By Anne Morrissy | Photography by Holly Leitner
After a disappointing run of warm weather last winter that saw Ice Castles Lake Geneva open for just a handful of days, the massively popular winter tourist attraction will re-brand and update its concept for the 2024 season. Now known as Winter Realms, the experience will continue its partnership with Geneva National on Lake Como.
Ice Castles founder Brent Christensen says that the new concept will still include many of the traditional Ice Castles elements that visitors have loved in the past, including an ice castle structure, ice thrones and ice slides. Those elements will be open on a weather-dependent basis to ensure the safety of all guests. If it is too warm to safely use the ice structures, then that section of the experience will be unavailable that day. “We still are planning to build a fairly considerable portion of the feature in traditional ice castle construction,” Christensen explains. “That’s the most beautiful thing, and people love how natural it looks. Then we’ll lay out the design in such a way that if a portion of that is compromised by the weather, it can be bypassed.”
In addition to these traditional elements, Winter Realms will add features that do not rely on sub- freezing temperatures, to ensure that all guests can enjoy the experience regardless of weather. These elements include the Polar Pub, an ice bar that will offer concessions and refreshments, with a fire pit nearby for comfortable seating, as well as the Arctic Alcove, an enclosed VIP area where guests can rent their own space to enjoy with friends and family. Christensen says the Polar Pub will include several igloos created out of ice blocks and insulated with snow, and feature elaborate ice carvings created by two world-class ice carvers from Eastern Europe.
Another new element of the experience this year will be an illuminated light walk through a portion of the grounds of Geneva National. The light walk will incorporate freestanding elements as well as natural elements like trees and bushes to create an immersive outdoor experience for visitors. Sleigh or wagon rides will also be available as part of the Winter Realms experience, taking guests on a tour of a scenic, illuminated trail around the resort.
Christensen says this winter will mark the Ice Castles’ fifth year in Lake Geneva. The first year, the experience was constructed on Lake Geneva’s Riviera Beach. Since then, the event has partnered with Geneva National, increasing the amount of space available and allowing the company to add elements each year, a practice which has culminated in the re-branding of the experience as Winter Realms.
Four additional sites in Colorado, Minnesota, Utah and New Hampshire host the original Ice Castles concept, but the only other Winter Realms site is located in Lake George in upstate New York. Christensen says the company is excited to expand its offerings in the Geneva Lake area, creating a more weather-resistant experience for the many people clamoring to visit. “The thing that brought us to Lake Geneva originally was the proximity to Chicago, Milwaukee, Madison … it’s got a good population base within driving distance,” Christensen explains. “It was also just the vibe of the Lake Geneva area. It’s a very desirable area, people love going there. Last year the demand was high as ever.”
Winter Realms will open in January. Check icecastles.com for opening dates and ticket sales.