Chill Out: Frozen Lounge In The Desert Will Be Made Of Ice

By Annika Cline
Published: Friday, August 12, 2016 - 5:45pm
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(Photo by Annika Cline - KJZZ)
Mark Armitage creates sculptures starting with 300-pound blocks of ice.

By now you’ve probably heard of OdySea Aquarium, the multi-million-gallon aquarium slated to open this year near North Scottsdale. Well they’re adding another attraction to the same complex that will use water in another form— frozen.

The idea is to make an ice lounge with games, decor and walls all made of ice. A local ice sculptor is chipping away at the project, block by block.

Mark Armitage has been making ice sculptures in the Valley for more than 10 years, “using chainsaws, chisels, routers, a lot of specialty bits,” he explained while working at his business, Armitage Ice.

It’s 23 degrees in his indoor freezer, a small shelter from the heat outside. Here he mostly carves pieces for corporate events; sculptures used for one night only.

“These will be liquor luges going to a bar in Scottsdale,” he explained.

Imagine alcohol sliding down a tiny ski slope before landing in a martini glass.

Armitage is working on something much bigger - a 3,500-square-foot lounge and play area called Polar Play, where visitors can chill out in a space made almost completely out of ice.

“You don’t typically think of ice being used for games,” he said.

Polar Play is essentially a giant freezer, which means the ice checkerboard or corn hole game won’t melt. Neither will the life-size polar bear or penguin sculptures.

“And then there will be a 12-foot bar that’s 20 blocks of ice,” Armitage added. 

That gives a whole new meaning to ordering a cocktail on the rocks.

The woman behind the concept doesn’t just want it to be seen as an ice bar. Judy Petersen-Fleming hopes families can enjoy the space too, and even learn from it.

“One thing that I’ve really wanted to do through my career is just educate people about polar environments, both the south and the north,” she said.

She comes from the aquarium industry, and she sees this as just an extension of that. There won’t be live animals living in Polar Play, but she’s devised a scavenger hunt for people to find facts about the poles.

“Penguins live in the south pole, polar bears live in the north pole. I mean, incredibly intelligent people are like, ‘What? I thought they lived together’,” Petersen-Fleming said.

There are still some unknowns with the project, though.

“Ice is fragile. It’s easy to break and they’re slippery, so I’m trying to figure out how that’s going to work,” Armitage said.

He doesn’t want to slip-up on safety, so the floors will be fall-resistant, and they’ll hand out winter clothing to visitors who might show up in shorts and flip flops.

The next consideration is this:

“Ice is more or less a living thing that changes with time so you have to always keep up with it,” Armitage said. “We will be in there every week, touching it up, making sure that everything stays the way it’s supposed to be.” 

“That is the challenge, to keep the ice fresh, but it’s also the opportunity,” said Petersen-Fleming.

The impermanence of ice means she gets to re-imagine the space in the future.

“Because it’s not like fixed furniture. So we can switch it out on different occasions and holidays,” she said.

She said the ice itself is cheap. The air conditioning bill probably won’t be. But Armitage has made a business out of ice in the desert for years, and said the hot location makes it even cooler.

“That in itself is part of the attraction. People want to see it,” Armitage said. “I’m hoping people still want to see it in January. But in the summertime, oh yeah, people will be very happy to be walking in there.”

They plan to open the doors next month, and until then, Armitage and his sculptors have their work cut out for them. Or rather, they’ll be cutting, chiseling and sawing 500 blocks of ice into something rarely experienced in the Valley— 23 degrees above zero. 

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