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Team Alaska’s statement isn’t bearish

RYAN NEAL
summit daily news

A single gun blast rang out through Breckenridge at 11 a.m. Tuesday. The shot summoned 12 teams of artists to massive blocks of snow, where they began work on their entries for the 2010 Budweiser International Snow Sculpture Championship.

Half of the teams are American, representing Alaska, Breckenridge, Loveland, Idaho and Wisconsin. The rest include China, Czech Republic, Lithuania, two Canadian teams and a team from Mexico that uses a special sand-based compound to practice its snow sculpting.

Team Alaska starts its work by using felt pens and string covered with blue chalk to make vertical and horizontal lines on the surface of the snow, effectively marking the massive block into precise square-foot sections. Doug Smith, the public relations captain of Team Alaska, explains that while the finished project cannot contain any color, the marks help them get their bearings when they start sculpting.

Their project this year is titled “The Last Supper.” Doug says that the scene takes place on the very last glacier at the North Pole after the rest of the ice caps have melted. A polar bear is using the last piece of his hunting ground to reach for some fish, while a fisherman is boating through the ice.

“It sort of represents the symbiotic relationship between man and nature,” he said. Meanwhile, the fisherman looks up to see the rear-end of the bear falling on him, and, with shock in his face, extends his spear in defense.

“I don’t think he intended to find the polar bear, but he’s not going to turn down an opportunity like that!” jokes Bruce Schindler, another artist with Team Alaska. Humor is very important to the team, and they hold with pride their People’s Choice and Kid’s Choice awards from last year. They say it allows them to make a statement about global warming that doesn’t “cram it down your throat.”

The team consists of Pete Lucchetti, Ken Graham, Bruce Schindler, Chris McIntosh and Doug Smith, all artists hailing from Skagway, Alaska, a town of only 800 residents. Bruce says that a major challenge is getting all of the artists to agree and work together to finish the projects. “The detail work for the finished project takes so much time.”

Power tools are strictly prohibited in the competition, so to get these details the team utilizes an arsenal of handmade tools that are custom-made for specific snow sculpting purposes. Their ice pick has several holes drilled through it to make it lighter, and they have many metal pieces used for shaving and rasping (taking off surfaces). They call their newest tool an Oosik Gouge, as the design is inspired by the shape of a bone found in a walrus’ reproductive organ. Crafted out of figured maple wood, the team explains that it is great for shaping curves and that the head has a very specific design that is extremely sharp. For them, the lack of power tools is part of the appeal.

“It gives the competition an ‘old-school’ feel,” says Doug.

Perhaps the biggest challenge facing Team Alaska is simply getting to Colorado for the competition. Not only is transportation very expensive, but also getting their tools safe for travel is a tricky process involving cardboard and lots of duct tape. For the small items, they just ship it through the mail, but they have to bring the bigger ones with them. With all the new fees for bringing extra bags on airplanes, expenses really start adding up.

So why do they do it?

“It’s ego” Doug answers, half-jokingly. “As artists we are always looking for new mediums to work with and enjoy the unique opportunities and challenges that working with snow presents.”

The teams have until 10 a.m. Saturday to finish their pieces. A panel of judges will award a first, second, and third place, and there are also awards for People’s Choice, Kid’s Choice and Artist’s Choice. The sculptures will remain on display around the Riverwalk Center in Breckenridge until Feb. 7.

For the sculptors, this is the best prize of all.

“It’s really nice to make things that people can enjoy,” Doug says. “When they walk around it and say, ‘Wow, look at that!’ it feels really good.”


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