Snow sculptures take shape thanks to sweat, creativity |

Snow sculptures take shape thanks to sweat, creativity

Teams made up of students and community members work shaping snow sculptures at the corner of Third Street and Lincoln Avenue. The snow sculpture contest has been a long-running Steamboat Springs Winter Carnival tradition. (File photo by John F. Russell)

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — When walking down Lincoln Avenue during Winter Carnival, whimsical and colorful snow sculptures line the street, making viewers feel like they’re in a children’s book, or perhaps, a holiday film. The creations may look like they were built by a flurry of elves or a snap of Jack Frost’s fingers, but in reality, they took a small team and a long day’s work.

Snow sculpting has long been a favorite part of Winter Carnival in Steamboat Springs. The one time it was decided there wasn’t enough participation and the event was cut from the schedule, there was a small uproar. Steamboat Creates took over the event, which was originally just for students, and opened it up to public participation.

Many of the best parts of Winter Carnival, like the Street Events on Lincoln Avenue, are either being canceled or drastically reduced to follow local COVID-19 guidelines. Thankfully, sculpting is outside, spread out and completed in small groups, so the event is one of the unchanged mainstays this year.

“This is a unique way you can be a part of something bigger but still be in a pod of five people, wear a mask and be outside,” said Steamboat Creates Program Director Sylvie Piquet. “I think it’s going to be extra magical because of what we’ve all been through with the pandemic in the last year.”

The sculptures will be completed and judged at 4 p.m. Feb. 4. Winners in the student and community categories will be awarded prizes.

Where to see snow sculptures on Lincoln Avenue

• Natural Grocers overflow parking lot

• Into the West parking lot

• Routt County Courthouse lawn

• Bob’s Conoco

The process begins a day earlier, when the snow is piled into wooden frames and packed by volunteers and sculptors. That alone is a sweat-inducing task, as the most agile of the group scale the frame and stomp the snow down, ensuring the best canvas when the frame is lifted.

The tough work starts early the next morning. At 8:30 a.m., the teams gather and begin the slow task of chipping away at the 4’x4’x8’ chunk of snow. Snow isn’t even the proper word. Depending on the weather, the block could be frozen solid or, worse, have varying degrees of solidity.

Steamboat Springs resident Tom Atwood participated in the event for the first time last year and was surprised by how tough it is to carve snow.

“The issue is when the snow is packed (is) how it’s packed,” Atwood said. “There’s lots of chunks of ice, pockets and things like that. It’s hard to get fine detail in. That was definitely a learning lesson. Your design needs to account for something not going quite according to plan.”

Atwood is hoping to participate again this year but will alter his design to be horizontal, and if they use food coloring again, they will probably use spray bottles that won’t freeze so easily.

Steamboat resident Robin Stone has mastered the art of creating precise and detailed sculptures, a skill that has taken years of participation to hone.

Community member Robin Stone has been taking part in the snow sculpture event since 2017, when the team of homeschooled Steamboat kids created this pair of goggles, which also doubled as a bench. Stone tries to design sculptures the community can interact with. (Robin Stone/courtesy photo)

Stone and a group of homeschooled Steamboat kids have been sculpting snow since 2017.

“Over the years, we have developed an inventory of equipment,” Stone said. “No power tools are allowed, so we have an assortment of hand saws, knives, smoothers, step stools, ladders, buckets and blades. You have to be prepared because you never really know which tools you will need until you see how the snow feels after setting up in the molds.

“Water is very important to have on hand both for the sculptors and the sculpture,” Stone explained. “Last but not least, food. Snow sculpting is hard, cold work, and we are so grateful when Steamboat Creates delivers pizza and hot chocolate.”

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