By now, the figures have started to emerge from the giant blocks of ice at Breckenridge's Riverwalk Center parking lot. Beneath the red Chinese flag, a family strides forth from the snow. They are surrounded by animals, including an ox, a dog and two ducks. Around them, a family works on the sculpture, tapping and scraping as the figures come to life beneath their tools.
Team captain is Hongchun Liang, who has been an ice sculpture artist for 15 years. His wife, Yang Jiang, is the team representative, and their daughter Lu Liang also helps with the sculpting. Lu Liang said she has done this for only two years, not as long as her father or the other two team members, Zhigang Sheng and Shuo Yuan. Lu Liang is the only one of the group who speaks English.
The team hails from Harbin, a city in northeastern China that is famous worldwide for its ice and snow sculpture festival. Cold winds from nearby Siberia spill into the area, which often records temperatures as low as -36 degrees Fahrenheit. This is ideal for the snow festival, however, which lasts for an entire month.
The ice sculpture exhibits in Harbin are impressive in size, both height and length. Full-size buildings are made from blocks of ice and every night the place is illuminated by lights. These large sculptures are found on Sun Island, across the river from the city, and an area called "Ice and Snow World."
According to Lu Liang, in order to be a sculptor in Harbin, a person must have first officially studied as an artist. Often, this training starts young, around the age of middle school students.
The Chinese team has entitled their sculpture "Happy Winter." It shows a family of mother, father and child surrounded by animals and next to a small silo. Hanging on the sides of the silo are chili peppers, traditional in China, and sheaves of corn, as a nod to the sculpture's American setting.
Lu Liang said that the team has been doing well, especially since it hasn't been nearly so cold in Breckenridge as it is in Harbin, where they usually work.
The team was unable to bring many of the tools that they usually use in Harbin, due to restrictions of such items on airplanes. Now in Breckenridge, they are using their creativity to make do. Hongchun Liang even made his own tool to his personal specifications.
Each team's block of ice weighs approximately 40,000 pounds. The block started at 10 feet wide, 10 feet long and 12 feet high, requiring the teams to use scaffolding in order to carve at the top of the block.
The students in Jocelyn Subberwal's Chinese class at the Peak School took a field trip Friday to the Riverwalk Center to meet the Chinese sculpting team. Subberwal was excited to jump on the opportunity for the students to talk to native Chinese speakers.
"I really hope that they are really able to connect with them and use their Chinese to ask them something that resonates with them a little," Subberwal said.
The students prepared questions that they wanted to ask and Subberwal provided them with relevant vocabulary, including "snow," "ice" and "sculpture." They have only been studying for a short time, but all of them seemed to be excited to study the snow sculpture up close and interact with the team.
The first thing they pointed out were the Chinese figures carved into the sculpture. They correctly identified the "good luck/happiness" symbol and (through Subberwal's translating help) asked questions about the sculpture itself and life in Harbin.
"I think it's really cool," said Kait Schultz. The language aspect of learning more about it was difficult, she said.
"I've only been studying it for a semester. I have a pretty decent vocabulary so far," she continued, but added that she wasn't quite sur what order the words should go in to make sense.
Her classmate Cassidy Citron said she's interested in learning more about the city of Harbin, though she also wasn't quite sure exactly how to phrase it.
A group of students gathered around Lu Liang, shifting their feet, excited yet nervous to try out their Chinese conversation skills.
They started with the easy ones, asking, "Ni hao ma?" (How are you?) Lu Liang smiled and replied she was fine. They grew bolder, asking about where she was from and what her name was.
"You all speak very well," Lu Liang told them in Chinese.
At the end of the visit, the students gathered with the sculptors for a group photo, standing smiling in front of the "Happy Winter" sculpture, looking like one large, happy, cross-cultural family.
"I think it's really nice," Subberwal said of the opportunity to speak with the Chinese team. "For us it really is meaningful, particularly because there are ice sculpture contests in Harbin, we have ours, the climates are similar. I think it's really good."