Breck hosts Snow Sculpture Championships |

Breck hosts Snow Sculpture Championships

Leslie Brefeld
Vail, CO, Colorado
Ontario team member Wayne Tousignant works on his team's sculputre "Winter Oasis" Thursday afternoon.

BRECKENRIDGE, Colorado ” Originating from the raucous winter festival of Ullr, the International Snow Sculpture Championships now represent the height of sophistication in snow worship. Beginning next week, 16 teams from nine countries will compete (using the term loosely) in the 18th annual event, taking 65 hours to transform a 10-by10-by-12-feet block of snow, into a masterpiece.

Snow sculptors, like those who will attend the local event beginning Tuesday, think snow in their off-time, make friends with other snow sculptors and generally “live snow,” as Team Canada-Yukon captain Don Watt described it.

Michael Nedell, captain of Team Vermont, has mixed feelings about attending Breck’s event. After winning the state championships for the last five years and also attending the national event in Wisconsin, his team lost this year, and in so doing opened themselves up to come to the Breckenridge event.

The great camaraderie of the snow activity will make the web designer Nedell miss the people he’s met and usually hangs out with this time of year.

“In Wisconsin, as far as the hours go, it’s a little looser. If you wanted to sculpt all night every night, you could,” Nedell said.

The night owls must adjust to Breckenridge’s schedule, which only allows carvers to sculpt through the night on the final day of the competition.

Vanessa Flaherty, who works for the town and has been on the Snow Sculpture Organizing Committee since 2004, explained that the original founders of the competition (who make up Team Breck) didn’t want it to be a 24-hour marathon.

“They wanted camaraderie, they wanted art and not racing, they wanted for people to get sleep,” Flaherty said.

Nedell described the other snow artists he meets at festivals as family, and said they had already talked up Breckenridge to him.

“People said, ‘You gotta go to Breckenridge, it’s a bigger block of snow, there’s more people on your team and another day to do it. It’s another level of competition.'”

Before Tuesday’s shotgun start at 11 a.m. the blocks of snow will be ready, created in a team effort between the snowmakers at the ski resort, the Town street plowers who transport the material, and stompers who put them in their form, in front of the Riverwalk Center.

The attention given to the snow is for good reason. It is this unique medium that brings all these sculptors together.

Randy Amys of Team Loveland and originally a member of Team Breck before moving out of the county, said he doesn’t entirely agree that the melting art is impermanent.

“People are taking pictures and things like that,” he said. His team also secures its design’s legacy through their fundraising efforts. They recently began selling snowglobes, made from kits using their snow sculpture design.

But the experience can not be re-created. True for both artist and spectator.

“It’s neat to share your art from start to finish with the public,” Amys said.

Watt (of Team Canada-Yukon) is a newcomer to the Breck event, but certainly not to the art form. The team attends snow sculpting events around the world throughout the year. Their design for Breck 2008 is the Swan Song. It is described as the following on their website,

“The old Shaman beats his drum and calls forth the swan spirit in a last ditch effort to feed his people. This hunt must go well or all will parish.

As he dances the bird spirits form from the smoke of his ceremonial fire. Rising and swirling around him, returning to wisps of smoke disappearing above his head.”

Watt wrote in an e-mail, “We do six to nine sculptures every year. Every one is different. We draw our ideas from our part of the world. We try and do northern images when we represent Yukon, or Canadian images when representing the country.”

Team Canada-Yukon and Watt host their own snow sculpting competition annually in the Yukon.

Team Loveland’s Amys said there are a couple of reasons why he’s been sculpting snow for 24 years.

“I like the challenge of it. I like the interaction with the spectators and other artists. It builds this great friendship,” he said.

Flaherty, with the Town of Breck, would agree. She’s excited to this year for the first time give travel stipends to the participants, funded by the Town. But, as always, there’s no prize purse offered, something she thinks adds to the event.

“If a team doesn’t have a tool they need, the next team might offer it to them,” Flaherty said. “The competition is not cutthroat, it’s cooperative.”

Doug Bisson of Team Canada-Ontario was at work where he runs a chemical plant on Wednesday.

Like many carvers, Bisson’s always looking for a challenge. He said their piece last year at Breck of a human hand making the final fold on an origami squirrel created quite a buzz.

This year they are going for a design of two cats on a spool of rope; “it is going to be crazy,” Bisson said over the phone. “We are going to try and tear people’s hearts out.”

Two days after Breckenridge, Bisson’s team will represent Ontario at the Quebec Winter Carnival, where they carve for 12 hours, then 24 hours straight.

“You gotta be ready for it,” he said.

Catch all the snow sculptors in action next week at the Riverwalk Center, beginning Tuesday and ending Saturday morning after an all-night carve session.

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