International Snow Sculpture Championships makes triumphant return this week
The beloved Breckenridge event is back after being canceled in 2021
The International Snow Sculpture Championships, one of Breckenridge’s most beloved annual events, is making its comeback after the pandemic put it on hold, as was the case with many other traditions.
This week, competitors from around the world can be found in the Tiger Dredge parking lot, next to the Riverwalk Center in Breckenridge, carving their own unique works of art out of massive blocks of Breckenridge snow — each block is 12 feet tall and weighs about 25 tons. Nine teams are competing this year, with three from Wisconsin and one each from Germany, Ecuador, Mexico and New York. There are also two Colorado teams, one of which is from Breckenridge.
Sculpting started Monday, Jan. 24, and will continue all week through 9 a.m. Friday, Jan. 28. The awards ceremony kicks off at 6 p.m. that day at the Riverwalk Center in Breckenridge. Doors open at 5:30 p.m., and proof of vaccination is required for indoor events at the center.
The grand illumination of the sculptures is set for 6:30-10 p.m. Friday, and illuminations will continue nightly from 4:30-10 p.m. until the festival wraps up at 7 p.m. Feb. 2. Free reservations will be required for those looking to see the sculptures between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 29, as this is typically the busiest viewing day. Reservations can be made at GoBreck.com.
The festival is returning for the first time in two years. While the Breckenridge Tourism Office originally planned to scale back the event in 2021, it was ultimately canceled due to the pandemic.
Breckenridge Town Council member Jeffrey Bergeron said it’s one of the community’s signature events that residents and visitors look forward to and that it has evolved, just like the town has.
Throughout the years, the snow sculptures have moved from the Bell Tower Mall, which is now the site of Main Street Station, to the Breckenridge Riverwalk Center. Breckenridge Ski Resort always has provided the snow for the sculptures.
Bergeron said that as someone with no artistic skill, he is inspired by how dedicated the snow sculptors are to their art in such extreme conditions. All artists are allowed to use only hand tools and can be seen working at all hours of the night this week.
“They’re out there at night, butt cold, yet there’s a sense of camaraderie and artistic sharing that is just incredible,” Bergeron said. “I love it.”
Keith Martin is the captain of Team Breckenridge this year and has been involved in the competition since 2006, when he jumped in to help Team Germany. His first time on Team Breckenridge was in 2010, and he’s been with them ever since, serving as captain most of those years.
Martin said that not having the competition last year was unfortunate, since it’s always his favorite snow-sculpting event, but he was still able to make a variety of sculptures throughout the pandemic.
“It’s really just hanging out with a bunch of like-minded friends from all over the world that you really get along with,” Martin said. “It’s not really so much the competition. Even though it’s great to have the bragging rights at the end, it’s really just wanting to be creative at this level, at this scale.
“You talk to people from other areas and get to know their cultures, and this international competition has led me to hundreds of friendships from all over the globe.”
Ken Miller has been involved with the competition in a variety of ways over the years, as well, previously working for the Breckenridge chamber, the tourism office’s predecessor, as well as Breckenridge Creative Arts. He is now supporting the tourism office as a contractor for this year’s competition in his 36th year as a Breckenridge resident.
Miller said those who have always been involved in the event are ecstatic to see the competition make a comeback. He said the unique nature of snow art is what makes the event so special to Breckenridge, and seeing its snow transformed by artists from all over the world is one of the high marks of the year.
“The event is so endearing to so many of us. … That’s what really hits a lot of us right in the heart,” Miller said about the event’s return.
Martin said it’s hard to explain just how magical the snow sculptures are until you experience them for yourself.
“These are the kind of pieces of art that are just mind-blowing and jaw-dropping and awe-inspiring,” Martin said. “They touch on that emotional chord, and I’ve watched people walk up and just start in tears because they hit them in such a way. I feel like there’s just something cool about being able to do temporary art so large that affects people in such a great way.”
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