PANORAMA - Embracing the ice at the Harbin Ice and Snow World

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A life-sized palace sculpted from ice is lit with a wide range of neon lights in Harbin, China.

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Like the ice, sculptural sweets entice visitors in the frigid weather.

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A different view of ice sculptures at the Ice and Snow World in Harbin, China.

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Covered in neon, an ice sculpture gate leads visitors into the grounds.

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A sign greets visitors to the Ice and Snow World in Harbin, China.

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Trees coated in colorful lights with ice-block bases surround a life-sized ice palace lit with a wide range of neon lights at the Harbin Ice and Snow World event in Harbin, China.

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Bundled up to stay warm, people dot the colorful and expansive grounds of the Harbin Ice and Snow World display on a zero-degree night.

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People climb steps of ice at the Harbin Ice and Snow World in Harbin, China.

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A snow sculpture is shown at the Harbin Ice and Snow World event in Harbin, China.

Talk about a frosty photo op.

During a recent business trip, Walla Walla resident Dan Minteer had a chance to tour one of the world's premier snow and ice festivals. A below-zero walk in a winter wonderland.

The event was the 13th Harbin Ice and Snow World in the city of the same name. Located in northeast China under the direct influence of the winter wind from Siberia, the Harbinites have lots of raw material to play with, as Minteer's photos show.

But getting to the festival was a story in itself, Minteer said.

Despite being so busy with commuting and working "there was hardly any time left to eat dinner each night," Minteer and coworker Nathan Lee from Key Technology managed to to visit the show.

"But it wasn't as easy as merely buying tickets and walking in the gate," he said.

To begin with, the weather was minus 18 degrees Celsius (zero degrees Fahrenheit) and windy. The festival was too far from their hotel to walk, so they took a cab. The driver spoke no English "nor did the woman who got in the taxi with us at our hotel, supposedly to buy us tickets to the ice show."

"We trustingly each gave her 300 RMB (about 48 bucks) for tickets and watched her ditch us not once, but twice before she actually got us inside the grounds of the ice show and then we never saw her again," Minteer said. "We were relieved to find our taxi still waiting for us an hour and a half later when we'd had enough of the frigid cold."

But the trip was well worth leaving their comfort zone, Minteer said.

"While we walked about the enormous grounds, we were awestruck by the sheer size, number and variety of the ice sculptures, snow sculptures and full-scale buildings, modeled using the architecture from numerous regions, made entirely of ice blocks that were fused together like brick and mortar. Making it even more magnificent was the colored lighting within the ice of every part of every building."

"And this night there was a near full moon in the black sky to frame the scene. This was a world-class event - something you might see once in a lifetime," he said. "Glad I was lucky enough to be there when it was going on. And yes, I took lots of pictures, even though my fingers were so cold I could barely feel the camera."

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