Bethel WinterFest snow volcano delights crowd

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BETHEL — Krakatoa it wasn’t, but WinterFest’s engineered volcano did induce eruptions of delight from throngs of people of all ages ringing its perimeter.

The event’s centerpiece spectacle was inspired by the volcanic splendors of Iceland and created by local snow engineer Jim Sysko.

Unlike Old Faithful, the Yellowstone National Park geyser that erupts pretty much on time, WinterFest’s debut snow volcano took a while to get going.

“We weren’t getting enough draft from the bottom, because we packed it too tight. The logs were bound too tight,” Winterfest volunteer Jim Bennett said.

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He said the flared end of the logs at the summit should have been on the bottom.

Forty-foot softwood logs from long-dead trees on Sysko’s property were collected by local contractor Rick Savage and taken to the empty lot near the Casablanca Cinema building. That’s where Sysko’s previous snow people, ice towers and a giant snow maze were built for previous WinterFest events.

The logs were bundled together with cables, lifted to a vertical position by a Bancroft Contracting Co. crane and secured at the base.

A 2-foot-diameter pipe about 80 feet long was placed on the ground pointing outward from the log base to feed air into the log column to create a blazing torch effect once the logs were lighted.

Prior to the planned eruption at 6 p.m., children of all ages rode plastic sleds and snow tubes down the mountain of snow.

The mound was mostly created by snow-making guns from Sunday River Ski Resort due to the season’s snow drought and unseasonably mild temperatures.

Six o’clock came and went, however, as many people wondered whether the whole thing was a dud.

People continued to linger in the flesh-freezing wind and cold that sapped battery charges in digital and video cameras. A sliver of moon and Venus could be seen behind the volcano.

Finally, a red glow appeared halfway up the mountain, slowly heading for the summit. Bennett said flares were used to ignite the wood.

Then the log core protruding from the summit began to glow orange and red. Flames blossomed and soon, showers of sparks shot into the air, simulating small gobs of lava.

The desired “blazing torch” effect took over at about 6:40 p.m., eliciting loud applause, followed by the departure of many for warm vehicles.

Bennett continued to watch the “eruption,” saying it would probably burn all night.

At 6:48 p.m., a bright and loud explosion of fire shot out of the volcano, thrilling the remaining crowd and providing a brief respite of warmth.

“Told you it wasn’t done,” Bennett yelled to the crowd’s delight.

tkarkos@sunjournal.com

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