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Ice Palace Maze: Now you see it, now you don’t

Temporary crew members at The Zephyr Theatre’s Ice Palace Maze made quick work of the demolition. (Submitted photo)

Stillwater Gazette – March 12, 2021

By all accounts, The Zephyr Theatre’s Ice Palace Maze was a great success. More than 30,000 tickets were sold to visitors from 924 cities. The wintertime attraction opened Jan. 22 and was scheduled to run through Feb. 28, weather permitting.

But weather didn’t.

Unseasonably warm temperatures and persistent wind took a toll on the 114-by-72-foot fortress with its 8-foot-tall exterior walls and half-mile of inner walled maze that had been built in the theatre’s south parking lot.

During the last days of the run, a large tarp draped to shield the ice from the elements during the day wasn’t completely successful, and nighttime temps weren’t low enough to allow the melted ice to refreeze.

“We made it through Tuesday night (Feb. 23) and everything was fine,” said Calyssa Hall, The Zephyr’s executive director. But a late-night inspection revealed the southeast walls were bulging. “It looked unsafe,” she said.

That night, Zephyr management decided to close the maze. Good call. The next day, one wall crashed down.

On Wednesday (Feb. 24), when Hall was standing on the wood stairs leading to the ice slides, she could see small shards of ice falling from the walls. “It was surprising how fragile the ice had become after being so strong,” she said.

Fragile and fleeting. The wildly popular icy amusement disappeared in two days.

On Thursday (Feb. 25), about a dozen people from the theatre’s temporary ice maze staff used shovels, pickaxes, and sledgehammers to topple the ice walls.

“It was oddly satisfying to knock it down,” Hall said. “Everyone had put so much time, energy, and emotion into making it and keeping it, there was an emotional release to chopping it down and watching the ice shards fly.”

She thought it bittersweet to return Thursday night to the dark parking lot that was strew with ice shards. Only a small ice heart, part of one of the ice sculptures, remained intact.

On Friday (Feb. 26), Miller Excavating trucks hauled the toppled ice away. Sturdy structures — the perimeter fencing, wood stairs, fire pits, lighting — were gone by March 3.

Because the maze had been built from clean ice — manmade from spring water — the theatre could have allowed it to melt and flow. There was no environmental issue there. But hauling it away seemed the better choice.

“We knew the community would appreciate it if we made it disappear quickly and not let it become a danger,” Hall said

“Besides, we had had a great run,” she said. Thousands of kids and adults wandered the maze, flew down the ice slides, and huddled around fire pits, and “there were no reports of injuries or covid spread.”

Those ticket holders who had planned to go through the maze after Feb. 23 were given the option of refunds or exchanges, Hall said.

Despite the earlier-than-expected closing, the winter production was applaudable, Hall said. “The Ice Palace Maze introduced a huge new audience to The Zephyr Theatre,” she said.

Now, she hopes those people will keep watching to see what’s next at The Zephyr.

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Calyssa Hall, The Zephyr Theatre’s executive director, said it was “oddly satisfying” to help tumble the ice walls. (Submitted photo)

Blake Gardner, a temporary staffer at the Ice Palace Maze, chipped away at  the remaining ice. In the background, a frozen heart was still intact, the only remnant of the sculptures that had adorned the maze. (Submitted photo)

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