Digging into ice
The caves at La Grave, Les 2 Alpes, Tignes and La Plagne were dug out manually. To do it, our 2 guides, Bernard Lombolez and Bruno Gardent, helped by 4 to 6 strong friends, used ice picks that they had forged themselves, using the same ancient techniques for tools that were used to dig out ice from the glaciers to sell to local hotels.
Even though the glaciers are thousands of years old, they are still moving !
The glacier de la Girose at the Grave advances 24meters a year and Les 2 Alpes advances 2meters a year.
These movements deform the caves and the sculptures. The life span of an ice cave is between 2 and 4 years. And then it all needs doing again !!
The Ice Pick
An ice pick is similar to a very slim pickaxe. The precise sharpening is the key for the carver. The ice is cut and not broken. A carver can cut about 5 meters of caves a day. The most difficult part being evacuating the rubble, one cubic meter of ice makes about 7 cubic meters of rubble !
For each cave, more than 6,000m3 of rubble were extracted in 2 to 4 months !! A glacier is full of suprises for the carver, including crevasses, air pockets, water pockets and even rocks. The colour and consistancy of a glacier changes all the time, and the carver has to adapt permanently to get the right angle for his cut. The galleries can go as far as 30meters into the glacier !
Once the gallery is dug out the sculptors can start work.