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Absolute Zero Ice Design brings ice carving talents to Big Sky Winter Fest

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Corey Gransbery gives an ice carving demonstration at the Butte Christmas Stroll. PHOTO BY SAMUEL GONZALES.

Q&A with Corey Gransbery

By Tucker Harris EBS STAFF

BUTTE – Corey Gransbery began his ice carving career 13 years ago in his hometown of Butte at the local Ice Carving Contest with a one-inch chisel from the hardware store and the process of trial and error. Now, he and his wife, Lisa, travel to give ice carving demonstrations and deliver beautiful sculptures throughout Montana for events through their company Absolute Zero Ice Design.

An artist in many respects, Gransbery works full-time as a graphic designer and video editor, which he attributes much of his ice-carving success to. He and Lisa enjoy teaching carving demonstrations and showing people that they could be surprised by what they can do with a 300-pound block of ice—you don’t have to be a professional sculptor to create something beautiful, he says.

The Gransberys will be joining Outlaw Partners, publisher of Explore Big Sky, at the 2022 inaugural Winter Fest for a free ice carving demonstration outside of the Wilson Hotel in Town Center Plaza on Friday, Feb. 4 at 4 p.m. There, they will demonstrate their techniques and answer questions from passersby.

On Saturday, Feb. 5, the two professional ice sculptors will spend the day judging the Winter Fest Ice Carving competition, where four carvers will show off their talents to Big Sky residents and visitors alike.

EBS spoke to Corey Gransbery before the event to learn more about his ice carving background and the work that goes into each of their pieces.

Some answers below have been edited for brevity. 

Explore Big Sky: How did you first get into ice carving?

Corey Gransbery: I’m into art, I love…and work in different types of medias so it was just one more thing to try. I really fell in love with it because you’re able to complete a sculpture in like six hours with a hand tool. You actually sculpt something out of a block and get a result a lot quicker than you would, say, with wood or marble or something like that.

EBS: What is the process and tools needed for ice carving?

C.G.: You could start with a one-inch chisel from a hardware store. My process now and the tools I use now though, I’ve used a lot of power tools over the years. After winning a couple of those contests, and people would ask me to do a [sculpture for a] wedding, I’d invest that money into a power tool—whether it was an electric chainsaw, or a die grinder or a new bit for a die grinder—that would speed up the process, help me be more efficient.

So my process: You start with the block of ice produced by Andy Nye and The Ice House which has locations in both Bozeman and Twin Bridges. The average carving block is 40 inches by 20 inches and then about 8-10 inches deep. So I usually come up with a design on the computer that I’m going to do or talk to a client, see what they want… get approval on the design, and then I start laying it out.

I really like to utilize all the ice I can out of a block and try to figure out ‘okay, if we take this piece out, it can go here to really make the designs that I have come up with happen.’

I start out with a layout and then I can either print it out onto a paper and then spray the paper with water laid on the block and it freezes to it. And then I go around all the lines and kind of rough edge in the design, and then start taking away the negative space or blocking it out. I also have an alcohol marker that can draw right on the ice. Sometimes I lay it out that way as well. Having a graphic design background helps… It has really gone hand-in-hand and made things a lot easier.

Once it’s all done, I kind of clean it up, get all the snow—a lot of the tools will create a lot of snow. And then you kind of hit it with a blowtorch, and it really clears out the ice…and see how it looks. I try not to nitpick too much. Sometimes, I get so into the art that I am trying to make it perfect, but you know, it’s really so fragile that it’s never going to be perfect. You learn over time that it’s just one of those things you have to think on the fly and adapt and overcome.

EBS: What is the greatest challenge with ice carving?

C.G.: For me the greatest challenge with ice carving is the delivery. You finally finish a piece and it looks great but now you have to move it to a location. Anything can happen in transport if you’re not careful so that is really stressful. During a demo the greatest challenge is probably the weather. Being able to freeze multiple blocks together requires the right temperature. There are several techniques we use to counteract the day being warmer than expected.

EBS: What are you most looking forward to at the Winter Fest event?

C.G.: We are scheduled to carve an ice “Freeze Frame” selfie station in advance.  We’ll set that up first thing when we get there so that people who are walking around can already start to enjoy it.

We are really looking forward to doing the demo, because…we are going bigger than they wanted… When I get an artistic idea, I’m just gonna do that and I want to try to impress too right… So I’m super excited. We are going to do two fish swimming around…But it’s gonna be out of five blocks of ice. So yeah, like 1500 pounds of ice.

We have four people locked in to carve that have done stuff in Butte contests and Bozeman contests, and they’re [going] to do really well. So I’m excited to see what they complete [on Saturday].

And then the ice bar is going to be a fun one too because we’re going to be doing it outside there in that same area. We are excited to see people utilize it and have fun with the built in drink luges. I know 406 Agave is sponsoring it and their logo works perfect for the way we do logos in ice. So I’m stoked to see how that comes out.

Corey and his wife, Lisa, pose next to a picture frame ice sculpture they carved in Missoula. PHOTO COURTESY OF COREY GRANSBERY. 

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