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Snow Sculptors Versus Time And Mother Nature

If you medal in the Olympics you could become a household name overnight. Maybe even nab a multi-million dollar endorsement contract. Those trappings aren’t likely for top-ranked competitive snow sculptors.

No, instead winners of the 24th annual Budweiser International Snow Sculpture Championship in Breckenridge get a medal and bragging rights.

And what a set of bragging rights they are. Each massive snow sculpture is a race against time and Mother Nature. Teams have 65 hours to transform a 20 ton, 12-foot high block of snow into their design.

The 2014 winners are from Germany; Breckenridge and Wisconsin. Four days before corks were popped and celebrations began, 15 teams from 11 countries descended on Breckenridge, largely on their own dime, to get to work in public on the Riverwalk Center promenade.

Some of the snow sculptures were narrative in nature. For instance, the Estonian team's piece illustrated their homeland's legend of why the moon has spots. Finland, with its depiction of the Northern Sun, was among the teams that chose abstraction.

Jenn Cram, Breckenridge Arts District manager, said some of the most minimal looking pieces are actually the most difficult to create.

“There is no armature or nothing to support them,” Cram said. “Just the snow to keep this thing standing.”

In addition to risk, each team is also concerned with specificity. Team members will often melt snow into ice and form a decorative element, such as an eyeball.

Credit Maura Walz
Snow sculptors often retrofit their tools to achieve a specific sculpting effect. This tool is good for shaping snow.

Chisels, saws, scrapers and lots of improvised tools help the teams reach the desired effect. Whatever Mike Emmerling, a first-year competitor, and the rest of the entrants can get their hands on.

“These are things they staple trusses together with, carpenters, and so we stapled this together. Makes great shaping tools,” said Emmerling of his refashioned piece of equipment.

Other states and countries hold similar snow sculpture competitions. Following years of a smaller local event tied to Ullr Fest, Breckenridge launched their international competition in 1991.

It's a fleeting art. Even on a January day, the elements are working against you. By the time sculpting ceased the mercury had climbed to nearly 40 degrees. The bright Colorado sun had already begun to cause many of the sculptures to drip.

“We know that they will go away, fairly quick,” said Jeff Stoller, a decades-long competitor.

Then, why do it?

“To see if we can pull it off,” Stoller said. “Just to see if we can make it happen.”

Arts District is a collaboration of KUNC, RMPBS, and KUVO.

A native of Stamford, VT, I call(ed) the Berkshires of western Massachusetts my home. The Berkshires are a culturally rich area -- I’m talking pass the butter and heavy cream -- rich.
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