Harbin Snow Festival: Castles and slides and all things ice

Visitors are thronging to China's northernmost province for annual icy celebration

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Elsa would be proud. The fairy-tale castles – carved completely from ice – at the Harbin International Ice and Snow Sculpture Festival look right out of the Frozen movie.

Elsewhere, icy sculptures – some a few storeys high – are built to resemble Chinese-style bridges and buildings, including one that takes after the Temple of Heaven in Beijing.

Harbin may be located hundreds of kilometres away from China's capital city – in the country's northernmost province Heilongjiang – but that has not stopped residents and visitors from thronging to its famed ice festival, which officially opened on Friday and will continue until the end of February.

This year, the ice park spans 810,000 square metres, with 250,000 cubic metres of sculptured ice. This is harvested from nearby Songhua River, frozen at this time of year. By day, children ride around in sledges and whizz down slides made of ice. By night, colourful lights transform the park into a veritable winter wonderland.

New this year is the Snowflake Ferris wheel, a ride that offers a panoramic view of the various ice castles and exhibits. Visitors can also lose themselves in snowy mazes or ice climbing, skating, skiing and biking.

The festival's marketing vice director, Sun Zemin, told Reuters the average number of people visiting the park daily has increased significantly to about 30,000 this year, with hotel rooms in the city booked out past Chinese New Year on February 10.

“In 2018, the average number of people attending the park per day was about 18,500. So overall the number has close to doubled,” he said.

The holiday season at large has proved fortuitous for Heilongjiang, with the city's culture and tourism department dubbing the 3-million-strong tourist boom an “ice and snow miracle”.

Enter the Southern Little Potatoes.

An endearing nickname coined by Harbin locals for visitors from China's warmer south, who visited the snowy city bundled up in layers and donning cute, furry-eared hats, the moniker began trending on social media, and might have something to do with Harbin's newfound post-pandemic popularity, according to the city's tourism bureau director Wang Hongxin.

Updated: January 07, 2024, 6:57 AM