Metro-East Living

Ice carving comes to the St. Louis Zoo for their winter festival

Eric Snider, of Chip Off The Block Ice Carvings in Staunton, carves a prancing zebra from a block of ice during the St. Louis Zoo Wild Lights, which runs through Dec. 30. It took him about an hour to create the ice sculpture.
Eric Snider, of Chip Off The Block Ice Carvings in Staunton, carves a prancing zebra from a block of ice during the St. Louis Zoo Wild Lights, which runs through Dec. 30. It took him about an hour to create the ice sculpture. jhodges@bnd.com

Most people try to stay out of the cold when winter comes, but Eric Snider makes his living in it year-round.

Last weekend, he could be found at the St. Louis Zoo, carving a prancing zebra from a 260-pound block of ice — in chilly weather — as part of the Wild Lights Festival.

Eric and his wife Angie own and operate Chip Off The Block Ice Carvings in Staunton. He’s the sole ice sculptor in the business, but their two sons, Travis, 13, and Jordan, 10, have learned the craft and can’t wait for the day when they can carve the sculptures on their own.

Eric, who dressed for the icy occasion in his all-weather suit, was working hard at the zoo on a Sunday evening as a drizzly rain fell. A few hardy visitors stopped to watch, including couples who were on dates, families with small children and even some of the zoo staff.

You can see him at work from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. every Friday, Saturday and Sunday (except Dec. 9), through Dec. 30. Although it doesn’t take Eric long to complete the carving — about an hour, it stays on display until the end of the night. Visit stlzoo.org for ticket prices and more information.

The uncut block of ice he worked on stood 3 1/2 feet tall, 20 inches wide and was 10 inches thick. It got to the zoo via unrefrigerated truck; a solid block of ice takes up to 24 hours to melt, so there’s no need for a rush delivery.

A specialized machine at the Snider’s studio in Staunton makes the ice crystal-clear.

Eric starts the carving process with a cardboard cut-out, in this case an image of a zebra just for the zoo. It is placed on the block of ice and then traced with a scalpel. Almost any shape can be made into an ice sculpture — as long as a stencil can be created for the outline.

He then wields a chainsaw, cutting away large chunks of ice to get as close to the zebra outline as possible. Die grinders, wood chisels and a variety of handsaws complete the detail work, like the zebra’s stripes.

The final touch is a blow torch to melt away any accidental nicks or cuts. The process makes the ice look clear and bright.

When asked what was the most difficult work he’d done, Eric said, “I recently did a scuba scene that was pretty difficult. It had a diver with a snorkel, fish and other sea life. It took a while to get all the detailing done, but it turned out pretty great.”

A finished ice sculpture can take from 8-10 hours to melt, depending on the final weight. The sculptures are wrapped in a cardboard cover, wheeled to it’s display station using a dolly and then placed on a light box stand or table — equipped with a drain that allows the water to run into a bucket under the table.

Chip Off The Block Ice Carvings does a wide variety of work, from wedding receptions and birthdays to corporate functions and holiday parties. For more information, go to chipofftheblockicecarvings.com, or call 618-635-4747.

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