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Creating a winter wonderland in the desert

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Mon, Dec 18, 2017 (2 a.m.)

As Las Vegans, our winter experience is different than other parts of the country. It’s rare to see snow flurries, and it’s not unusual for temperatures to suddenly spike into the high-70s.

Though finding a classic winter scene in the desert can be tough, Las Vegas is renowned for immersive, extravagant productions. When planning Winter’s Village — a new, holiday-themed destination at Green Valley Ranch Resort — Patrick Wallace, Vice President of Operations at Station Casinos, sought to create the quintessential experience.

“We asked ourselves, ‘How can we transform the backyard into a winter-wonderland atmosphere?’ We wanted to do something different for the community, and ultimately wanted to develop something lasting and special,” Wallace said.

But forging authentic, seasonal elements in an environment where those things aren’t native requires technical know-how and a keen eye for detail. Here are the tricks from the pros, and some tips for creating your own festive celebration at home.

How the pros make it snow

Nothing can truly replicate a snowy, white winter, but reproducing small flurries is relatively easy. “Snow machines basically use water and soap to create dense suds that look like snow,” Wallace said. The soaps used in these machines are usually surfactants, which also are found in many other foaming products, such as detergents and shampoos.

When the snow machines are activated, they blow tiny sudsy bubbles in the air that float down and dissipate quickly — similar to snowflakes. The ingredients are nontoxic and don’t leave behind residue.

How you can make it snow at home: There are many tutorials online for making fake snow at home — no machine required. Look for ones that use simple ingredients, such as baking soda and cornstarch, for a safe, eco-friendly option.

How the pros make ice rinks

When glittering, frozen ponds aren’t nearby, it’s possible to improvise with either real or synthetic ice.

Synthetic ice, made out of a plastic polymer, has become popular for outdoor rinks that operate year-round or those in climates that don’t dip below freezing. Generally the “ice” comes in multiple panels that can be installed in just about any environment — the panels are not cold, they don’t require water or electricity, and they’re available to purchase for at-home use.

While synthetic ice can be easier to maintain than real ice, it glides differently, and some brands aren’t compatible with metal-blade skates.

For many skating purists, real ice is a necessity, but it also can come with technical difficulties in warmer climates. Skating rinks usually keep ice between 24 and 28 degrees Fahrenheit, and Wallace noted that ice needs to be at least 1 1/2 inches thick for skating. That means a special system is required in some cities to keep the ice uniformly frozen.

“We wanted to use real ice, so we partnered with a company that makes skating rinks. They have ice mat technology that uses steel pipes filled with ethylene glycol, a cooling solution, and connects to a huge chiller,” Wallace said.

The chiller is computerized, allowing the company to constantly monitor and adjust the temperature of the ice. “It was 80 degrees and sunny the week they installed it, and they were still able to make it freeze,” Wallace said.

For a 6,000 square-foot rink, they use 15 miles (79,200 feet) of piping to keep the rink cold.

How you can make a rink at home: If you have an aspiring Golden Knight at home, you can set up a skating rink in the backyard with synthetic ice, allowing them to practice their skills in any temperature.

Tips for creating a festive atmosphere

Lighting, music, drinks and snacks are key when creating an all-encompassing experience.

Though many families have beloved holiday traditions — complete with Grandma’s favorite cookie recipe and handcrafted tree ornaments — here are some tips from the pros for setting a festive mood.

• Lighting: String lights cast a soft, golden glow that’s ubiquitous with this time of year. Wallace and his team wrapped 60 outdoor trees in holiday lights, but if you’re not quite as ambitious, try them in places other than the Christmas tree. You can use battery-powered LED lights for areas that aren’t near an outlet — such as encircling centerpieces on the dining room table.

• Music: Mix up your holiday playlist to include newer music alongside the classics. Wallace recommends Justin Timberlake and Pentatonix, noting that their holiday albums are big crowdpleasers.

• Food: There is no end to adorable, treat-decorating ideas, so this is a great time to let your creativity shine. But if you’re feeling uninspired, use pretzel pieces to create reindeer antlers on cookies. Red M&Ms are perfect for Rudolph’s nose.

• Drinks: Pick a signature holiday cocktail to enjoy all season long. “Our mixologist created a ‘12 Cocktails of Christmas’ menu, with a different drink for each day,” Wallace said. Try a few different recipes before you pick a favorite — the testing process can be like a boozy, holiday advent calendar.

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