An Icy Abode

Marco Galvez



Summit County real estate agent explains how he crafted the perfect winter abode:


Between snowball fights, sledding or just romping around in the light, fluffy powder, there is something special about a day spent playing in the snow. One snow-day activity that stands out above the rest — and has no age limit — is constructing a handmade ice igloo or fort. Not only does the activity awaken the imagination, but it also gives a serene place to take shelter from the conditions on a cold, wintry day.

Summit County resident Ned Walley, of Nelson Walley Real Estate, knows a thing or two about building an igloo. Since 2012, Walley has built a sprawling igloo in his backyard each winter, with each version more grand than the last. Walley was first inspired to build an igloo in his backyard when he took a winter trip to Wisconsin and a powerful Midwest snowstorm left him with nothing to do but enjoy a day in the crystalline flakes. “We were visiting my husband’s family back in Wisconsin for Thanksgiving, and I think it was 2011,” Walley said. “It snowed there, and where they live there is really nothing to do. So his nieces and I made our first igloo. It was fun, and I figured if we can do it here in Wisconsin, at a much lower altitude, then we can probably build one in Summit County.”

The next winter, Walley constructed his first igloo in his backyard as he worked to figure out a proper methodology through trial-and-error experimentation. “I kind of just honed the method and figured it out as I went,” Walley said. “I looked at a couple websites, but otherwise just figured it out on my own. They have evolved over the years.” Walley has continued to build an igloo in his backyard for the past 11 years with a 12th edition planned for winter 2023-24. Over the better part of a decade, Walley has not only honed his craft, but has also learned how to improve the size and structure of his building projects.

Before starting a build, Walley first ensures that it is cold enough. He then uses large, plastic storage containers to freeze water into ice blocks. “The process that I use now is you get a bunch of plastic storage bins from Target and Walmart, fill them with water and leave them outside,” Walley said. “That takes a couple days to freeze. They don’t have to be totally solid, but they need to be two-thirds solid so you can get the walls of the ice block.” Walley estimates he has at least 30 water-filled bins spread out across his yard in the early part of the winter season, which he waits to freeze, typically three to five days. Once the ice is frozen the majority of the way, Walley begins the building process — repeating with additional water- filled bins as needed. With an assortment of ice blocks to work with, Walley will stack the blocks on top of one another, using a 50/50 mix of water and snow to act as a binding agent between ice bricks. He slowly builds the walls up, making sure each layer has properly settled and frozen, and eventually builds the walls inward to form the roof.

The process of building inward is where the construction process becomes the most dangerous, as the ice slabs often want to collapse in and ruin all the hard work and effort, said Walley, speaking from past experience. “Once you need to start angling the ice blocks in, you angle each one in a little bit more the higher up the row is,” Walley said. “You can only go two, maybe three rows, and then you have to wait a few days until it freezes. For me, it has been trial-and-error, and there have been plenty of collapses where I pushed it too far or I didn’t let things freeze.”

One thing that makes Walley’s igloo construction process easier is that the igloo is mainly water dependent and not snow dependent. Although snow is needed to solidify the igloo, the igloo’s walls are mainly made of ice coming from water taken from inside his home. Each build takes Walley around a month to complete, but it can vary depending on weather and the amount of time he has available each day to spend on the build. Walley’s 2022 igloo was his biggest and most elaborate to date. He dyed the ice blocks with food coloring and also incorporated seats and lighting inside and a bench on the exterior. The winter fortress provided the perfect place for guests to hangout, have cocktails and enjoy a Summit County winter.

“As the days get shorter in the winter, it is fun to look at it from the warmth of the house and see a big, lit-up thing in the yard,” Walley said. “Friends come over, we have cocktails and hangout in there. It is really a place to chill out with friends. I have often thought I have wanted to spend the night out there to see what it is like, but haven’t done that yet. I also used to think about Airbnb- ing it.”

Building an ice igloo is dangerous since heavy ice blocks pose a safety risk. Warm weather can also cause the igloo to become structurally unstable, requiring frequent and close inspection. Walley goes into the process with a good amount of determination and inspiration. He shares his experiences on the Nelson Walley Real Estate YouTube channel. Last year, Walley completed his igloo build around Christmas, and the igloo lasted until about mid-April before it started to fall apart. •


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