Surviving Below Freezing

Story and Photo by Emily Liu

Every winter, artisans in the northeastern Chinese city of Harbin to carve ice sculptures that are displayed from January to March. Ranging from ice fortresses to mazes, the sculptures make Elsa’s ice castle pale in comparison. Their charm comes after sunset, when each carving illuminates the night in a cascade of colors.

Before you pack your bags and camera to check out the biggest ice sculpture festival in the world, I must warn you that Harbin isn’t nicknamed the Ice City without cause. Its winters are brutal. The average daily temperature is -20°F, the river is a frozen mass that you can cross on foot, and no matter how many layers you wear, you will never be warm. After your visit, you’ll bless New York for its winters.

So, fellow traveler, if you’re still interested in seeing the Snow and Ice Festival, allow me to impart these words of wisdom.


  • The parts of your body that will get the coldest will be your hands and feet. Layer up with fuzzy socks, warm boots, and gloves that actually protect you from the cold. Do not wear leather.
  • Heating packs are your best friends. Stick them in your shoes, gloves, and pants to retain some warmth.
  • Wear a face mask if you don’t want to end up with frozen cheeks, windburn, and an ugly rash. Scarves also work as long as they cover your face.
  • Bring portable chargers – below-freezing temperatures are not friendly with technology. When I was at the festival, I had to refrain from checking my phone – every time I did, my battery would lose 20 percent.
  • Keep your camera battery warm and bring spares. Like your cell phone, your battery will die quickly, even if you charged it the day before.
  • Reserve a cab through a cab or travel agency. If you do not speak Chinese, ask your hotel’s reception to do it for you. Cabs are extremely difficult to hail at the festival, and you do not want to spend another hour in the cold trying to find one.
  • Take advantage of the warming centers. The festival has small buildings that provide heat and food. Stay out in the elements for no longer than 20 minutes at a time, and then recuperate indoors. Repeat until you’ve had your fill of the festival.

This story appeared in the Spring 2015 issue of Baedeker.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: