Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Snow Sculptures

January 22 to 27 was the week of the 18th Budweiser Select International Snow Sculpture Championships in Breckenridge. A bunch of huge blocks of snow – 12 feet tall, weighing 20 tons each – were laid out in downtown Breck. Then 16 teams of up to four people each showed up at 11 a.m. on January 22 for the shotgun start, armed with hand tools and ready to turn their vision into reality, using snow as their medium. The teams came from around the world – the U.S., Canada, and Mexico were each represented by multiple teams, but teams also came from China, France, Germany, Lithuania, the Netherlands, and Spain! Imagine traveling across the world to sculpt snow!

Sarah and I dropped by the sculpting area on the first night to check on the progress. To give an idea of how big the blocks of snow are, Brian stood next to the Spanish team’s block, which hadn’t been carved much yet:

Also on the first night, we checked out the advertising ice blocks. These weren’t part of the competition, but they were impressive nonetheless:

We saw this guy making some more advertising ice blocks:

Using a stencil, he carves out a design, then fills in the carved area with snow.

The sculpting area was near the ski slopes, so we over were there several times over the course of the week. It was neat to see the progress being made. The first night, the blocks had been hacked up a bit, but didn’t resemble anything at all. By the next-to-last day, the blocks had been turned into rough versions of their final forms. The teams worked overnight on Friday and on the final day, the precise final cuts were made and details and texture were added.

We came back on Saturday, January 26, after the sculpting had ended, to photograph the final products. While we’d practically had the sculpture area to ourselves on the first night, it was mobbed on this day, as hundreds of people showed up to see the final sculptures and the awards ceremony.

A team from New York carved this one titled “Curiosity”. Three polar bears snoop on an Eskimo fisherman, but he doesn’t see them:

The Lithuanian team carved a hockey faceoff titled “Who Will Be the Best?”:

Remember the block of ice that Brian was standing next to in an earlier picture? The Spanish team turned that into “Inauguration, Tomorrow,” a “sculpture within a sculpture” in which a father and son peek under a sheet at a sculpture of a warrior on a horse. We thought it was especially creative:

A team from Ontario created our favorite sculpture called “Just Spooling Around,” a cute depiction of two cats wrestling with a spool of rope. This close-up shows the face of one of the cats. The team filled balloons full of water and froze them for the eyes and tags of the cats. Apparently, ice is a new medium – in most competitions on the snow sculpting circuit, only snow is allowed, but this year Breck decided to allow ice. It was a trial-and-error process, the team captain told us – some of the ice balls would be riddled with cracks, while others would come out of their balloons crystal-clear.

And here’s the full sculpture:

Behind the cats, you can see “Break Out,” sculpted by the local Breckenridge team. It’s a social statement about using alternative energy sources – you can see the sun, water, a windmill, and corn breaking out.

Here’s another cute sculpture from a Vermont team called “Teeter-Toddler,” showing a father and son on a winter outing:

This next sculpture was titled “The Warrior and the Moon,” sculpted by the team from China. The level of detail in this sculpture was impressive:

At the side of the sculpture area were a few attractions that were sculpted out of the same 20-ton blocks of ice but weren’t officially in the competition. One was a slide, which was extremely popular:

The awards ceremony was scheduled for 3:00 and we happened to be there at the right time, so we stuck around. The advertising ice blocks in front of the stage were now topped with gorgeous molded-ice leaves:

We thought the awards show would be a 10- or 15-minute affair – present some medals and then we could all go to happy hour. It wound up taking something like 45 minutes! First were the requisite speeches thanking sponsors and volunteers. Then came a long procession like the Olympics opening ceremonies. Each team was announced, paraded up onto the stage carrying their country’s flag, accepted participation medals, and walked off the stage. With 16 teams, this took a while, but it was entertaining – some of the teams had funny outfits, and the Breck representatives who were handing out the medals tried to go European by kissing each sculptor on both cheeks, surprising and confusing some of the sculptors.

Here’s a shot of two of the U.S. flags and the Chinese team’s flag flying against the bright blue sky:

Finally, it came time for the awards. The winning sculpture was “The Warrior and the Moon,” the intricate creation of the Chinese team, which turned out to be shorthanded – they only had two sculptors, rather than the allowed four! Finding that out made their creation all the more impressive.

The people’s choice and kids’ choice awards were announced the next day. The people’s choice also went to the Chinese sculpture, while the kids chose the cats “Just Spooling Around”.

The sculpture competition was a lot of fun, and just one more fun activity that we didn’t expect when we decided to hang out in Breck for the winter!

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