Frosty fantasies

View snow sculptures and learn tips from the pros at winter carnivals
James Boone and Lora J. Finnegan

Snow sculpting 101

Like the kid in the tub who makes a beard out of shampoo foam, there's a bit of the sculptor inside us all. For such artistes of the ephemeral, it's hard to find a more malleable ― or more fun ― medium than snow. It's plentiful, free, easy to work with, and the sculpting techniques require little in the way of special gear. Unlike sculpting ice, carving packed snow is a breeze and repairing a mistake is simple. And while a snow creation may lack the detailing and polish of one made of ice, it can be just as impressive.

For inspiration, check out what the pros can do with a pile of snow at one of the snow-sculpting events happening at winter carnivals around the West. Their sculptures vary from the representational, such as a giant fishing cat or an owl flying above a tiny city, to free-form modern art.

One of the biggest events, the International Snow Sculpture Championships, will be held January 27 to February 1 in Breckenridge, Colorado. This contest draws artists from around the world who spend six days making works of art from 12-foot-tall, 30-ton blocks of hand-packed snow. They scrape, chisel, and shape using only hand tools (unlike ice sculptors, who often rely on power tools).

Visit while the artists are at work, and you can chat with the sculptors to pick up a few carving secrets. If their artistry seems dauntingly complex, be sure to visit the children's sculpture competition area on the Riverwalk Center lawn ― the works are smaller in scale and perhaps less intimidating to those interested in trying snow sculpting. For two weeks after the competition ― or at least until the first warm day ― the sculptures remain on display in an open-air gallery at the Riverwalk Center.

Of course, you'll probably want to start your own snow-sculpting career with something simpler. Tom Day, a Breckenridge real estate broker and snow sculptor, helps us lay out the process step by step. We found that you can easily do it in your own backyard and that it's just as simple as and far more satisfying than piling up yet another lumpy snowman. And while your finished work may gleam like the purest of white marble, it will, like winter itself, melt away all too soon.

Winter Wonderlands
Call ahead before leaving home ― these events are subject to weather conditions.

BRECKENRIDGE, CO
International Snow Sculpture Championships. Jan 27-Feb 1; free. Riverwalk Center; www.gobreck.com or (970) 453-6018.

DURANGO, CO
Snowdown Festival. Jan 28-Feb 1; sculpting contest (Main Ave. and Fifth St.) free. www.snowdown.org or (970) 259-2606.

LARAMIE, WY
Wyoming Snow Sculpting Competition. Feb 18-22; free. Wyoming Territorial Park; www.wyoprisonpark.org or (800) 788-4626.

MCCALL, ID
McCall Winter Carnival. Jan 30-Feb 8; sculpting contest (Jan 30 and Feb 3-6) free, fee for other events. Lake and Third Streets; www.skiwhitepass.com or (509) 672-3101.

JASPER, ALB
Jasper in January Ice Sculpture Event. Jan 16-18; free. Parks Canada Lawn (downtown); www.skijaspercanada.com or (800) 473-8135.

VANCOUVER ISLAND, B.C.
Kokanee Winter Festival. Jan 12-18; free. Mt. Washington Alpine Resort, 31 miles south of Campbell River, off Provincial Hwy. 19; www.mountwashington.ca or (888) 231-1499.

VERNON, B.C.
Vernon Winter Carnival. Feb 6-15; contest (Feb 6-8) free. Silver Star Mountain Ski Resort, Silver Star Rd. 14 miles northeast of Vernon; www.vernonwintercarnival.com or (250) 545-2236.