Breckenridge Snow Sculpture

This page chronicles the 2011 Breckenridge Snow Sculpture Championships from the opening day ceremony on January 25 to the lighting of the sculptures Sunday night, January 30, after the awards ceremony.

Breckenridge: and the winners are…

North America sweeps snow sculpting prizes, with Team Mexico, Canada and Breck/USA taking top spots in Colorado contest

Snow sculpture crowd

By Jenney Coberly

BRECKENRIDGE — There was gridlock on the streets of town as people thronged  the Breckenridge Snow Sculpture Championships during the weekend.  The warm and sunny weather brought out the crowds, but the strong sun wasn’t so kind to the sculptures. The Eternal Bridge, by Team Germany, fell victim to the sun on Saturday afternoon, and there was melting and smaller collapses on some of the other sculptures. In spite of the vagaries of Mother Nature, the sculptures remained beautiful to behold.

The winner was Alebrije, by Team Mexico. Second place went to The Spirits of the Aurora, by Team Canada/Yukon, and third place to Team USA/Breckenridge for Underwater.

The People’s Choice award went to Spirits of the Aurora, and the Kid’s Choice was awarded to Underwater.

Alebrije – Team Mexico


Spirits of the Aurora, by Team Canada/Yukon
Underwater, by Team USA/Breckenridge


A video of the awards ceremony:

Team Mexico’s winning entry, Alebrije, is a highly-detailed rendering of  three mythological beings of Mexican culture. Team Canada Yukon won second with “Spirits of the Aurora,” a mystical piece that dpeicts the Northern Lights.Team USA Breckenridge began sculpting when snow carving was still a part of Ullr Fest. Founding members Rob Neyland and Rob Shelton continued sculpting as part of Team Breck and until this year, at least one of the two competed in every Breckenridge International Snow Sculpture Championships.

While some of the 2011 team members have competed as part of Team Breck in the past, this year marks a new generation of artists for Team Breck. Captain Keith Martin joined forces with Tim West, Rob Baker and David Pfau for 2011.

“We’ve been competing against one another in the Snowflake Challenge for years and now we’re all carving together,” said Martin. “I think you can plan on seeing Team Breck all together again next year doing another exciting, unusual piece.”

“We went out of the box by staying in the box,” said David Pfau, longtime Team Breck member and owner of Breckenridge Photographics.

“Team USA Breckenridge took some risks with the overhang created for their underwater scene and the suspended shark,” said Jenn Cram, judge coordinator and arts district administrator for Breckenridge. “‘Underwater’ displayed great attention to detail; both the face behind the frozen mask and the ice details on the octopus tentacles were superb. We also liked that they kept the form of the starting block, giving a hint of the original canvas.”

Thousands of spectators watched throughout the week as teams battled warm temperatures and intense sunshine to create the pieces, which were achieved without the use of power tools, internal support structures or colorants – just the ingenuity of the sculptors and a medium that lends itself, if only temporarily, to the persuasion of hand tools.


Breckenridge: Fantastic colors and forms in snow

The snow sculptures are fantastic in the daytime, but they reach otherworldly heights at night.

The multicolored lights of the eco-friendly LED lighting system are constantly shifting, lending a mesmerizing quality to the sculptures. In spite of the warm weather and melting over the weekend, the sculptures remained a visual feast Sunday night that was not to be missed.

The Eyes of Medusa, by Team USA / Wisconsin (Milwaukee)

Here is a slideshow of the sculptures in various hues, including some closeups that allow one to appreciate the incredible detail work done by the artists.  Most of the images were taken on Sunday night, but a few, especially the Eternal Bridge, which collapsed, are from Friday night.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.



Perpetual Motion in Breckenridge snow

Stan Wagon looks back at 13 years of snow sculpting

(Left) Eva Hild, her model, and the completed work. (Right) A view at night, showing the effects of the new LED lighting system at the 2011 Breckenridge International Snow Sculpture Championships. Click on the photo to read how this year’s sculpture emerged from the snow. The sculptures, well-preserved by this week’s chilly weather, are on display for a few more days. PHOTOS BY RICH SEELEY.

Editor’s note: Stan Wagon is a professor of mathematics and computer science at Macalester College in St. Paul, Minnesota and a backcountry explorer and mountaineer.  He lives in Silverthorne for part of the year. Click here to visit his website. And click here to visit Seeley’s website.

