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No Matter The Weather, Sculpture Event Says Let It Snow

Lanna Brake
Steven Mercia will make 160 cubic yards of snow utilizing more than 27,000 gallons of water for the Colorado State Snow Sculpting Competition.

Don’t tell Kerri Ertman it’s too cold.

“I have a hard time dealing with the people on Facebook talking about wearing flip flops in November,” Ertman said. “It’s like hey, just once it turns to December, start hoping for cold weather. I like the cold.”

Of course she does. Ertman is a snow sculptor. And as the co-founder of the Colorado State Snow Sculpting Competition, she has a lot riding on the weather. But what do you do when there’s no snow?

“People also figure, well why can’t you just go up to Rocky Mountain National Park and scoop the snow out there and, you know, truck it down?” she said. “Well, you’re dealing with a lot of water rights. We’ve got a lot of farmers on the eastern plains that that are waiting for some of that water to actually melt certain ways so they can make sure and water their crops. So we don’t monkey with any of that.”

Besides, why scoop it when you can make it? Steven Mercia does.

Mercia, another co-founder of the sculpting competition, also owns Snow Creations, a snow machine.

“It’s amazing what you can find on the internet these days,” he joked.

Thanks to Mercia and his snow gun, it doesn’t matter if it’s not snowing.

Credit Lanna Brake
Steven Mercia has competed around the world in snow sculpting events, including China, Japan and Italy.

On a late night in Berthoud, Mercia set up the machine in an empty parking lot. After a few minor delays due to some unseasonably warm days, it was finally cold enough to start.

“There’s a formula,” he said. “Humidity is involved and temperatures is involved. I found through trial and error [that at] 25 degrees, no matter what the humidity, no matter what the water temperature is, I can make snow.”

The sculpting competition used to be held in February. Several warm winters prompted a move to December in an attempt to cheat the weather. Mercia, an internationally-recognized snow artist, can attest: in the world of snow-sculpting, you never know what’s going to happen.

Mercia recalls a year where things got a little too warm for a Loveland sculpting team. Temperatures were in the 60s while they were working on two swans.

“The swans’ noses were dripping cause the water was moving through the block, and it was warm, and so it looked like they had a runny nose,” he said. “It’s the dynamic of snow, and so it’s always moving, it’s always flowing. There’s a give and take to it. It’s like no other medium.”

Using a snow machine also guarantees a clean canvas of pure, white snow.

Well, usually.

One year, the competition used pond water to make the snow, Kerri Ertman said. The snow gave off a musty smell, but that also could have been thanks to the horse pasture it was stored in.

“We had an effect to our snow blocks that we like to call ‘marbling,’” Ertman said. “The marbling was created by the leftover horse manure that had been scooped up with the snow.”

When asked how an artist would work around something like that, Ertman said, “You don’t. It’s there. That’s what being an artist is about. You just kinda have to compromise.”

Credit Courtesy Loveland Fire & Ice Festival
The Colorado State Snow Sculpture Competition was previously held in Loveland and took place in February. The event was moved to December after several years of unseasonably warm weather.

Compromise is especially necessary when you’re dealing with the weather.

“Mother Nature is your fourth team member and so you always have to use her and what she’s giving you at that time,” Steven Mercia said. “If it’s too sunny, you put up a shade. If it’s windy, you might make a wind block. If it’s too warm, you’re not gonna put the details in it right now, you might wait till the evening, til the sun goes down, til the temperature -- till mother nature wants to play a little bit nicer and be on your team again.”

Stacy was KUNC's arts and culture reporter from 2015 to 2021.
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