Tom Day estimates that he’s created about 22 snow sculptures during his 18-year career with the international sculptors of Team Breck. This week, he’ll break out the tools and spend just over four consecutive days transforming a 12-foot-tall, 20-ton block of snow into his 23rd work of snowy art.
“I love it,” Day said of the international snow-sculpture competition that takes place annually in Breckenridge. Day’s love goes beyond the act of creating a unique sculpture to include the entire event, especially the competition and camaraderie among contestants.
In 1996, five years after the championship began, co-founders Rob Neyland and Ron Shelton asked Day to join Team Breck based on his artistic background. Day agreed and that year the three of them created “Cold Fusion,” a sculpture of a man and a woman rising out of a coil, leaning in for a kiss.
That sculpture kicked off Day’s love affair with the art form, and from then on he’s competed in every Breckenridge championship except one.
That one year he didn’t compete, he helped carve the sponsorship piece, which sits in Blue River Plaza. But it just wasn’t the same, Day said. He missed getting into the thick of things, rubbing shoulders with the other teams and transforming the snow block under a time limit.
“The whole experience is really fun,” he said.
He also likes the fact that competition doesn’t get in the way of making friends and having a good time.
“That’s the best thing about this competition, is we don’t offer big money for first, second and third place,” he said. “You do that, people don’t talk to each other.”
Tool sharing is commonplace at the Breckenridge championships, said Day. The competition rules prohibit power tools; everything must be done by hand. There really aren’t any official tools for snow sculpting, so sculptors need to get creative. Day has modified everything from floor scrapers to cheese graters to create just the right effect. Working alongside other teams is a great way to pass on or pick up tips and techniques.
In fact, the atmosphere of the event is his favorite part of the sculpting process.
“The camaraderie of everybody out there working to achieve what they have set forth, and just hanging out with the people and sharing the tools,” he said. “It doesn’t really matter if I win or not or place whatever. I just enjoy the whole process of the competition. It’s really fun.”
Man of many talents
Although Day was born in Colorado, his family moved to Montana, and he grew up between Billings and Dillon. He received a scholarship to study art at Montana State University in Bozeman, but he opted instead for a year off before enrolling. He studied a range of subjects, switching his major from art to architecture, then pre-med, then computer science before eventually graduating with a bachelor’s of science in electrical engineering and a minor in music.
Music and art are still influential in Day’s life. At home and at work, he keeps instruments like guitars, ukuleles and mandolins around for stress-relieving breaks. He also teaches guitar lessons at Upper Blue Elementary School.
He likes to work with clay, and he paints and draws, although he admits he doesn’t spend as much time with any of them as he’d like. Most of his time — except for the snow-sculpture championship week every winter — is spent working at his job with Breckenridge Associates Real Estate, with his family or pursuing any of his numerous outdoor pastimes, like biking, hiking, skiing and golf.
Hunting is another favorite pastime of Day’s. He grew up hunting with his father in Montana, and despite being wounded by an accidental pistol firing at age 11, he continues to enjoy the sport. He bow-hunts mainly elk and the occasional mule deer.
“Bow hunting is such a fun sport because first of all, the season’s considerably longer, you go out and you’re using your bugles and your cow calls to talk to the animals. You’ve got to be (within) 50 yards to take a shot — the whole experience,” he said. “You smell like an elk and you sound like an elk and you see what happens. It’s really cool,” he added with a laugh.
It’s also a great bonding opportunity for Day and his 18-year-old son Spencer, who sports an elk tattoo on one shoulder.
Day also spends a lot of time with his younger son, Joshua, 8, who Day said shares his artistic side. Often, Joshua can be found on-site with Day during the snow-sculpting competition.
“He’ll just sit there and find a block of snow and carve on it and make something,” Day said. “He just loves to do that.”
Big Breck fan
When Day arrived in Breckenridge to work as a ski instructor in 1987, he didn’t know that it was where he would find his niche. However, it didn’t take long to realize that he wanted to stay for the long run. After three years of teaching skiing, he transferred to real estate and has been doing that ever since. His love of the town makes him passionate at his job, which goes beyond selling houses to selling Breckenridge — and Summit — as a whole.
Several members of Day’s family also live in Colorado, including his sister Teri, director of Avalanche Physical Therapy in Frisco. Although he still goes to visit his mother and other siblings in Montana from time to time, he’s content to continue calling Breckenridge his home.
“I can’t imagine a better place,” he said.
“The camaraderie of everybody out there, and just hanging out with the people and sharing the tools. It doesn’t really matter if I win or not. I just enjoy the whole process of the competition. It’s really fun.”