Cal Gonzales sculpts the lion and crown at Northstar-at-Tahoe | SierraSun.com

Cal Gonzales sculpts the lion and crown at Northstar-at-Tahoe

Wendy Lautnerarts andamp; entertainment editor

Wendy Lautner, Tahoe World Cal Gonzales carves the lion and crown symbol of The Ritz-Carlton Club into a 300-pound block of dense ice. Gonzales manufactures the ice himself in a special freezer equipped with vacuums to pull any air bubbles out of the water as it freezes. This keeps the ice from melting from the inside out.

The challenges for an ice sculptor never melt away. Saturday, crowds of skiers and village-goers walked past sculptor Cal Gonzales hard at work outside the Lake Tahoe Membership Gallery at The Ritz-Carlton Club in the Village at Northstar. Gonzales charge: Chisel a 300-pound block of dense ice into the lion and crown symbol of The Ritz-Carlton Club. It was a design Gonzales said hed never carved, but by the lines carved in the ice youd have thought this couldve been his day job. Carving ice takes many years to learn because there are so many designs, Gonzales says casually between pounding a Swiss chisel with a wooden mallet and firing up his 16-inch Stihl chainsaw. Gonzales learned the ins and outs of ice sculpting at the Peppermill, where he worked as a sous chef. They just said I had to start making them and I did, he said. I watched the other guys and learned from them. The five-year apprenticeship culminated with a spot on the ice team at a nationally recognized culinary institute in Southern California. Since then, Gonzales keeps busy with approximately two dozen special assignments per month plus a handful of competitions. A quick look through his portfolio reveals pictures of everything from high-end liquor luges, to the ever-popular Royal Swan, company logos, giant crystal-clear vases filled with flowers and everything in between. Once, as a wedding present for a clients daughter, Gonzales carved a sailboat on top of a heart for a sculpture at a wedding reception held at Garwoods. The father-of-the-bride teased the newlyweds by insisting their wedding present was the ice sculpture of a sailboat, but a closer look revealed the real wedding present (a sailboat docked outside the restaurant) through the heart of the sculpture. Gonzales lists his most impressive piece as a giant locomotive packed with smoking dry ice in the smokestacks that he and another sculpter created at the governors mansion in Nevada. They had to use forklifts to put it together. His hottest project ever was a Royal Swan that he carved in exactly 42 minutes in temperatures over 100 degrees at the Hilton in Reno as part of their Hot and Firey Fourth of July celebration. It lasted for a total of four hours before becoming a puddle. The sculptures actually get more character as they melt, Gonzales said, When you carve the lines right, the water will continue to sculpt the piece for you. Gonzales said his latest creation outside The Ritz-Carlton Club in the Village at Northstar will most likely last about seven days.