Will snow sculptures please Ullr?
Ryan Summerlin January 21, 2010
So, it seems Ullr was not overly impressed with the entire week the town of Breckenridge dedicated to him. Even the parade didn’t persuade him to adorn the mountain with snow. But that’s OK. We have one more shot to woo him. This week should be right up his run; thirteen teams have traveled thousands of miles to impress the Norse god with sculptures fashioned from his favorite medium: snow.
After all, snow carving began as a local pastime during Breckenridge’s winter carnival, then named Ullr Fest, in the last 1960s and early 1970s.
This Tuesday, teams begin chiseling, sawing and smoothing 20-ton blocks of water-laden snow blocks reaching 12 feet high at the 20th annual International Snow Sculpting Championship. The teams hail from Canada, China, Czech Republic, Lithuania, Mexico, Russia and, of course, the United States – this year, there’s even a joint Canada-USA team. Staff members of the Breckenridge Resort Chamber and the Town of Breckenridge, which jointly organize the event, handpick which teams can participate, through submissions of sketches or miniature replicas of the sculptures that teams intend on creating.
Each team sculpts for a total of 65 hours – no power tools allowed – from Tuesday through Saturday. Founders didn’t want the event to turn into a coffee-swigging, adrenaline-junky marathon, so the snow-loving artists can work only through the final night before judging.
The championship draws more than 30,000 people from across the world. Spectators vote for their favorites, through the Peoples’ Choice and Kids’ Choice awards. In addition, awards from a panel of well-known artists and patrons of the arts go to the top three sculptures.
“There are no cash prizes,” said Carly Grimes, public-relations director of the Breckenridge Resort Chamber. “The artists instead revel in the reward of hard work, forged friendships, freedom of artistic expression and the satisfaction of long hours of preparation that lead to the event.”
The frozen art forms remain around the Riverwalk Center until the night of Feb. 7, when town staff knocks them down. Occasionally, the town removes the sculptures earlier – when they pose a danger of collapsing. The only way the artists’ hard work lives on is through photographs.
Though the public can’t touch the team sculptures, a professional artist creates interactive snow pieces designed especially for kids, such as a rabbit’s head with two floppy ears, which they can slide down. Maybe the children’s laughter will tickle Ullr’s ears.
“It turned out Ullr didn’t bless us with snow for Ullr Fest, but I think he was just holding out to bring Breckenridge a big storm this weekend just in time for snow sculptures,” Grimes said. “Nothing beats Breckenridge covered in a blanket of snow for the international snow sculpture teams to use as a canvas to create on – it is a magical event.”