” said Qian Yuzhao, a tourist. “Apart from the landscape, there are also more ice slides. They’ve incorporated interactive activities into this year’s exhibition, which is really great.” It has been reported that for this year’s event, artists created over 2,000 ice and snow sculptures within two weeks, including a 48-metre-tall “Crystal Castle”.
“This year, we’ve added new features like S-shaped sleds and a challenging zip-line. We’ve also prepared a mini-train for children in the woods. Everyone will be able to find an activity they like,” said Wang Zengjue, manager of the theme park.
After its official opening on January 5, the park will charge an entrance fee of 150 yuan (£15) during the daytime and 300 yuan (£30) after dark. Harbin, China’s northern most provincial capital city widely known as an “Ice City”, is directly affected by cold winter winds from Siberia. The city’s temperatures in January averages 18 degrees Celsius below zero.