Not everyone is content to enjoy ice and snow with mere skiing, ice skating or snowball fights. Some sculptors prefer to transform ice into massive, hand-carved works of art -- stunning, impermanent art. Some of the best works are showcased each year at snow and ice festivals around the globe, like China's Harbin International Ice and Snow Sculpture Festival, pictured at left. This year, the Harbin festival begins Saturday, Jan. 5.
Click through for the world's eight greatest snow and ice festivals.
8. International Snow and Ice Sculpture Festival, Bruges, Belgium
At the annual Snow and Ice Festival held in Bruges, Belgium, during the holiday season, artists are tasked with creating pieces that reflect a particular theme, such as 2005's "Ice Palace," pictured here.
Dozens of artists from around the world create sculptures from snow and ice, and even devise interactive experiences for festival-goers, such as seeking the treasure of an "ice queen" located somewhere within the exhibition.
Other themes have included Disneyland Paris, as well as the 2012-2013 theme of Harry Potter, The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit.
7.International Snow Sculpture Championships, Breckenridge, Colorado
At the International Snow Sculpture Championships in Breckenridge, five-person teams of ice sculptors from across the globe are selected to carve sculptures using only hand tools; unlike many other competitions, the use of power tools and colorants is prohibited.
After a 65-hour (five day) carving period, judges select the winning sculptures based on theme, style and technique. The sculptures stay on display for five days following the judging -- weather permitting -- though visitors can attend the competition at any time.
6. Snow Village, Finland
Why settle for a mere ice hotel? At least that's what the visionaries behind Finland's Snow Village might ask. For the past 12 years, Snow Village has been created each season in the western part of Finnish Lapland, and offers a variety of chill-tastic sites, like the SnowHotel, IceBar and igloo disco where you can enjoy a warming shot of vodka in a glass hewn from ice.
More than 1,600 tons of snow and 600 pounds of ice are used to create the structures and sculptures found throughout the 215,000-square-foot complex. Still, there's more to do at Snow Village than admire the snow and ice: Visitors can get up-close-and-personal with them by joining any number of activities, including snow mobile tours, snowshoe excursions and ice fishing.
5. Sapporo Snow Festival, Sapporo, Japan
The annual Sapporo Snow Festival is one of Japan's most popular winter events, attracting 2 million people to the town of Sapporo for the seven-day event.
Visitors can see large and small sculptures on display at three main sites: Odori Park, where the event's large-scale structures are kept; Susukino, home to about 100 sculptures; and the Tsu Dome, where outdoor activities like snow slides and snow rafting can be found.
If you go, head to the top of the Sapporo TV Tower at the eastern end of Odori Park for the best aerial views of the festival.
4. Carnaval de Quebec, Canada
Quebec has created a wintry answer to the pre-Lent tradition of Carnaval with its Carnaval de Quebec, one of Canada's most popular winter events. The Carnaval's festivities include skiing, snow rafting, snow slides and ice sculptures, all overseen by "Bonhomme," the Carnaval guest of honor, pictured here.
Festival highlights include the night and day parades led by Bonhomme, and competitive sporting events such as sleigh races, snowshoeing, hockey and dog-sledding. While carousing around the chilly Carnaval, make like locals and warm up with a hot Caribou drink, a heady mix of red wine, liquor (typically whisky), maple syrup or sugar.
3. World Ice Art Championships in Fairbanks, Alaska
For nearly 25 years, the all-volunteer Ice Alaska organization has presented the World Ice Art Championships in Fairbanks, Alaska. The month-long event typically draws some 100 ice artists from more than 40 countries. The competition brings more than 45,000 people to the region to admire the single- and multi-block works, which are also popular to see after dark, when they are dramatically back-lit in eerily glowing colors. The ice carvers also create a vast kids' playground by carving 200-foot ice slides, mazes and an ice rink for children and adults to enjoy.
2. Ice Magic Festival, Banff National Park, Canada
Banff National Park's Ice Magic Festival is the highlight of its month-long Snow Days festival, held at the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise. The 34-hour competition features 24 ice carvers from around the world working in two-person teams to carve sculptures based on specific themes from 300-pound blocks of ice.
Though the ice carving competition is Snow Days' most anticipated evet, the festival includes other activities such as the "One Carver, One Hour, One Block" speed carving event, ice carving demonstrations and horse-drawn wagon rides.
Next: 30 Ice Sculptures That Will Take Your Breath Away
1. Harbin International Ice and Snow Sculpture Festival, Harbin, China
China's Harbin International Ice and Snow Sculpture Festival is the world's greatest. It's composed of massive sculptures and buildings constructed from ice blocks cut from the frozen surface of the nearby Songhua River. Tens of thousands of tourists from across the globe flock to the show, despite winter temperatures in the region dropping into the -30s Fahrenheit.
Giant snow sculptures can be found at the Sun Island exhibition area, while Ice and Snow World features enormous, full-size illuminated buildings. Additional activities include alpine skiing, and for those with a propensity for extremes (or people who are just plain mad), swimming in the icy Songhua River.
The World's Best Snow and Ice FestivalsThese eight festivals feature some of the world's most incredible ice sculptures