Breckenridge celebrates 25 years of international snow sculpture championships
Each year for the past 25 years, the Riverwalk Center parking lot in Breckenridge has been transformed. Blocks of snow weighing 20 tons and standing 12 feet tall appear in rows. Over the course of five days, competitors in 16 teams from all over the U.S. and the world work like maniacs to carve the gigantic blocks into large three-dimensional works of art.
The Budweiser International Snow Sculpture Championships take over the Riverwalk Center area for two weeks — one week of competition and one week of viewing the finished pieces. This year, the last few hours for competitors to complete their sculptures fall on the morning of Saturday, Jan. 31. After 10 a.m., the judges step in and choose the winners.
“It’s exciting that we have a community that’s so much behind this event and it really helps us create a fantastic experience both for the sculptors and for the spectators that come and visit,” said Rachel Zerowin, public relations manager for GoBreck.
HOW IT STARTED
During the 1980 Ullr Fest, Rob Neyland flipped a coin with his team from Breckenridge Associates Real Estate over whether they would do an Ullr Parade float or a snow sculpture. The coin came up heads — snow sculpture — and changed the history of the town forever.
A few years later, a passerby stopped and asked Neyland’s team if they had ever competed nationally.
“And we said, ‘Holy crap — there are nationals?’” said Neyland. “That, then and there, was when we were set on the course of, ‘We need to elevate this art form for Breckenridge to make Breckenridge become known for this art form.’”
Over the next few years, Team Breck took its game outside of Colorado borders and quickly became a force to be reckoned with. After building up its reputation nationally and abroad, Team Breck, with the help of the town of Breckenridge, finally hosted its first international competition in 1991.
BEHIND THE SCENES
“It’s a monstrous behind-the-scenes (effort) to pull all this together,” said Sandy Metzger, events director for GoBreck.
Before the competitors even make it to Colorado, people are working to prepare for the championships. The parking lot is cleared of snow and ice, scraped down to the tar. Then the snow is brought in from Breckenridge Ski Resort, put into large casts and stomped into shape. Breckenridge Crane Service steps in to move the gigantic blocks to their places.
“In addition to all the operations you see outside, we also house the teams, feed the teams, we transport the teams from Denver,” Metzger said. Essentially, once the teams touch down at Denver International Airport, they’re taken care of. Local residents offer up their homes and act as guides for the various teams — and occasionally as gofers to Walmart in case a specific scraping tool is required.
While the sculptures are being made, teams are working to remove all of the extra snow that gets scraped off.
It’s a lot of work, but every year when she sees the end result, Metzger says, “OK, it was all worth it.”
While Metzger has been in her role with GoBreck for four years, she’s a longtime local and has been around for all 25 years of snow sculpting in Breckenridge. When asked what moment has stood out over the years, she chose a moment from this, the 25th year.
Due to weather, Team Argentina got stuck in New York and wasn’t able to arrive to the competition on time.
Instead of coming in Tuesday morning, they arrived on Thursday morning, having missed several days of carving. They weren’t about to give up, however, and jumped to it. What happened next was “heartwarming,” Metzger said. The other teams stepped in to help — offering tools, advice.
Several Breckenridge locals have been helping them carve as well.
“They’re competitors, but they’re also friends,” she said. “All the teams asked how they could help Argentina.”
Now that competition is over, the public is welcome to walk through the Riverwalk Center lot and admire the sculptures from every conceivable angle. Lights are strung up to enhance the artwork.
“I’m still amazed every time I see them,” said Metzger.
New this year, complementing the snow championships, is the Fire Arts Festival, which offers a week’s worth of events, from fire dancing performances to concerts.
“We just keep looking for ways to improve the event, just breathe new life into it,” said Metger. “That was a way to add something new for the 25th year and get people excited for 25 more.”
Krista Driscoll contributed to this article.
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