Ice carver wins national title

By Stacy Kess

March 23, 2014

It’s cold in Greg Butauski’s workshop.

He has to keep it that way; he’s the 2014 National Ice Carving Champion.

Butauski, a ice carver out of Sunbury, is also a former international champion and, thanks to his 2014 national title, he’ll be headed to the 2018 Winter Olympics.

Since 1992, Butauski has been honing his skills with ice, gaining world-wide recognition in competition and creating sculptures for events around Ohio with his business, Rock On Ice. In a typical year, he carves about 2,000 to 2,500 ice sculptures.

“I get the same reaction (from a lot of people): ‘You can make a living out of that?’ or ‘What do you do in the summer?” he said. “I say, ‘Yes, and in the summer I carve ice.’”

Butauski started carving ice in college at the University of Akron, where he was majoring in engineering. At the time, he lived in a dorm converted from an old hotel.

“I walked around the back dock one day and there was a guy carving ice,” he said.

He was mesmerized. Then, he found out that he could learn to carve ice in the culinary arts program, housed in his dorm.

“I switched my major the next day,” he said.

He earned his degree in culinary arts and focused his attention on ice. Twenty-two years later, a converted barn behind his house includes 3 ice machines producing 50 blocks of ice a month.

“We run out regularly,” he said. “We have to purchase ice. We can’t keep up.”

Once he harvests the giant ice blocks, he runs them through a band-saw to slice the ice to size. Then, with a set of drills and carving tools, he goes to work creating sculptures.

While his pieces for use at events are often swans or other recognizable ice sculptures, his pieces at the National Championship were works of art out of his imagination.

On the first day of the two-day competition, Butauski carved a piece he called “Miracle grow.”

“It was a woman morphing out of a flower,” he said. “It was very beautiful and ornate.”

The piece placed first, sending him into the second day three points ahead of his competition. His second piece for the competition was titled “The Big Bad Wolf.” It was inspired by the story of the three little pigs who went to battle against a wily wolf, but combined with an under-the-sea theme. The pigs and wolf were half-sea creature. His piece took second, but with the lead from the first day, he won his first National Championship and qualified for the event scheduled in conjunction with the Olympics.

Butauski also teaches at local culinary programs, including at Columbus State Community College, where he teaches with his designation as a a Certified Master Carver by the National Ice Carving association and certified ice carving instructor.

Each design, sometimes inspired by small trinkets he finds at the store and other times by his 3- and 5-year-old daughters, takes about five to seven hours to complete and costs a customer around $350.

When he goes to festivals around the world, he brings 20 to 30 sculptures, plus does a live demonstration.

His business, moved two years ago from a downtown Columbus warehouse to its present rural location, is a family affair. His wife, Jill, keeps up his website, and his daughters keep up his spirits and inspiration. He said in a couple of weeks, he’ll be carving for his oldest daughter’s birthday party that will be decorated with a theme inspired by the movie “Frozen.”

In the fall, Butauski will carve another medium: pumpkins. In the last few years, he’s carved 300 to 400 pumpkins each October, “sometimes as big as 1,000 pounds.”

His first love, however, will always be a bit cooler.