The International Snow Sculpture Championships are a tradition in Breckenridge.
But the experience of walking among 12-16-foot snow statues is anything but traditional.
The sculptures start as giant blocks of specially made and carefully packed snow, stomped down by volunteers ahead of the competition.
Artists are given one week to turn the block of snow into artwork. The sculpting process has been called performance art, as it allows viewers to return day after day to watch the transformation and interact with the artists.
But those who missed the sculpting, which concluded with judging Saturday morning, will still be able to enjoy the event. The sculptures are born in the first week of the championships, but they come to life in the second week.
During viewing week, the sculptures are lit up with multi-colored lights and can be enjoyed in their completed form.
"It's temporal," said Gregory Brulla of Team Wisconsin. "That's one of the cool parts about it. It's like, come see it now, because it's not going to be here. That's what's also pretty magical about it. You spend all this time doing this and then it's gone."
The sculptures are better viewed at night. The sight of the larger-than-life snow formations illuminated against the darkness is stunning. The artists have intentionally toyed with form and space to create dimensional pieces that truly take on a life of their own at night and a complex lighting system adds to the mystique.
In addition, the finished pieces are simply more photogenic after dark.
Sponsors keep a few bonfires roaring around the Riverwalk Center where the sculptures are located, but nighttime viewers will still be better off arming themselves with a few extra layers and a hot cup of coffee or cocoa before taking the tour.
Though marginally less magical, daytime viewing is certainly a warmer experience. Bigger crowds, kids and music also give the sculpture arena a more festive family feel and, because the snow sculptures depend on the interplay of light and shadows to be effective, viewers may be better able to appreciate the detail work during the day.
The championships draw artists from all over the world, from Canada to China, and many of the snow sculptures evoke images of the culture and heritage of the sculptors' home countries.
Viewing week ends Feb. 5 at 11 p.m. Sculptures may be taken down before the end of the week if the weather is warm enough to weaken the snow to the point where they are in danger of falling.