The masters at La Fonda share their secrets.***image1***

This is the 14th year that ice carvers from La Fonda will create a holiday ice display on the Plaza. At 5 pm on Friday, Dec. 21, the crew plans to sculpt 21,000 pounds of ice into Santa Claus, his sleigh and reindeer. The hotel serves hot chocolate and biscochitos while the display takes shape.

If the display inspires you, why not expand your bag of tricks to include ice carving? It's creative, impressive and cool-in every sense of the word. To get an idea of what it takes to master the art, I invited myself to La Fonda to watch the masters at work. Because the hotel's purchasing manager, former chef and master ice carver, Gil Mesa, had recently been bitten by a spider, swelling in his hand prevented him from demonstrating the technique himself. Here you'll see Mesa's protégé, Carlos Dominguez, demonstrating how it's done.

1. Start with a 350-pound block of solid ice. Recruit a buddy to help you lift it, using old-fashioned ice grabbers that look like they came out of the Marquis


de Sade's tool kit. Here, Dominguez uses calipers to sketch out the basic shape of his La Fonda logo design.

2. Start cutting the ice with the crudest, but most effective of tools: a regular old chainsaw. Buzzing through ice kicks up a lot of what Mesa calls "snow," so a waterproof apron (with legs!) is a worthwhile investment. Mesa and


Dominguez work in a deserted (but well-drained) corner of the hotel's basement, but because of the mess and the noise, this is a task ideally done outside.

3. After the major cutting is done, move on to finer sculpting with a die grinder, a tool normally used to sand the rough edges inside cut pieces of


metal pipe. Here, a die grinder makes quick work of the half-concho design.

4. For the most detailed shaping, you'll need to switch to finely honed (and expensive) Japanese chisels, made specifically for ice carving. Sharp as chefs'


knives, these chisels shave ice as if it were butter.

5. A template makes it easy to add writing to an ice sculpture. Draw the desired lettering on heavy newsprint, then stick it to the ice with water.


Switch to a smaller bit on the die grinder and follow the template as you carve out each letter, slowly and carefully. Now, go back to those extra pieces of ice you took off with the chain saw and buzz them again to create a bucket full of "snow."

6. Pack the snow into the grooves of the lettering, then chisel it smooth. For an added touch, use the die grinder to create a quilted look. With just a little bit of practice, a carving like this should only take about an hour. Sure, you


could spend a lot more time perfecting it, but remember: Ice melts. Show it off immediately or find someone with a freezer big enough to store it.