15 Mar 21
Demand the Safety to Do Great Things: Minnesota’s Winter Warriors
Battling Extreme Winter Cold to build the World’s Largest Ice Carousel
In February of 2021, North America found itself in the midst of a brutally long and bitter Polar Vortex. The unforgiving winter storm obliterated Texas’ power supply and plummeted temperatures across the central United States roughly 50 degrees below average. Needless to say, Mother Nature was not messing around. And while most of the country took refuge, Chuck Zwilling and his family took to the ice in Central Minnesota—enduring -34 degree temperatures in pursuit of a 12-acre, world record largest ice carousel.
Hold up… world record ice what? For those unfamiliar, an ice carousel is what results when you strategically carve a floating circular ice sheet cut so that it continually spins amidst a larger sheet of ice. A Finnish inventor is often credited with popularizing the phenomenon back in 2017 as a way to share Scandinavia’s passion for winter with the world. Hey man, whatever floats your boat—er, ice carousel.
To even begin to understand why anyone would even consider braving such dangerous conditions to construct one of these bad boys, one needs to understand the Zwillings—or at least try to. Raised in Sauk Rapids where their father Sunny owned a sawmill, Chuck and his eleven (that’s right, eleven) siblings are as comfortable wielding chainsaws as most folks are riding a bike. Pair that machinery experience with an innate love of a challenge and you’ve got a recipe for quite the family tradition.
“It’s just a lot of determination,” Becca, Chuck’s daughter, says of her father and his siblings. “If you give them a project, they’re going to figure out a way to do it. It might take awhile to figure out how, but they do it.”
What started with a 54-foot ice carousel at the family Christmas gathering has become the Sunny Zwilling Memorial Ice Carousel Extravaganza, a winter festival featuring not only the massive carousel but all sorts of fun winter activities, including log rolling, dog sledding and spearfishing. And better yet, it’s all for a good cause. After generating so much buzz with their first 110-meter world record in 2018, the Zwilling family established the Pay It Forward Foundation to benefit kids in need.
But the celebrations can wait until tomorrow. Today, the Zwilling family is all business. They’ve got 50 million pounds and 250-meters of ice to cut, after all. Donned top to bottom in extreme cold weather work gear, the team fires up two Zwilling-engineered “chainsaw chariots” (chainsaws rigged to a push mower) and gets to ice carving.
Helmed by their expert operators, Mike and Beau, the chainsaw chariots lead the way—grinding through more than 20 inches of frozen solid water. Following close behind is a crew of 5 pushers, whose task for the day is to shove those 245,000 pounds of ice beneath the surface and out of the way. And because the cold air isn’t debilitating enough, with every submergence comes a wave of frigid water that splashes the crew up to their knees.
With temperatures nearly 60 degrees below freezing, the Zwillings have to move quick to prevent a near immediate refreeze. And move quick they do, completing the entire half-mile loop in under 2 hours without taking a single break (it usually takes them double that).
When all is said and done, Chuck stands proudly beside the 250-meter behemoth—bibs and jacket covered in ice crystals, cheeks rosy from the wind and the work. “Sisu. That’s Finnish slang for tenacious, crazy, unstoppable… don’t let anything get in your way,” beams Chuck. “It might be kind of crazy but people say ‘why’ and I say, ‘why not?’”