On Tuesday morning, a cannon start in Breckenridge signaled the beginning of the 26th annual Budweiser International Snow Sculpture Championships. Artists from around the world scrambled to begin work on their canvases — 20-ton, 12-foot-tall blocks of snow. Without power tools or internal support structures to work with, the four-person teams have to get creative with hand tools such as vegetable peelers, chicken wire, small saws and other items to craft the likeness of their previously submitted designs. As the week progresses, the blocks of snow will slowly take shape, giving visitors the chance to watch the work unfold. Sculpting will continue throughout the rest of this week in the area around the Riverwalk Center, with artists wrapping up their pieces on Saturday, Jan. 29 at 10 a.m. The awards ceremony will be Saturday at 2 p.m.
26 YEARS IN BRECKENRIDGE
Before growing into the well-attended event that it is today, the snow sculpture competition began as a sidebar to Ullr Fest, Breckenridge’s annual celebration of snow, with businesses, individuals and kids creating the snow art. In 1979, a group of locals formed the town’s competitive snow sculpting team after a coin toss decided for them whether to create a float for the Ullr Fest parade or a snow sculpture. Over the years, Team Breck progressed and they competed in the Colorado State Snow Sculpture Championships held in Breckenridge, eventually setting their sights on international competition. They worked hard to establish Breckenridge as a name associated with world-class sculpting as they continued to take awards locally and even nationally.
In 1991, the town and Breckenridge Ski Resort, along with Team Breck’s Rob Neyland, Ron Shelton, Randy Amys, and Bill Hazel, hosted the inaugural International Snow Sculpture Championships. In the last 26 years, the town has received competitors from countries such as Morocco, Switzerland, Russia, China, Argentina and Canada.
“Every year has continued to get even higher levels of artists then we’ve had in the past, just because the reputation of the event,” said Sandy Metzger, events director with Breckenridge Tourism Office. “Generally we get over 40 applications and we pick the 16 top teams.”
This year, the competitors include teams from Breckenridge; Canada; Estonia; Finland; France; Agrawal, Germany; Theil, Germany; Great Britain; Loveland, Colorado; Mexico; two teams from Bayanmunkh, Mongolia; Switzerland; Ukraine; Vermont; and Wisconsin.
“I think we have a really high level field of competitors,” Metzger said. “Most of them have been here in the past and are previous medal winners from our events over the years.”
While Breckenridge has gained fame around the world for its snow sculpting competition, the teams do not compete for cash prizes. Instead, first-, second-, and third-place winners each receive a medallion, a trophy and a ribbon, plus bragging rights.
“This is for the glory, and putting it on your resume that you’ve won in Breckenridge,” Metzger said. “There are snow competitions around the world, and Breckenridge is definitely a very notable one.”
The artists are given a stipend that helps cover some of their travel expenses, and then, once they get to Breckenridge, they are provided with lodging and meals.
In order to choose a winner, the panel of judges look at the artistry of the piece, as well as the risk the team took in order to create the sculpture. A big part of the judging is also how close the sculpture looks to the team’s original submitted sketch, Metzger said.
Awards are also presented to the winners of the People’s Choice, Kids’ Choice and Artists’ Choice.
“(Artists’ Choice) is a very prestigious award because it’s coming from your colleagues — that your piece is the best,” Metzger said.
Team Breckenridge, led by captain Keith Martin, consists of members Tim West, Margo Jerkovitz and Tom Day. The sculpture the team is creating this year is titled “Widow Maker,” depicting a deep rock miner at the turn of the century.
“The miner is underground running a widow maker drill,” Martin said. “The widow maker is a pneumatic-powered drill that allowed miners to increase production speeds by tenfold over the old hand method. This allowed them to go deeper into the mountains to follow the veins of precious metal. Unfortunately, the toll it took on their health was drastic. Many miners lost their lives due to the amount of dust that the drill created. The dust caused silicosis along with other lung diseases. I chose the design due to its history here in Breckenridge.”
This will be Martin’s sixth year as team caption, and his seventh with Team Breck. Martin began sculpting in competitions in 2006, after he was able to join the German team for the Breckenridge contest. He’s competed as far away as Sapporo, Japan, and Whitehorse, Canada, and just finished a piece for Jeep in Aspen at the X Games.
“Culinary school 20 years ago introduced me to ice carving, but it was moving to Breckenridge in 2001 that introduced me to snow carving,” he said. “I moved in to Park Place condos across the street from the Riverwalk Center and watched the whole event take place. I knew right then that I wanted to sculpt snow.”
Jerkovitz and West have been on Team Breck for the last five years, and this will be Day’s 21st year with the team. Martin said his experience running a kitchen as a chef and working on construction projects has helped him organize the team.
“I have learned to identify the strength of the people you are working with and focus them on work that pertains to what they’re good at,” he said. “My team and I have been working together for many years and we have learned to trust one another. I have been able to identify what my teammates are good at and I try to keep them focused on those items.”
ACTIVITIES THROUGHOUT THE COMPETITION
Voting for People’s Choice and Kids’ Choice will end on Sunday, Jan. 31 at 2 p.m. A $1 donation receives one vote and goes toward supporting the event. Cast a vote in the Thaw Lounge+Music, in voting jars attached to the fence in front of the sculptures, or with a volunteer on site.
The Thaw Lounge+Music will be event headquarters for the week. There will be postcards and pins, event information, and also a history display exploring the past 25 years of the contest. There will also be information about the process of snow sculpting and information about each team.
Also at the Thaw Lounge will be a collection of 20 printed canvasses, all sourced with permission via Instagram. In partnership with Breckenridge Creative Arts, the Breckenridge Tourism Office selected the winter series from photos tagged #BreckBecause — the “Instagram Pop-up Gallery: Chill” exhibit is the first in a planned series. The Thaw Lounge will be open daily through Feb. 7.
A kids play area will feature an interactive dinosaur snow sculpture — with its tail carved into a slide — done by Rick Seely. Longtime Breckenridge local and one of the original founders of the event Rob Neyland will be doing the Budwesier sculpture on display at the event.
After completion, the sculptures will be lit up, giving them a different kind of magic in the evenings. The sculptures will remain up — weather permitting — until Sunday, Feb. 7. Metzger said the town estimates around 40,000 people come to see the sculptures during the two and a half week period.