Skating without ice

Residents braced the cold to enjoy Chestnut Hill’s annual ice festival, which took place on an artificial skate rink along Germantown Avenue.

A child skates on the iceless ice rink on Evergreen Avenue at Chestnut Hill on Ice on Jan. 30. | ALLIE IPPOLITO / THE TEMPLE NEWS

On Saturday, Chestnut Hill held their third annual Chestnut Hill on Ice festival along Germantown Avenue between Rex and Willow Grove avenues. Residents enjoyed live ice sculpting, wandered through the yurt village and skated on an iceless ice skating rink, which was made out of a plastic-like material. Residents also strolled down the avenue past many small businesses, like restaurants and gift shops.

Although this year’s event required masks and other COVID-19 protocols, continuing the event was important to Phil Dawson, executive director of the Chestnut Hill Business District.

Dawson said the event was a way to bring people to Germantown Avenue to support small businesses, which is more important than ever because of the financial toll of the pandemic. 

“As long as we could do the event safely and comply with all the restrictions this year, we should do it,” Dawson said. 

Dawson felt people wanted to get out of their houses, he said.

“They’ve got cabin fever, and if we bring some compelling attractions, they’ll come to Chestnut Hill for a day with their families, support our businesses, support our restaurants and get to know the community,” Dawson said. 

For some attendees, Chestnut Hill on Ice was a way to remember the past. Lil Swanson, a 68-year-old retired journalist who lives in Elkins Park, said the event reminded her of the ice festivals that were held in her hometown of Plymouth, Michigan, every year.

The ice sculptures, created by Peter Slavin, owner of Ice Sculpture Philly, were seen up and down the avenue. At the yurt village, Slavin held a live ice sculpting demonstration where he and his assistant, Gabriella Santoro, sculpted butterfly wings and an ice throne in front of a crowd of people. 

“It was kind of a little bit nostalgic, too, because we were going to a place that sort of reminded us of when we lived in Michigan,” Swanson said.

The event ended with an ice bonfire created by Slavin and Santoro, which was an 8-foot-tall ice tower filled with wood and gasoline that was set on fire in front of the crowd. 

“I love to share my art with people in hopes that I can inspire them to find their inner artists,” Slavin said. “Because after all, I’m using water.”

Slavin, a resident of Mt. Airy, has been ice sculpting for more than 30 years. Chestnut Hill on Ice was his first big event since last year because of the toll the COVID-19 pandemic has taken on his business. 

“There’s no events, nothing, so we’re down 80 percent,” Slavin said. “We just want to weather through this and stay positive.”

Despite a lack of business in the past year, Slavin is hopeful for the months to come. He looks forward to sharing his art and live sculpting in front of a crowd to spark inspiration. 

“What I hope that people get out of my art is inspiration and an opportunity for them to escape from what they’ve been dealing with every day,” Slavin said. “Especially during the pandemic, it’s great for people to be able to see art happen before their eyes.”

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