With the grand opening of the Great Ice Show just hours away, 40 Chinese ice artists put the final touches on what is perhaps Winnipeg’s coolest-ever construction site.

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This article was published 24/1/2016 (2133 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

With the grand opening of the Great Ice Show just hours away, 40 Chinese ice artists put the final touches on what is perhaps Winnipeg’s coolest-ever construction site.

They’ll work through the night sculpting, shaving and chain-sawing to ensure the giant display of snow and ice sculptures doesn’t disappoint when the first visitors arrive at The Forks Monday morning.

They’re finalizing creations big and small, ranging from penguins and snakes up to dinosaurs, a giant polar bear head — featuring a toboggan slide from its mouth — and a replica of the Manitoba Legislature. In all, there are more than 100 different pieces.

Andy Zhao, president of the Canadian Ice Tibal Inc., said Winnipeggers have hated so much about their winters for so long and it’s time that came to an end.

"We never think we’re an excellent city in the winter. Sometimes we feel sad about our winter. If there’s any city in the world that should celebrate winter, it’s Winnipeg," he said.

Zhao’s partner in the Great Ice Show is Paul Kostas, owner of Humphry Inn & Suites. Zhao is also general manager at the Hampton Inn by Hilton at the Winnipeg Airport.

Both men freely admit the Great Ice Show isn’t reinventing the igloo and is going to school on the Harbin International Ice and Snow Sculpture Festival in Harbin, China.

The cost of the entire project is $750,000, all of which has been paid by private investors. They hope to recoup their money by attracting more than 50,000 visitors from now until the snow and ice melt.

Workers continue to put the finishing touches on the Great Ice Show at The Forks Sunday before the area opens to the public on Monday.

MIKE DEAL / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Workers continue to put the finishing touches on the Great Ice Show at The Forks Sunday before the area opens to the public on Monday.

Zhao said the ice artists don’t simply walk up to a block of ice and start hacking away. Instead, they’ll look at a photograph of what they’re to carve — a horse, for example — and determine whether there’s sufficient ice.

"They’ll assume a live horse has been trapped in this piece of ice and they have to save him by getting him out of the ice without hurting him," he said.

The ice sculptors arrived in town from China on Christmas Day and started working on the site on Boxing Day. They endured the two-week deep freeze earlier this month, but it hasn’t been all work and no play.

"We tried out the 250-foot slide from the legislature (replica) sliding down on a shovel," Zhou said.

Most of the workers will go home shortly but nine of them will stay until the spring thaw and keep the sculptures in top shape.

The ice was supplied by Taras Gravel Supplies in Springfield, which stepped in after a slow freeze this winter made it impossible to harvest ice from the Assiniboine or Red rivers.

"It turned out to be the best ice the artists have ever had because the ice was so clear," Kostas said.

The Great Ice Show will be open from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. from Sunday to Thursday and from 10 a.m. to midnight on Friday and Saturday. Admission is $25 for adults and $15 for children and youth.

Even though the shops at The Forks are nearby, the sculpture park will feature a 900-square-foot tent where food can be bought. For people who want to stick with the ice theme, there is a 600-square-foot bar made entirely out of ice that serves alcoholic beverages of all kinds.

"We’ll never run out of ice," Zhou said.

geoff.kirbyson@freepress.mb.ca