‘World’s Largest Mountaintop Snow Fort’ returns to Keystone Resort in time for fireworks and other festivities
Crew that constructed fort also worked on Disney+ show ‘Best in Snow’
Skiers and riders at Keystone Resort may notice a new interactive work of art that wasn’t there earlier in the season. This year’s snow fort has returned to Dercum Mountain to offer fun for the whole family — as well as a grand opening celebration on Friday, Dec. 23.
Dubbed the “World’s Largest Mountaintop Snow Fort” by the resort, the creation is 10,000 square feet and more than 30 feet tall. It features tunnels, ice carvings and multiple slides. While there is no racing this year like there was in 2019, guests can either crawl through a tunnel to reach a spiral slide that is built into the walls of the fort or ride down a central ice slide.
The fort took roughly two weeks to construct and was designed and built by Snice Carvings with support from Keystone’s snowmaking and mountain operations department. Snice is helmed by Keith Martin, longtime captain of Team Breckenridge team at the town’s International Snow Sculpture Championships.
What: Snow fort grand opening
When: 4-7 p.m. Friday, Dec. 23
Where: Keystone Resort’s Dercum Mountain
Cost: Free if you have a ticket to access to River Run Gondola. Foot passenger and ski passenger tickets are available. Visit Keystone.com for more information.
Frequently joining Martin on projects are Sean Spainhower from Denver, Trace O’Connor from Fort Collins, Loveland’s Jess Parrish and Summit County’s Erica Nicol. Nicol said this is her seventh year working on the fort at Keystone. She got involved with the International Snow Sculpture Championships roughly a decade ago — carving both pieces for sponsors and competition — and she competed with Martin last year on Team Breckenridge.
From glass, wood, leather, painting and ceramics, there aren’t many mediums Nicol doesn’t work with. Snow was another the artist could add to her repertoire when she first started assisting the Breckenridge competition. The fun hand tools, like equipment used to install drywall, in addition to the temporal nature of the medium excites her.
However, it’s the camaraderie of working with a team from diverse backgrounds that really interests Nicol.
“It’s been really nice to do larger projects with groups of other talented people where I can learn more of what they do outside of snow carving,” Nicol said.
This year, Nicol focused on detail work such as sculpting stones around the fort’s tower. She also worked with Parrish on carving 250-pound blocks of ice into objects like bricks in a wall or an intricate owl. This is the first time the fort has an indoor ice cave with sculptures and an ice bar, and Nicol said the ice helps certain aspects, such as sides, keep their structure longer.
“We were lucky enough that they brought us a bunch of ice this year,” Nicol said. “It’s always cool to combine both snow and ice because they have such a different look.”
To double the fun, crews will soon be working on a second snow fort located at the Mountain House base area. Smaller than the one on Dercum, this is geared more toward young children. The fort is expected to open in January, according to the resort.
In the meantime, a grand opening celebration for the Dercum fort — complete with fireworks — is scheduled from 4-7 p.m. Friday. Guests can enjoy hot cocoa and cookies in the ice cave along with a DJ, glow sticks and free refreshment samples.
An Epic Pass, lift ticket or foot passenger ticket is required ride the River Run Gondola to reach the fort. At the end of the season, the snow from the fort will be repurposed for Keystone’s summer snow tubing hills.
‘Best in Snow’
For those that can’t make it to see the forts in person, Disney+ has a new holiday special showcasing some handiwork of the Snice team. Called “Best in Snow,” it takes place in the fictional town of Snow Dome, yet keen-eyed people may recognize a few locations. Nicol said the show was filmed in Keystone in early February on the Keystone Conference Center parking lot, and it also has a cameo from Breckenridge’s Isak Heartstone troll sculpture.
Released Nov. 18 on the streaming platform, the special is a snow sculpting competition hosted Tituss Burgess and judged by sculptor Sue McGrew and chef and ice carver Andre Rush. The show also features Kermit the Frog and songs from DCappella.
Five teams carved 10-by-10 blocks of snow into Disney-related scenes, borrowing characters from “The Lion King,” “Moana,” “Coco” and more, in four days.
While the teams came from all over — with one team being assisted by frequent International Snow Sculpture Championships competitor Carlos Miguel Ramirez Pereyra — locals helped behind the scenes.
According to the program’s credits, Martin handled snow logistics and Greg Gutzki — the technical director of the International Snow Sculpture Championships — was the competition supervisor.
“It was interesting to be on such a big production,” Nicol said. “I’ve never been a part of such a large production where they set up so much equipment and brought in so many outside people.”
Along with Nicol, O’Connor and Parrish, additional carving support came from locals and Snice collaborators such as Eli Krawczuk-Cochrane, Steve Mercia, Willy Tuz and Rusty Wiley. Nicol said they built the entire set of fictional village facades in addition to helping touch up the competition pieces.
“We kind of stick as a team unit,” Nicol said. “We all work really well together.”
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