12 - years of Crystal Cabin Fever
12 - days it will be open
50 - workers put it together
50 - foot ice slide
100 - tons of ice
300 - blocks of ice

LAKEVILLE - A team of artists are in the midst of constructing a frozen wonderland in Lakeville. In a matter of 10 days, the ice architects will craft an array of varying sized ice sculptures designed for “Under the Big Top” for the 12th annual Crystal Cabin Fever at Sculpted Ice Works. 

After completing a similar attraction at Skylands Stadium in New Jersey, visionary and owner Mark Crouthamel called this year “unique” because the crew has never constructed the attraction in such a short period of time. In years past, work started in January, but because of previous weather setbacks Crouthamel considered the forecast and how the frozen masterpieces can keep in the building that houses them. Based in an old lumberyard, he said the forecast in the building is supposed to be below freezing until opening day, so it will be a “great ice year.”

Just a few days into construction, Crouthamel said the crew was doing well, having used 300 blocks of the 100 tons that’ll be used. Despite making their own ice, more was needed and so, two tractor-trailers delivered a shipment from Ohio a few days later.


Under the Big Top, Crouthamel called a “fun theme” since it is a circus that “just means fun” as there will be a fun house like what can be found at a fair, games, music and more. As well, the traditional giant ice slide, standing 30 feet high and 50 feet long will be a part of the attraction yet again.               

When considering a theme, Crouthamel said the ideas are endless, but he must consider what children and adults will enjoy and so, he believes the life size carousel with frozen horses surrounding it, along with a fortuneteller with taro cards and a crystal ball crafted from ice will excite all. There are other elements that include a baby elephant that people can sit on, or an animal train carrying a giraffe and a lion with a spot for anyone who wants to join the animals for a photo op also a part of the pieces. There will be three carnival games crafted of ice, where participants can win prizes by tossing a ring around a longhorn or beanbags for a gopher game, or trying to make bottles stand. In the end, Crouthamel said everything will “look phenomenal.”  

Chef by trade

A chef by trade, Crouthamel has been carving his art for more than 25 years. Considering the wedding and banquet pieces that he started with years ago, to what he does for the big event every year, Crouthamel laughed and said he “absolutely” didn’t imagine his ice sculptures becoming what they are today. Crystal Cabin Fever alone has grown immensely, and become a “different scope” than what it started as more than 10 years ago. While he still does “functional pieces” for weddings and banquets, this time of year consists of large “interactive” pieces.  

Truly a team effort, nearly 50 people will take part in making the attraction happen, including some seasonable staff who, during the warmer months may be found working at area marinas or perhaps doing landscaping construction. 

Three days into construction, James Neary was stacking 100-pound blocks of ice with Jeremy Fisher. Neary joined the team last year, and since then he has been learning how to carve by his mentor who is also his father TJ Neary. James said being a part of the construction is “a cool experience” as he sees the frozen pieces take shape and the theme come together.

Lots of practice

Since he is just learning the craft, James said carving “takes a lot of practice” as he has to learn how to use the saw and hold it correctly when carving. Carving though, he likes because it is “different” and “out of the ordinary.”

After stacking the blocks on one another and stepping back, seeing the theme come together, that Fisher called “interesting.” Teamwork is essential, since moving the pieces is not an easy task. This is Fisher’s first Crystal Cabin Fever and seeing it come together, has been “pretty neat so far” because its a “carnival built out of ice” he said.  

For more than 20 years, TJ Neary, who is James’s father has been carving ice. Also a chef by trade, TJ started his trip when he was asked to carve a heart out of ice while working at a catering hall. Despite having no experience carving, TJ went on to teach himself the trade. But, he said his ability to draw helps his carving greatly. 

Carving TJ enjoys because “you get to make art” that happens to be made of ice he said. Ice, is a good “medium” for carving, as he also likes to build things. Looking at some of the pieces already crafted, he called the team’s work “amazing.”

Children excited

For TJ, most of the pieces he carves are freehand. He was tasked with carving a big horned sheep and so, he started by drawing it on some graph paper and then went to work carving. When carving, TJ said he especially likes the excitement children tend to show. 

TJ expressed his appreciation to Crouthamel for allowing him to take part in the construction because of how he loves carving so much, and while he carves for weddings, they aren’t comparable to carving a hen and rooster in a day for Crystal Cabin Fever. 

Kristen Johnson, the business manager said this year will be “really cool” because the various attractions are “pretty awesome.” But, she believes the theme in itself will attract people, as there will also be “cool surprises” as well as the traditional circus components. In addition to the pieces on display, there will be live ice carving along with tours of the museum and factory. 

For Crouthamel, despite all of the work, his favorite part of Crystal Cabin Fever is seeing the joy many have, as they are amazed at the frozen ice masterpieces.  

Under the Big Top will run February 9 – 25 at Sculpted Ice Works on Route 590 (311 Purdytown Turnpike) in Lakeville. For more information call 570-226-6246 or visit http://www.sculptediceworks.com/crystal-cabin-fever.html.

[Note: Ice carving competitions are planned Feb. 11 and Feb. 24, from 12 to 4 p.m.]