By Karen Hendricks
Despite the cold temperatures, a handful of outdoor winter festivals thrive, mainly due to the warm, welcoming central Pennsylvania communities in which they’re hosted. Organizers say warm community hospitality is the key to shaking off the winter blues during Chambersburg’s IceFest, January 26-29, or the Lititz Fire & Ice Festival, February 17-20. Both celebrations feature fantastic ice sculptures lining downtown districts, free or low-cost admission and a festive spirit woven throughout community-wide events.
Click here to read my latest story for Susquehanna Style magazine, Frozen Fever: Ice Festivals Bring Warmth to Winter in Central PA (January 2017).
And meet the talented man who is carving out a name for himself, “Ice Man” Ernie DiMartino:
“Our major tool is the chainsaw—modified to make it faster or more powerful, plus die grinders, disc sanders, and ice chisels,” says Ernie DiMartino, owner of DiMartino Ice, who provides the creative talents behind both festivals’ ice sculptures.
The majority of one-block sculptures are created and stored at his Pittsburgh-area facility in Jeannette, Pennsylvania. He begins carving Chambersburg’s sculptures in September.
DiMartino’s team includes about 10 sculptors including two nephews and his stepson, but whom he says are all “like family.”
Ice-carving became a part of the family-owned ice business about 25 years ago when a neighbor, trained as a chef, taught DiMartino his skills in order to diversify the business. Today, DiMartino Ice provides sculptures for 13 annual festivals concentrated in the winter months.
“There’s a greater demand for interactive carving today—for example, a snowman with a space for visitors to put their faces where the snowman’s face would be. Or Cinderella’s horse and carriage which we created last year in Chambersburg, with people able to sit in the carriage,” DiMartino says. “Sponsors love it and people love it because they post the pictures on social media and share the fun.”
DiMartino says visiting Chambersburg and Lititz every winter is like going home. “I feel and the rest of team feel a part of those communities; we are very well received; we eat together as a family with festival organizers, for example. It’s nothing we ever asked for; it just evolved. In Lititz, Dawn Rissmiller opens her home to us. In Chambersburg, Café Italiano opens the restaurant to cook breakfast for us. Some of my guys are chefs–they jump in and help cook breakfast. We return for lunch and dinner too because they’re like family.”
“I never go on vacation,” DiMartino says with a laugh. “I’m always trying to find time for vacation; I think I’d like to go to Chambersburg or Lititz in the summer.”
- One block of sculpture ice weighs 265 pounds.
- It takes the sculptors one hour of labor for every block of ice carved.
- It takes four refrigerated trucks to haul the sculptures from Jeannette to each festival.
- Largest sculpture DiMartino ever built: Chambersburg’s ice slide created from 75 blocks of ice, measuring 40 feet long.
- Highest sculpture DiMartino ever built: An 18-foot high Eiffel Tower for First Night State College.