Ray Lucier, a carver for Finesse Ice, works on an ice sculpture of a bear at the 2023 Mount Clemens Ice Carving Show.

Ray Lucier, a carver for Finesse Ice, works on an ice sculpture of a bear at the 2023 Mount Clemens Ice Carving Show.

Photo by Patricia O’Blenes

Warm weekend doesn’t stop annual Mount Clemens ice show

By: Dean Vaglia | Mount Clemens-Clinton-Harrison Journal | Published February 17, 2023

MOUNT CLEMENS — The sun was high and bright over the weekend of Feb. 10-11, but shining rays and warm temperatures did little to stop the annual tradition of the Mount Clemens Ice Carving Show on Super Bowl weekend.

Originally held nearly two decades ago, the ice show and associated chili cook-off were meant to give incoming sports fans a reason to visit Mount Clemens during the weekend of 2006’s Super Bowl XL.

“We were chosen to be a ‘Super City.’ We had to come up with events and activities for the guests to come (see) that were staying in Detroit or the suburbs,” said Michelle Weiss, Mount Clemens Downtown Development Authority DDA marketing and events coordinator.

Out of this need for events came the Fire and Ice Chili Cook-off and the ice sculpture show, as well as catered tailgating outside the Anton Art Center. The Emerald Theater also hosted an event at the Emerald Theater.

As the big game came and the Pittsburgh Steelers left with the win, the ice show stuck around as a wintertime tradition in the Macomb County seat. Live carving and grand sculptures have stuck around, giving people from all over metro Detroit a reason to come out to Mount Clemens during the first weekend of February — even in a pandemic.

“We felt that the ice show was something you could do outside, actually wearing a mask (to) have your face warm, and people were very eager to get out there,” Weiss said about the 2021 event.

COVID did not stop the show, but recent events have caused a headache for the DDA-organized event. The NFL expanded its regular season from 17 weeks to 18 in 2021, pushing the Super Bowl — and the ice show’s festivities — back to the second weekend.

Weather was a slight issue for the 2023 event, with the DDA and long-time carving partner Finesse Ice deciding to forego the usual Friday opening due to rainy conditions in the forecast. This year’s cook-off still took place on Thursday, Feb. 9. The 2022 show was also pushed back a day due to unfavorable conditions.

Most people may be unable to keep an ice cube from melting on a chilly-but-sunny day, and the idea of keeping multiblock sculptures together is simply out of reach. But owner Jeff Wolf and the team at Finesse Ice have been carving blocks in unfavorable conditions for a while now — from blizzard snow to glaring sun — and they know a few tricks to keep blocks held together.

One such trick involves using aluminum to create clear seams in the ice as well as coarsening parts of the ice where two blocks will be joined.

“I’ve made these nail boards, and they have a bunch of screws in them that are real pointy,” Wolf said. “We scratch the surface and we put the two scratchy surfaces together, so that makes them hold up a little bit better in the sunlight.”

Ice carvers employ other techniques and flourishes to make their carvings stand out. A vinyl graphic can be suspended in the ice as it freezes to give a bottle of whiskey its label, and lights can be strung on and around sculptures to make the piece more dynamic.

Weiss has had much fun with those lights in the past.

“I actually go through (the festival) at night,” Weiss said. “I keep the remote in my pocket and as I’m walking by, I can change them and people go, ‘Did you see that? It just changed. That wasn’t that color before.’”

According to Wolf, over 60 sculptures were made for the 2023 show.