reporter's notebook

Fort Kent volunteers construct ice palace

Posted Feb. 11, 2011, at 11:27 p.m.
Visitors strolling along Main Street in Fort Kent take time to check out the Chateau du Festival constructed out of hundreds of ice blocks harvested from a local lake. At night the ice palace turns into an entertainment hall featuring food, drink and music.
Visitors strolling along Main Street in Fort Kent take time to check out the Chateau du Festival constructed out of hundreds of ice blocks harvested from a local lake. At night the ice palace turns into an entertainment hall featuring food, drink and music.

There’s a reason they call the Chateau du Festival an ice palace. Just ask Fort Kent’s Kim Paradis.

“I thought for some reason it would be warm inside,” Paradis said Friday afternoon after visiting the palace Thursday night. “It was minus 10 outside and when you are inside you are encased in ice, so it’s cold but it’s fun.”

The ice palace was constructed over a period of several weeks by Fort Kent volunteers using 400-pound ice blocks harvested from Little Black Lake last month in time for the International Biathlon Union World Cup weekend.

Tim Desjardins of Desjardins Project Place, who helped build the structure, said it measures 28 feet by 70 feet, “with a small deck on the back for smokers.”

Each night of the biathlon the Chateau du Festival features music, entertainment and a bar. During the day it is open to the public looking for — ironically — a place to grab a warm drink.

On Friday, Heidi Carter and her troop of Fort Kent Girl Scouts were inside, bundled up, and selling hot chocolate and souvenirs.

“I’m just loving it,” Carter said. “My brother told me this week this is his proudest moment as a citizen of this town and I can see why — building this ice palace really shows off the spirit of Fort Kent.”

Near the back of the ice palace, Beau Michaud was exploring the icy ramparts and walls as only a 6-year-old can — by climbing up and over the walls.

“This is really fun and good,” was his assessment of the ice structure.

“We had gone to watch them harvest the ice,” his mother Cindy Michaud, said. “It’s really nice to see it all put together.”

One tough course

The Boston Marathon has its Heartbreak Hill and now the 10th Mountain Lodge has its Soderberg Summit.

The newest addition to the center’s racecourse, the 25 percent grade is putting athletes competing in this weekend’s World Cup to the test.

“When we hosted the World Cup in 2004 we got some feedback that the course profile did not offer enough challenges,” Max Cobb, president of the United States Biathlon Association, said Friday. “So in preparation for this World Cup we created a trail with a steeper grade.”

Soderberg Summit greets the biathletes soon after they leave the starting line and, Cobb said, it takes about three minutes for the top skiers to reach the top.

“It’s a long, sustained climb,” Cobb said. “Definitely one of the toughest on the World Cup circuit.”

Tough enough that 10th Mountain groomer Michael Paradis said he was asked to groom a trail bypassing the hill for the athletes to use on light training days.

“They need to be warmed up before they hit that hill,” Cobb said. “It really favors the athletes with high cardiovascular capacity.”

Nathaniel Herz is in Fort Kent covering the World Cup for FasterSkier.com and took time out during the week to get a first ski up the hill.

“It’s ridiculously hard,” Herz said. “I raced in school and I would have been really intimidated by that hill.”

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