Snow sculpting 101

View snow sculptures and learn tips from the pros at winter carnivals

Frosty fantasies

"If you keep your design simple," Tom Day says, "making a snow sculpture is easy." With that bit of advice, the nine-year veteran of the Breckenridge competitions ― with help from his wife, Heather, and 8-year-old son, Spencer ― raised his spatula and began to scrape.

The result, in about an hour ― with time out for hot chocolate and a snowball fight ― was an alabaster dolphin leaping from a foaming sea.

PREPARE THE MOLD

Using a utility knife, slit a starter hole along the edge of the flat bottom of the trash can. Insert the saw blade in the slit and cut out the bottom, then saw the can open from top to bottom on one side only. TIP: When cutting the bottom, leave the curved edge intact to add stability to the can after the bottom is removed.

PACK THE FORM

On a level spot, upend the trash can and press it down several inches into the snow, allowing the vertically cut edges to overlap by about 2 inches. Secure the straps around the can. Fill the form half full with fresh, undisturbed snow, firmly packing it down using the cutout can bottom as a tamp; tamp around the inside edges as you go. Continue filling and tamping until the can is full and solidly packed. Remove the straps and peel away the plastic. TIP: A typical 32-gallon trash can yields a 20-inch-wide, 25-inch-tall, slightly tapered column of snow.

CARVE AWAY

Mark where detailed elements of your sculpture will be with small indentations, then start slowly shaping and removing layers with kitchen utensils. Patch on more snow for add-ons or fixes as needed.
TIP: Start with a subject clearly in mind; sketch it out for reference.

TOOLS

• Utility knife
• One round, 32-gallon trash can made of soft, flexible plastic
• Handsaw
• Two 6-ft.-long ratchet-style (adjustable) tie-down straps
• Kitchen utensils (spatulas, scoops, spoons, etc.) for carving

SNOW

Fresh snow is the right consistency for packing when you can hand-press a good snowball. An air temperature of 32°-35° is optimum for carving.

PLANNING AHEAD

If possible, pack snow into the form the day before you sculpt and let it freeze overnight to give the snow a firmer consistency. Also, pre-freeze decorative elements: Make bulging eyes and buttons by adding food coloring to water in ice-cube trays; create giant water drops and crystal spheres by freezing water-filled balloons; craft dinosaur fins using water-filled bowls and plates.