Sculptures that are here today and melted tomorrow

Would you spend five days creating a piece of art that could melt or be blown away hours later? That's exactly what happens in a snow-sculpting competition. A number of these are held each winter in various parts of the world.

Before being considered for the International Snow Sculpture Championships in Breckenridge, Colo., participants send in sketches of the snow sculptures they'd like to create. These might include castles, fairy-tale creatures, people, animals, trains, or playgrounds.

It's a tough choice, but soon judges pick 14 sketches to be part of the competition. Once chosen, an artist brings a team of five people to help sculpt a snowy masterpiece.

Everything starts with a single block of clean, packed snow. Each block is 12 feet high and 10 feet wide, and weighs about 20 tons.

Getting this much clean snow in one spot isn't easy. First, the snow is made with snowmakers at the Breckenridge Ski Resort and brought to the competition site in dump trucks.

Then front-loading tractors and snowblowers move the snow into large wooden forms. As the forms fill with snow, volunteers pack the snow down by stomping on it. More snow is added and stomped down. This continues until the snow reaches the top of the form.

A crane removes the forms after 24 hours, leaving a perfectly packed block of snow. The snow sits for a few days before it is ready to carve.

When the competition begins, a team is given five days to turn its block of snow into the creative vision drawn by the artist months earlier.

Different competitions have different rules about what tools may be used to carve snow sculptures. In Breckenridge, sculptors may use only hand tools such as saws, chisels, and pickaxes – no power tools. Carving has to be done by hand. Teams shave away big chunks, chisel out fine details, and smooth rough edges with their hands.

Thousands of people come to watch the teams over the five-day event (Jan. 23-28 this year). However, it's not the people that worry artists. A gust of wind can blow away carefully etched features, and a warm sunny day can melt a masterpiece before it's finished.

If the sculptures survive the weather, they are ready for judging. In addition to the judge's pick for winner, the competition also has people's, artists', and kid's choice awards. (See photos of many of these at www.themoens.com/Photos/Events/snowSculpture/overview.htm.)

The new snow sculptures last about week before they crumble or melt away. During the viewing week, thousands of visitors can enjoy the beauty and wonder of art made completely from snow.

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