From casino buffets to global competitions, Lake Tahoe ice sculptor carries on tradition
Imagine spending days laboring on an intricate sculpture only to watch it slowly disappear into the ground, leaving only memories and pictures behind.
Ice carver Edwin Winslow surely understands the concept of impermanence better than most.
“I love having my hands on the ice and making something that’s worthy and here for one moment and gone with the next,” Winslow told Tahoe Magazine. “Sometimes it can last three hours. Sometimes it can last two months, depending on where I carved it and how big it is.”
Over the last 30 years, the South Lake Tahoe resident has carved thousands of ice sculptures, ranging from cocktail bars and pirate ships displaying shrimp cocktail, to branded ice luges and larger-than-life animals. At his peak, Winslow was carving nearly 350 sculptures a year.
He learned his craft while working as a young chef at Del Webb’s High Sierra in Stateline (now Hard Rock Hotel and Casino Lake Tahoe).
“I was a garde manger chef at the time, which entailed all of the fruit carvings, the nice cheese boards and ice carving as well,” explained Winslow. “The chef that I worked with was a Swiss chef who was known for ice carving. He passed it onto the chefs he worked with.”
At the time, Winslow was carving mostly buffets out of ice for seafood or brunch, but when he moved to Harrah’s Lake Tahoe — where he worked for over 20 years — the budding sculptor started entering competitions.
In the relatively small community of ice sculptors, Winslow quickly rose to the top, traveling to Asia, Europe, Canada and across the United States for competitions.
In Lubeck, Germany, he and a team of other California carvers crafted a 17-foot-tall elephant and grand piano. While some carvings are centered around a competitor’s theme, that doesn’t mean there isn’t meaning or metaphor behind the art.
In 2008, Winslow traveled to Harbin, China, with fellow chef and carver Mark Davis. A decade later, the duo opened Tahoe Pourhouse in South Lake Tahoe, an eatery with a self-pour wine wall, in May 2018.
The duo constructed an octopus with pipe-like arms protecting an “Earth egg” — a representation of the pressure oil conglomerates put on the planet — earning the sculptors the “Special Award.”
A year later, Winslow and three teammates won second place in the realistic category at the World Ice Art Championships in Fairbanks, Alaska, for their 28-foot sculpture called “Swimming Lessons.” The piece, which took five days to complete, featured a gigantic sea turtle surrounded by smaller turtles and bubbles.
“That sculpture was 10 blocks of ice that were cut up into different pieces and welded together,” said Winslow. “We use everything from chainsaws to potato peelers. Even flamethrowers. We use it all. Whatever it is going to take to get the final glossy product.”
Back in Lake Tahoe, Winslow’s carvings can be found at casinos, restaurants, weddings and other special events. He’s created frozen fruit-filled sangria dispensers, welcomed Google employees with a branded ice luge, carved a gigantic Jagermeister bottle, and brought to life large ice oysters to hold the real mollusks on the half-shell.
Though Winslow has scaled back his ice carving, he continues to provide sculptures for those that have supported him for decades. He’s also passed the craft on to the next generation through mentoring projects with Lake Tahoe Community College and South Tahoe High School.
“Since I’ve been here, snow and ice have been a very big part of my life, and I’ve just taken it to the next level,” said Winslow. “It’s what I love to do.”
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