By Stan Wagon

Perhaps some of you have looked at the snow sculptures on display in Breckenridge and thought: “That doesn’t look so hard and would be fun to do.”

That is what I thought back in 1998 when I talked a sculpting friend, Helaman Ferguson, into joining me and some others in submitting an entry for 1999. We were accepted and sculpted our intended piece, but we were really beginners as far as tools went.

The following year we approached another sculptor, Robert Longhurst, and our work earned three prizes (Second Place, People’s Choice, and Artists’ Choice). Thus began a sequence of 11 sculptures in 13 years for Dan Schwalbe of Minnesota and me, working with some of the finest sculptors in the country: Ferguson, Longhurst, Bathsheba Grossman, Brent Collins, Carlo Séquin, and David Chamberlain. We have earned three silver medals and two honorable mentions. Our sculptures have been featured on the poster several times.

This past January we went overseas for talent and recruited Eva Hild, a remarkable sculptor from Sweden. Richard and Beth Seeley, of Silverthorne, have been on the team for the last five entries. Visit Hild’s website here.

The event is remarkable for the quality of the snow blocks, which are created from artificial snow produced by the Breckenridge Ski Area, and the quality of the competition, as the event draws experienced snow sculptors from around the world. This year we worked beside the Yukon team and a team from Franklin, Wisconsin. Both had intriguing designs, and sculpted them well. It is fun to learn new techniques from other teams.

Video by Rich Seeley

Our work this year was an abstract design, Perpetual Motion, that was more complicated than anything we had tried before. Eva arrived from Sweden ready to work and we first practiced on a five-foot block I made in my driveway in Silverthorne. That went well and our plan, based on sawing off some giant planes during the first day and a half and then using an ice-fishing auger to get the holes started, seemed like it would work. For the first time we had a decent wire saw, and that cut the planes quickly and cleanly.

From then it was a matter of working the snow until the final design took shape, taking care to not break through any of the thin surfaces. When one sees light through the surface, it is getting is too thin! We worked through part of Friday night and by the finish at 10 a.m. on Saturday had just what we wanted: the shape was elegant and curvy and thin, with intriguing holes and saddles everywhere.

We were disappointed to not place in the top three, but we know we created something that was world-class as far as modern art goes, and I rank it as the best snow sculptures our team has ever made. The real highlight was working with Eva all week. Her usual ceramic work is constructive while snow sculpture is destructive. But she worked competently and hard all week — it was difficult to pull her away from the sculpture — and bravely helped us carve it down as thin as we dared.

Wagon’s first sculpture for the 1999 event in Breckenridge has been captured in stone at Macalester College. Click on the image to vist Wagon’s website for the background information on this intriguing piece.

Carving such high quality snow is a real treat. In just a few days one can create something that would take years in stone. Indeed, my employer, Macalester College, acquired a granite version of our first sculpture from 1999. The stone version is six feet high and took nine years to complete.

This year the organizers set up cameras in the hope of getting time-lapse photography of the whole week. That will be an awesome bit of video to see when it is ready.


Breckenridge snow sculptures: The 11th hour

Late Friday night, Jan. 28, contestants work through the night to complete their sculptures by 10 a.m. Saturday morning, when judging begins.


At around 11 p.m. on Friday night, the artists were hard at work putting the finishing touches on their sculptures, with 11 hours to go until the deadline.

A camera crew was using a long boom that brought the camera right up to the top of the huge sculptures, for what should be some amazing footage of the fantastic detail work that was emerging on Friday in the final hours of the competition.



Breckenridge: Artists finalizing their snow sculptures

Sculpting continued on Thursday and Friday as artists work towards the 10 a.m. Jan. 29 deadline for judging at the Breckenridge snow sculpture contest

By Jenney Coberly

I stopped by to check the progress of the snow sculpting on Thursday and Friday afternoons. It’s wonderful to watch the sculptures emerging from the snow blocks on a daily basis. The artists will be working through Friday night, and it will be an amazing atmosphere at the Riverwalk center under the lights.

Here is a short video showing the progress in a few of the sculptures from Thursday afternoon to Friday afternoon.

