Son of International Snow Sculpture Championship founder competes in Breckenridge for first year
IF YOU GO
What: 29th International Snow Sculpture Championship
When: Jan. 25-30. Awards ceremony is 6 p.m. on Jan. 25, followed by an acrobatics show at 7 and illumination of the sculptures at 7:30. Leftover Fourth of July fireworks will go off on Jan. 26 at 6 p.m. The sculptures will come down at 7 p.m. on Jan. 30.
Where: Riverwalk Center, 150 W. Adams Ave., Breckenridge.
BY THE NUMBERS
4: artists per team
12: The height, in feet, of each block of snow before sculpting
250: teams invited to compete
16: teams are selected
400 tons: total amount of snow to create blocks for all teams
50,000 pounds: weight of each block before sculpting
“It’s in my blood,” said snow sculptor Alex Amys. Growing up in Breckenridge, Amys has been embedded in the world of the International Snow Sculpture Championship since the beginning. His father, Randy, co-founded the event 29 years ago with Rob Neyland, Ron Shelton and Bill Hazel.
A young Alex would sit on the sidelines watching the group work year after year as he built his own snow forts. A few times he’d try to lend a hand but his father would push back out of fear of disqualification for having too large a team. Then when Alex was 16 Randy thought about the two of them competing in Italy, but their submission wasn’t accepted. The following year, after fudging Alex’s age, the group made it. The international stage also happened to be Alex’s first time ever competing.
He returned to Italy in 2004 and also competed in China in 2005. Amys has dabbled in sculpting ice and clay, but, thanks to having a dad showing him the ropes with their tools in the backyard, snow is the medium of choice.
“Sometimes in the middle of the night I go ‘Why do I do this to myself? It’s freezing cold out here.’ But … to walk around (the block of snow) a thousand times and visualize what it’s going to be. As crazy as it sounds you talk to it and ask it what it wants to be. It’s my passion and purely in my blood.”
Though Amys, 32, now lives in Milliken in Weld County as a maintenance technician, he is thrilled to be returning to Breckenridge.
“It’s a little weird coming back to the hometown and seeing how much everything has changed, but it’s a dream come true,” he said. “It’s a little surreal for me at the moment, being on the other side of it after idolizing these guys for so many years.”
One of those idols is Steve Mercia joining Alex as team captain. Mercia also entered the world of snow sculpting because of Randy and competed with Alex in Italy. He was on a camping trip in Wyoming with Randy and the group started making sand turtles to pass the time on an overcast day. The two began to discuss sculpting and then the following year in 2001, Mercia entered his first competition and has been carving ever since.
Mercia, 50, works as a drywall finisher yet was inspired by his artist father to be creative.
“There’s nothing I can’t make with my own two hands, whether it’s out of wood or metal or snow,” Mercia said. “They all have their positives and negatives. Snow is a very forgiving medium. If you make a mistake and take away too much snow you can always put the snow back.”
He enjoys snow sculpture so much that he recently set up a state championship in Berthoud that funnels into the national competition at Lake Geneva, Wisconsin.
Also on Team Colorado is Nolan Rathbun and Carey Hosterman. Like Amys, this will be their first year in Breckenridge. Yet, Mercia says Mother Nature is a secret fifth member. Obviously warm temperatures aren’t conducive to sculpting snow, but Mercia says extreme cold isn’t a problem as long as one can still work their fingers.
“I like it wicked cold,” Mercia said. “The colder the better. Cold is when you get your details in. If it’s slushy, you start putting your details in and they just melt away.”
Details are key to the team’s entry this year. Amys pitched to the group back in the summer that they should make “La Fleur De Vie,” or The Flower of Life. The geometric design is a grid of overlapping circles seen in many cultures throughout history that’s similar to the inside of a kaleidoscope. But rather than just do the pattern once, they’ll make a second disc and have the two intersect perpendicularly to give it a more animated appearance.
“I’ve always liked sacred geometry and I wanted to play with negative space,” Amys said. “This is going to be a new challenge, getting straight lines. It’s not always easiest with snow because you have so many different shadows that can be cast or the sun is at a different spot. So getting everything you want to pop the way you want can be a challenge.”
“This is a pretty hard and intricate design with hanging weight,” Mercia said, “and so we figured Breckenridge would be the perfect place to pull this off.”
After a week of sculpting and a total average of 160 labor hours, their creation is now ready to view. It will stay up until Jan. 30, along with 15 sculptures made by invited teams from China, Ecuador, France, Japan, Germany and others.
As is the norm in snow sculpting competitions, power tools aren’t allowed. Instead, in the same vein as ceramists, they use regular tools such as saws, improvised implements like vegetable peelers and tile floor scrapers, or something completely handmade that carves the snow in just the right way.
Though this is Amys first time at the International Snow Sculpture Championship, it likely won’t be the last. And in a few years, the third generation might make an appearance in the competition.
“My oldest son is 4. He’s been around it the last couple years and loves playing in the snow. I would imagine he would have the same desire I had. … I can’t wait until he’s older and maybe do a high school competition that we’re trying start in Berthoud.”
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