Summit High School student competes at 30th International Snow Sculpture Championships in Breckenridge
BRECKENRIDGE — For the past 30 years, Breckenridge has welcomed teams of talented sculptors to make intricate pieces of art out of 12-foot-tall, 20-ton blocks of snow. These competitors have spent about 65 hours this week to craft their designs without using power tools.
Alongside 11 other countries, the United States teams invited include Alaska, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Vermont and Breckenridge, which will have local event co-founder Rob Neyland on the team. This year, organizers didn’t need to look far to find young blood eager to participate.
Eli Krawczuk-Cochrane, 15, has been sculpting for three years at the International Snow Sculpture Championships, usually on noncompetition sponsor blocks. His first was a collection of interactive toy blocks with a slide, and last year he helped on Bulleit Bourbon Frontier Whiskey’s teardrop trailer. Then when members of Team India got sick, Krawczuk-Cochrane had the fateful opportunity to actually compete at age 14 by assisting them in finishing their sculpture.
Coaching and mentoring Krawczuk-Cochrane is family friend Rick Seeley. A graphic designer, artist and professional snow sculptor, Seeley has been participating in the international event for 17 years. His team placed third at Berthoud’s state competition this winter, while last year they finished first and won best in show. In Breckenridge, he can frequently be seen working on the sponsored designs and judging the international competition.
But lately, more of his time has been spent fostering other young teams and mentoring students around Summit and Park counties. Seeley gets the kids familiar with the tools but also coaches them on how to stay positive and keep a proper mindset as they work on “taking away what isn’t.”
“Like Bob Ross used to say, ‘There’s no mistakes, just happy accidents,’” Seeley said. I just encourage them and let them know they can do this. Just giving them the opportunity to dive in when they say they don’t know how.”
What: 30th International Snow Sculpture Championships
When: Jan. 24-29. Awards ceremony is at 6 p.m. Jan. 24 followed by the illumination of the sculptures at 7. The sculptures will come down at 7 p.m. Jan. 29.
Where: Riverwalk Center, 150 W. Adams Ave., Breckenridge
Cost: Free. Visit gobreck.com for more information and to vote on your favorite before polls close Jan. 25.
Seeley said Krawczuk-Cochrane is the youngest kid he’s seen who has continued to pursue the art.
“I definitely want to stick with snow sculpting,” Krawczuk-Cochrane said. “It’s a really cool form of art, and it’s just a really awesome field to be a part of already and to continue to grow. It could be something a lot bigger than it is now, and it’s just an amazing thing that would be great to continue in the future.”
Part of the appeal of the medium is that there are no cash prizes at this competition. All competitors do it out of their love for sculpting and forming bonds with the visiting teams.
“It’s very rewarding when you put a piece together and have it come to fruition,” Seeley said. “What’s so interesting about the snow sculpting community, we’re different than any other community that does any kind of sculpture and competition. We want everyone to succeed.”
Best of Berthoud
After being the youngest sculptor to compete last year at the international level, Krawczuk-Cochrane and his friend Giancarlo Martinez had the chance to show off their skills at the Berthoud SnowFest in December. The Summit High School freshmen got first place and people’s choice out of the five other Berthoud teams.
Their design, Santa Claus going down a chimney headfirst, took about 32 hours to complete. Things mainly went smoothly, except when it reached about 50 degrees and teams resorted to putting up tarps to shade the sculptures.
As a first-time sculptor, Martinez got a sense right away of that familial feeling Seeley described.
“It was pretty welcoming for someone who was first trying it out,” he said. “The community is super cool.”
Yet because there is no national level for the high school division, there was no method for Martinez or Krawczuk-Cochrane to advance to the next round in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin. According to Seeley, Colorado is the only state to have a high school event.
“If we can spread that out for a more expansive competition, we could get a lot more creativity,” Krawczuk-Cochrane said. “It’s an amazing art form. Hopefully some day it’ll go to the national level. That would be awesome.”
It wasn’t finalized until Monday that Krawczuk-Cochrane would be able to compete on Team Vermont after one of its members got injured and a substitute couldn’t make it. They’ll be making a piece called Square Dance, a series of thin, interlocking squares that will require them to remove roughly 85% of the snow block.
Meanwhile, Team India will have Krawczuk-Cochrane’s mom, Emily Krawczuk, join the group to lend a hand for the second year in a row.
Three decades of history
Vermont and India’s sculptures aren’t the only ones worth a gander. For the first time in the event’s 30-year history, two all-female teams from Alaska and Germany are competing.
4: artists per team
12: The height in feet of each block of snow before sculpting
250: teams apply 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
Not in the competition, there is a 60-ton snow block on display with a million pixels of light projected directly on the snow to celebrate the event’s 30th anniversary. Additionally, Seeley created an 8-foot-tall version of the Breckenridge Tourism Office’s yeti mascot with hugging arms ready for a photo opportunity.
“Even though the format stays the same, it’s a new, exciting event every year because of the different teams and the different sculptures that are created,” said Austyn Dineen with the Breckenridge Tourism Office. For new attendees or longtime guests, she recommends seeing the sculptures at night as well as in the day. “When the sculptures are illuminated Friday night, it adds a whole new dimension to how the sculptures come to life.”
Cataloging the International Snow Sculpture Championships’ evolution is a museum exhibit with elements that tell the history of how it came to be. And though next year’s event will only consist of one piece — but likely made out of multiple 20-ton blocks of snow — 2022 is set to be back to normal. Seeley hopes that Krawczuk-Cochrane won’t be the only high schooler competing by then.
“We’re a dying breed,” Seeley said. “Most of us are in our 50s. Then there’s a couple in their 20s. Other than that, we have a 25-30 year age gap between us. We’re trying to keep the art form alive.”
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