SYRACUSE, N.Y. - For three straight days, Stanley Kolonko will forsake the comforts of his job as a clubhouse chef to spend 14-hour shifts, toiling in numbing subzero temperatures, chipping and carving a block of ice into a piece of art.
For the 34-year-old Kolonko, competing in the 2005 World Ice Art Championships in Fairbanks, Alaska, is an accomplishment to boast about - win or lose.
"They had 50 spots. I think I got No. 50," Kolonko said.
"Something like this, you don't do for the prize money. You do it to learn more. You do it for pride. There's a feeling of fulfillment when you create a piece you're proud of," said Kolonko, who acknowledged that being a world champion ice carver would be good, too, for his business at The Highland Park Golf Club.
Kolonko will join more than 175 artists from around the world in Fairbanks. The competition begins March 2. Kolonko will compete in the abstract division of the single-block category, using a three-ton cube measuring 8-feet by 5-feet by 3-feet-thick. There is a multiple-block category where four-member teams each use 22 tons of ice.
The Fairbanks event features the world's pre-eminent ice carvers. Klaus Ebeling, an Olympic Cultural Arts Festival ice carving champion from Adams, N.Y., who is known as "the Grandfather of Snow Sculpting," twice finished third in Fairbanks.
"If you are a winner here, you are the best," said Ebeling, a retired college arts professor who is competing in both categories again this year.
The competition at major events is certainly getting keener, said Alice Connelly, executive director of the National Ice Carving Association, an Oak Brook, Ill.-based organization with 500 members. NICA sponsors its own national championship each February. There are nearly 50 ice carving competitions now held in the United States and Canada, plus another nearly two dozen in Europe and Japan.
"We are finding more people carving ice for a living on a full-time basis. That has made it harder for the amateurs but we have seen the quality improve a hundred times over as a result," she said.
"Today's artists are better prepared. They have more tools to pick and choose from. They take their art more seriously than artists did 15, 20 years ago."
Kolonko did not begin ice carving competitively until 1996. A graduate of the Culinary Institute of America, Kolonko's limited experience at ice carving was for table centerpieces.
"I really wasn't that good at it," said Kolonko, who is married and has a 5-year-old son.
At least, at first.
But he has pursued his art in earnest, and become a budding talent. He has never won, but a fifth-place finish this year in the pairs competition at the 18th International Ice Carving Championships in Ottawa helped him qualify for Fairbanks.
His ice-sculpting partner, Tom Bagdovitz, could not make the trip to Alaska because of his job, which means Kolonko will find a substitute partner to help him with the ice - but not the carving.
For Fairbanks, Kolonko will create an abstract piece titled "Celestial Aquarius," which features a mermaid enclosed inside a sphere wrapped with multiple elliptical lines, much like a ball of yarn. Kolonko said it is the most difficult piece he has tried.
Kolonko doesn't mind the frigid cold, but keeping his hands warm is always a concern. He will take nine pairs of gloves. They tend to get soaked with sweat and melted ice water. His tools - which have cost him thousands of dollars - include chisels, chain saws, die grinders and an array of custom-designed instruments.
It will be his second appearance in Fairbanks. He competed with Bagdovitz in 2003. The pair also joined two other carvers from Russia and Poland in the multiple-block competition - but that's something Kolonko would rather forget.
His team's entry, a ship with a 23-foot high sail, had to be disqualified two hours before the judging started. The men accidentally smashed part of the sculpture taking down the scaffolding they had worked on. They had spent a week of 12- to 16-hour days finishing the piece.
He knows any fame may be fleeting - much like his art.
"You know it will melt. You just have to accept that it's a temporal art. That's why you take so many photos," he said.
On the Net:
National Ice Carving Association: www.nica.org
World Ice Art Championships: www.icealaska.com