Each year for the past 28 years, one of the most spectacular events in Summit County comes to life as snow artists from around the world turn blank canvases of snow into amazing works of art. From a whimsical bouquet of giant flowers, to bears and elephants, to skulls and dragons, to abstract shapes, sculptors form these masterpieces before thousands of spectators – both tourists and locals alike – over the course of five days (65 hours) in the heart of downtown Breckenridge. And it all starts with a single block of snow . . .
This year, 16 teams from 11 different countries gathered to compete at the 28th Annual Breckenridge International Snow Sculpture Championships January 22-26, 2018. Represented locally were teams from Oregon, Wisconsin, and Colorado – including our very own Team Breckenridge. From across the globe came teams from China, Mongolia, India, Turkey, Argentina, Mexico, Italy, Estonia, and Switzerland. All here to show off their beautiful, awe-inspiring snow sculptures carved from 20-ton, 12-foot tall blocks of snow, and using only the artists’ creativity, inspiration, own two hands, and the permitted hand tools. No power tools, special colorants, or internal support structures are allowed.
It all begins with the initial “building” of these enormous blocks of snow during “Technical Week” – the first “unofficial” week before the event – when visitors are able to watch how these massive blocks of snow are built. To prepare for the event, the Breckenridge Ski Resort makes the snow and the Town of Breckenridge Public Works Department loads it into dump trucks to carry down to the event site. The snow is then blown into the 20-ton blocks by a huge snow blower.
After a couple of loads, about 5-10 “snow stompers” – usually volunteers from the community along with town employees – stomp the snow to pack it down until the block is fully solid and ready to go.
During the next week, officially “Sculpting Week,” visitors are able to watch these amazing artists at work and witness the transformation of their gravity-defying designs. This year, sculpting ended Friday morning, January 26th, promptly at 9:00 with judging to follow. The awards ceremony was then held later that evening in the Riverwalk Center. Awards for the top three teams are based on theme, style, and technique. Sculptures are also chosen for the People’s Choice and Kids’ Choice Awards. These awards are selected by spectators who vote by making a $1 donation per vote. The money, of course, goes back to support this amazing event.
While visitors may view the sculptures anytime throughout the process, “Viewing Weekend” continued through Saturday and Sunday. Highlights over the weekend included the Thaw Lounge inside the Riverwalk Center, staffed by warm, friendly volunteers to answer questions and provide trivia on the event. A pictorial exhibit was also on display, showcasing 25 years of International Snow Sculpture Championship history.
Of course, one of the best times to visit in and around the Riverwalk area during this spectacular event is the night before the sculpting deadline. Artists are preparing to stay up all night to do final detail work. The lighting on the sculptures and the energy that sparks the air is simply celebratory.
Fortunately, Mother Nature held out in favor of the snow sculptures and the exhibit remained on display through Monday evening, January 29th, when they disappeared under the darkness of night – just as magically as they appeared.