Friday was the warmest, sunniest day in Breckenridge in quite some time, with temperatures soaring into the upper 30′s, so there were tarps strung up everywhere as artists sought to protect the delicate sculptures from the strong sunlight. A steady stream of spectators wandered by admiring the works in progress. The People’s Choice boxes were available and filling with dollar bills as people voted for their favorites.


VLOG: Breckenridge Snow sculpting, day two

On Wednesday, Jan. 26, day two of sculpting, I check out progress and talk with three artists about their concepts.

Day Two: taking form

By Jenney Coberly

BRECKENRIDGE — The Riverwalk Center in Breckenridge is bustling with activity on day two of snow sculpting. Piles of snow everywhere as the sculptors chisel and saw away at the giant blocks of snow. They have until 10 a.m. on Saturday morning to complete their works of art.

I ask the artists if they are cold, being outside all day, and the unanimous answer is no. They are too active to be cold, just like skiers and snowshoers. Many spectators wander through, taking pictures, inspecting the models, and asking questions of the artists.

I want to thank the artists who graciously took a few minutes out of their tight schedules to speak with me about their creations. I’m looking forward to getting back out there again tomorrow to see how things are progressing.



VLOG: 2011 Breckenridge Snow Sculpting Championships

The 2011 Budweiser International Snow Sculpting Championships got under way at Riverwalk Center in Breckenridge Tuesday morning, January 25, at 11 a.m.

This is the first installment in my video log (VLOG) of the 2011 Breckenridge International Snow Sculpting Championships.

Sunday, January 23

Late Sunday afternoon, two days before the start of the contest, I stopped by the Riverwalk parking lot, thinking that the snow blocks were probably ready to go, and indeed they were. The volunteers during technical week had done their job well, and the parking lot was lined with two rows of large white monoliths. Shooting video of the blocks in the absence of any activity seemed like an uninteresting proposition, but there were some neat lenticular clouds in the background, so I took a few stills, trying to get some interesting angles, lighting and textures.

Tuesday, January 25

On a very cold and cloudy Tuesday morning, the rows of giant white monoliths I first saw on Sunday loomed against the gray sky. This time the parking lot was filled with spectators, artists, event organizers, and camera people, all milling around, talking, and waiting for the opening ceremony to begin. It began with the marching of the Color Guard and the singing of the National Anthem, followed by introductory remarks by event founder Rob Neyland. Then, with the ceremonial firing of a rather adorable little cannon, the sculpting got underway.  The artists will be working from now until Saturday morning, January 29, at which time judging will commence.Check out the video for Rob’s opening remarks about the wonderful forms lurking in the monoliths, waiting to be revealed by the artists, the firing of the cannon, and the initial hustle and bustle of sculpting.



Snow sculpting in Breckenridge

Art emerges

A brilliant 3D rendering of an Alaskan grizzly bear at the 2010 International snow sculpture contest in Breckenridge, Colorado.

SUMMIT COUNTY — In Breckenridge, snow isn’t just for skiing. Each winter, teams of artists from all over the world converge on the Colorado mountain town to shape massive blocks of snow into ephemeral works of art outside the Breckenridge Riverwalk Center.

The 2011 Budweiser International Snow Sculpture Championships began January 17 with a technical week, as local volunteers helped create the blocks of snow. The sculpting begins Jan. 25 with a shotgun start and continues through Jan. 29 at 10 a.m.

Often, the teams work through the chilly, wee hours of the morning on the last night of the competition to put the finishing touches on their sculptures. The award ceremony is Jan. 30 at 3:30 p.m.

Enjoy the photos from last year’s event in the daily photoblog.

So it begins …
It’s hard to tell during the early stages what the sculpture will be.
Some teams maintain their own websites showing the progress of their work. This picture shows a model of the “Perpetual Motion” sculpture, representing eternal flow. The team includes Stan Wagon, a St. Paul, Minn. and Silverthorne resident, as well as Rich and Beth Seeley, also of Silverthorne, Dan Schwalbe, of Hamel, Minn., and Swedish artist Eva Hild, who designed the work of art. Click on the image to visit the team’s website. PHOTO BY RICH SEELEY.
First cut.
The design.
The tools.
In the crevasse.
Team Mexico at the 2010 International Snow Sculpture contest in Breckenridge, Colorado.
Detail work.
A chilly night.
A little off the top.
Many of the sculptures are full of drama.

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