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The rainbow igloo: Welch resident freezes hundreds of ice blocks for one-of-a-kind creation

The Walkers’ igloo sits right in their front yard and is big enough to easily fit a few adults inside. Because it sits in shade most of the day, Lisa Walker is betting the igloo will last until June. Star Gazette photo by Katrina Styx1 / 7
Lisa Walker sits inside her rainbow igloo outside her home in Welch. She froze hundreds of colored bricks and packed them together with snow to make it. Star Gazette photo by Katrina Styx2 / 7
Star Gazette photo by Katrina Styx3 / 7
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There’s a unique little structure in the front yard of Chad and Lisa Walker’s home in Welch. It’s not technically an igloo, but that’s what Lisa Walker is calling it.

Made out of about 600 multi-colored ice bricks, the “rainbow igloo” was a sort of gift to her brother and his new husband, who got married here Dec. 27. Her brother’s new husband is from Panama, so he never grew up around the snow and ice that’s so prevalent in Minnesota. So Walker decided to build an igloo for them and make it rainbow colored.

It was a bit of a last-minute idea, however. Just six days before the newlyweds were to arrive at her home, Walker got to work freezing individual bricks of ice. She bought aluminum bread pans from the dollar store, filled them with colored water and set them out on her deck to freeze – dozens at a time.

“They wrapped all the way around the deck,” she said.

Others helped freeze bricks as well, producing a total of 650 bricks. Of those, Walker said there are at least 567 used on the igloo.

“This really is one of those projects where ‘it takes a village,’” she said. “Lots and lots of people helped, especially with freezing ice bricks. You could do it by yourself, but having many people involved and helping has been what’s made this such a special experience.”

The major help with the bricks came from Walker’s mother, Linda Schulenberg, and neighbor Ginny Kintzing Lynn. They had help from others, but the three of them were freezing bricks almost constantly for six days, Walker said. Bricks were being produced for nine days.

When it came time to start building, Walker had help from a number of family, friends and neighbors. Her husband, Chad, did much of the formal planning and worked out the dimensions, even creating a spreadsheet on the computer to show the dimensions. He also built a wooden guide for the builders to follow as they started laying the bricks in.

Building the structure meant placing the bricks and packing the snow around them to get them to stick together. Beth Anderson was the big help during this part of the project, Walker said.

“She was the person who stuck it out through all of the cold days, pulling up our sleeves, with wet hands in subzero temps for hours at a time,” Walker said.

It wasn’t exactly that simple, though. The biggest key, Walker said, was the snow. She now understands why the Eskimo people have so many words for snow, she added.

“We figured out the consistency of the snow,” she said.

It took a slushy consistency to make the best “snowcrete,” as she started calling it. The builders would get big bins full of snow and then added water to each little bit as they slapped it into place. With that serving as mortar, all they had to do was place a brick on and give it a few good pounds to make sure it was solidly set.

In order to help keep it stable, an ice blower who chipped in on the project and suggested taking a blow torch to the igloo. Although it might seem counterintuitive to use a hot flame on ice, the method caused the outer layer to melt just enough and fuse together.

“It’s incredibly stable,” Walker said.

Walker and all her helpers weren’t able to complete the igloo before her brother’s wedding, but it was close. The walls had been built up to about chest height and they were starting to curve in to form the dome roof.

“I had no idea how many hours this would take,” she said.

It took six work days — 34.5 building hours — to put the igloo together.

When her brother and his new husband arrived, Walker ran down the road to stop them before they pulled into her driveway so she could be there when they first saw the igloo. It was nighttime, and the Walkers had set up a light inside the structure to show off its colors even in the darkness.

“The looks on their faces – they were so surprised,” Walker said.

After that, the igloo sat unfinished in her yard for some time. Then the weather started warming up a bit, causing Walker to renew her construction efforts. She finally finished it Feb. 15.

Now that it’s finished, those involved have started taking bets on how long it will last. Walker’s bet is June, she said. Her property sits in a mostly shaded area, and her driveway is routinely the last to thaw out in the spring in her neighborhood. Plus, it’s often June before the last snow melts off the Welch Ski Village hills as well.

Until it melts, the rainbow igloo will still get some use. Walker said she’s looking forward to a night when it’s warm enough for her to spend the night in it. It’s also a favorite feature for some of her clients. Walker operates a Feldenkrais practice and a big part of it is working with children who have cerebral palsy and similar neurological disorders, she said. Since her work helps them learn to walk, sit and crawl, going into the igloo has been a perfect opportunity for some of the children to work on developing their movement skills.

“It’s been so fun to see their faces light up when I ask them if they want to go inside the igloo,” Walker said.