Crystal Nerpa: Ice Sculpting Competition
Хрустальная нерпа: Фестиваль ледовых скульптур
Listvyanka, Irkutsk Oblast
Entry: 200 rubles into the park with the action (including ice slides and other attractions), but free to hang out on the ice around the edges of the park and watch from there (most of the action is around the edges of the park anyway, so there’s not a huge need to pay to get a good view).
In February we found out about a local ice-sculpting competition at the nearest Baikal town from Irkutsk, Listvyanka. Listvyanka is only about an hour away by marshrutka, so a few of us decided to go check out the competition and have a nice walk on the ice now that it was finally frozen.
The competition began in a laid-back manner, sculptors seemed to have around 2 hours to complete their sculptures and then be judged. The competition in Listvyanka turns out to be one of the elimination rounds for the world championship ice sculpting competition, Ice Alaska, in 2013. Most worked in teams of 2-3 sculptors making very intricate 2-5 feet sculptures, most animal-themed. As the sculptures were being judged, a Russian folk song ensemble performed on a small stage set-up. Then the winners were announced, and local reporters gathered around the winner, a sculpture of a snowboarder in action, to take pictures and talk with the sculptors. My personal favorite was a leaping fish with a crown, which came in second place.
As we walked along the ice around the sculptures (which were carved on Baikal’s frozen surface) hovercrafts zoomed past us on the ice, along with the odd ice skater. Eventually the temptation of a hovercraft ride became too much to bear and we succumbed to the 250 ruble ride around the curve of the lake. The ride was about 15 minutes and showed us some beautiful scenery around the lake, and ended in donut rides back to the start. It was a very good way to warm up after wandering outside for an hour.
We had lunch at a local café, serving plov and pirozhki. The smell of Baikal’s infamous omul fish is in the air every step of the way and few pass up the opportunity for freshly smoked omul while in Listvyanka.
Listvyanka was a happening place that day, and people came from all around the area to see the sculptures. Russians and foreigners alike took the opportunity to spend a chilly but very sunny day on Baikal (quite literally), and we even made new friends as we stood on the ice taking pictures and watching the sculptors work. In all the times I’ve been there, Listvyanka has always proved to be a very friendly town for foreigners, where most folks are happy to meet new people, make friends and take pictures with you on the shores or on the surface of Baikal to remember even just a momentary encounter.