Dec. 20, 2011 — -- While many people in the Northeast would likely never dream of paying for snow, the snow business is actually booming, largely in the South, and many of people are willing to pay big bucks for the white stuff.
"It's just absolutely exploded this year. We don't know why," said David Bryant, the president of the Jacksonville, Fla.-based company, The Ice Man. "In past years, we've always been busy in December, but we were crazy busy this year. We have January and February bookings."
Bryant has been in the ice business for 27 years and has never seen the demand as high. "We booked about 140 tons of snow in December 2010 and we've booked over 230 tons of snow this year in December."
Bryant said the company has never before been double or triple booked for Friday and Saturday nights, but they are this year, almost every weekend.
The service ranges in cost from $1,700-$20,000, depending on the amount of snow.
Bryant's company uses shredded ice for its events. A bag of ice goes into a macerator that softens it. Then it is mashed down and turned into flakes. Finally, it goes into a blower that blows it 40-45 feet in the air.
"It's not the white powdery stuff but for the kids down here, it's the closest thing they'll see to snow," Bryant said. "It's flaked ice. It's not chunks of ice. It's real, fine ground up ice."
The company gets the snow to stick even in warm temperatures by putting a lot of it down very quickly.
"Ice is the greatest insulator in the world," Bryant said. "When you get a layer down, the bottom layer protects the next layer, which protects the layer above and so on."
An average snow blow runs between five and seven tons, which covers an area of 25 square feet in eight inches of the stuff.
Bryant's specialty is a 70-foot snow slide that people can toboggan down.
"So many people in Florida have never seen snow, especially children. Kids will play and play and play," Bryant said. "They will absolutely go all night long if you let them."
"It's a blast. The best part of the snow blow is to watch the children," he said. "Their eyes light up and they're just in awe."
One of Bryant's customers is Jacksonville chiropractor Mark Pierce. He has an annual "Christmas Eve Eve Snow Blow" on Dec. 23 in his front yard for friends and neighbors. Pierce has more than 200 guests at the party, many of whom are children.
"They're just excited. They don't know what to do. It's like watching a baby zebra learn to walk and they just don't know what to do," Pierce said. "They'll just have the operator blow it in the air for the kids to dance around in, just giving them a winter experience they're not used to having."
In addition to the slide, he said the children have snowball fights, build snowmen for the first time and make snow angels.
"Christmas in the south is a pretty festive occasion," Pierce said. "To bring the snow in is such a unique novelty that the kids go nuts. They start knocking on the door around Thanksgiving wanting to know if the ice man is coming."
Pierce would not say how much he spends on the snow blow, but said, "I'm blessed and I'm fortunate. And just to see these children, to watch the excitement they have…it's my personal gift to the neighborhood."
Another popular Florida company is Zigmont Magic F/X, a full-fledged special effects company that works with the Wizarding World of Harry Potter and Sea World, in addition to malls and private parties.
"It seems like every year it gets a little busier," said Lisa Zigmont who owns the company with her husband Steve Zigmont. "We have over 100 machines and they're all out on rentals."
Zigmont rents out the machines to people and companies all over the country. She said that the most frequent customers are churches and shopping malls.
The machines range from $275-$650 a day, depending on the type and size. The snow from the machines does not land on the ground or accumulate, it evaporates in 30-90 seconds, but it does produce the effect of a snowfall.
The effect was featured on the Christmas episode of ABC's "Modern Family," where the family danced around their California yard as the fake snow fell.
"It's a magnificent effect," said Chris Konios, the owner of CK Design Build, which rents the machines for private parties. "If you looked at their snow, you can't tell the difference and you're talking to a guy from New York. I've seen snow. It looks exactly the. It really looks like a snowstorm, but it does not accumulate. For people that don't see it every year, it makes it a little more Christmassy."
Last year, Konios threw a party that included a horse-drawn carriage through the snow.
"It's magical to see snow, people dreaming of a white Christmas," Zigmont said. "Everybody wants snow falling in the air, seeing the twinkling, it shines like diamonds. It's really beautiful."