Freeing art in snow
BRECKENRIDGE – Before the snow for the International Snow Sculpture Championships was made special by the ski resort’s snowguns, Breckenridge residents used piles of the natural white stuff to make their chilly works of art. And before it was an international showcase, it was an event at Ullr Fest with sculptures lining Main Street.Team Breck captain Rob Neyland, who first entered the contest in 1979 with the staff at his real estate office, described the sculptures then as “spontaneous grassroots street art.”Neyland, Ron Shelton, Randy Amys and Bill Hazell won that first year, and Team Breck continued winning the local event. Soon enough, they were exposed to the greater aspect of the sport – national and international competitions.”When we found out people did this elsewhere, we knew that we had to make this happen for Breck,” Neyland said. “Breckenridge is a great big world of snow and it’s the perfect blend of art and sport.”Neyland petitioned for state certification and in 1986 participated in (and won) the Colorado State Snow Sculpture Championships hosted by Breckenridge.In 1991, with the help of the ski resort’s specially made snow, the town hosted their first International Snow Sculpture Championships.”Nobody else has a ski resort in the background to make their snow,” Neyland said.
Breckenridge Ski Resort provides the event with special snow that is blown into concrete forms and packed by foot. “All we do is make the snow a little wetter,” ski resort operations chief Rick Sramek said. “The snow sculptors need dense snow. We don’t make it until after the snowmaking season is over. We want it to be as fresh as it can be.”While the blocks are being made, some snow is blown into the forms, then volunteers stomp it down, then more snow is blown in and the process continues. The goal is to eliminate any holes in the block.Not all locations can provide such a quality product. Neyland recalls a national competition that took place at the Milwaukee Zoo.”We were picking out camel dung and cigarette butts right until the end,” he said. “The quality of the product is reflected in the pieces.”The snow’s texture combined with Breckenridge’s climate make ideal snow sculpting conditions, Neyland said. “Even if it’s sunny in the day, it’s always going to be cold at night,” he said. The cold weather keeps the forms from melting and allows artists to have a greater level of detail. It also allows them to use suspended elements in their work.His team is counting on this for their current design; it includes a 6-foot horizontal form of snow.Neyland and the 2006 Team Breck crew – Ron Shelton, Tom Day and Sara Thomas – began working on their creation Tuesday at the Riverwalk Center along with 13 other teams ranging in origin from the Czech Republic to Switzerland.
“We’re doing a 10-foot-high golden retriever looking at a reflection in a mirror,” Team Breck’s Day said. “If you look at it from any angle, you see what you’d see if you looked in a mirror.”To carve out their creation the team will use a variety of tools including all sizes of linoleum scrapers to chip away at the block to cheese graters and custom-made tools to work in the more intricate designs.The team is not unaware of their creation’s fleeting nature.”It happens so quickly,” Neyland said. “We call it a living medium – we hold it for just a little bit on its way by. We put our forms and designs on it, but it’s really for the enjoyment of the viewer. It lasts in the minds and hearts of the audience.”He said last year a 5-year-old girl gave him a present. “It was a drawing of the kitty and fishbowl sculpture we’d done two years ago. She was visiting with her grandparents, and two years later drew and presented it to me. “That’s where the rubber meets the road in this – the lasting impact,” Neyland said.Neyland’s art has taken him to national and international competitions. His team won the world championship in Finland in 1991.
He said he views the snow sculpting as an opportunity to take an idea and enlarge it. Neyland said he can sum up the subtractive art process with a Michelangelo quote: “I see the angel in the granite and I carve until I set it free.””Our job in the next few days will be to free the puppy,” Neyland said in reference to his group’s design of a puppy looking in a mirror. “The magic of this piece is the viewer completes it. Something happens in your mind; the viewer will create the mirror,” he said.The snow sculptures at the Riverwalk Center in Breckenridge will remain for viewing through Feb. 5. And with the National Weather Service forecasting a chance of snow every day until the end of competition, weather should be permitting.Leslie Brefeld can be reached at (970) 668-3998 ext. 13622 or firstname.lastname@example.org.Vail, Colorado.