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From a Single Block of Snow: Annual Budweiser Snow Sculpture Championships Come to Life

Updated on February 28, 2016

From a whimsical bouquet of giant flowers to bears & elephants, to skulls or dragons, sculptors form such masterpieces before thousands of spectators.

Titled, "Alaska Viewmaster Trailer," this creative piece stole spectators hearts at the 19th annual championships in 2009 to win the "People's Choice Award."
Titled, "Alaska Viewmaster Trailer," this creative piece stole spectators hearts at the 19th annual championships in 2009 to win the "People's Choice Award."

Breckenridge Celebrates 26 Years of Snow Sculpting

Each year, one of the most spectacular events in Summit County comes to life as artisans from around the world turn blank canvases of snow into amazing works of art. Whether it’s a whimsical bouquet of giant flowers, bears, elephants, skulls or dragons, or abstract shapes, sculptors form such masterpieces before thousands of spectators – both tourists and locals alike – over the course of five days in the heart of downtown Breckenridge. And it all starts with a single block of snow . . .

What I am talking about is the Annual Budweiser International Snow Sculpture Championships. Now in its 26th year, sixteen teams from not only the United States, but from Canada to Germany to Mongolia came together to present some of the most beautiful, awe-inspiring snow sculptures. All carved from twenty-ton, 12-foot tall blocks of snow, and using only the artists’ creativity, inspiration, own two hands, and the permitted hand tools. No power tools, special colorants or internal support structures are allowed.

It’s simply amazing to learn how this event is put together and the time, manpower, and community effort that is put into it. The Championships take place in and around the Riverwalk Center in Breckenridge, located on South Park Avenue between Washington Street and Adams Avenue. During “Technical Week” – the first “unofficial” week of the event – visitors can watch how these massive blocks of snow are built. To prepare for the event, the Breckenridge Ski Resort makes the snow and the Town of Breckenridge Public Works Department loads it into dump trucks to carry down to the event site. The snow is then blown into the 20 ton blocks by a huge snow blower. Because this snow is man-made, it is the same consistency throughout the block.

After a couple of loads, about 5-10 people climb into the blocks and stomp the snow to pack it into the blocks. These “snow stompers” – usually volunteers from the community along with town employees – climb out of the blocks, wait for another load of snow to be dumped and then get back in the block and stop the snow again, until the block is fully solid and ready to go. And how spectacular it is, to see a simple block of snow become an artist's canvas and transform into just about anything imaginable.

The next week is “Sculpting Week,” when visitors can watch these amazing artists at work and witness the sculpting transformation. Typically, Saturday concludes this week with the awards ceremony. Awards for the top three teams are based on theme, style and technique. Sculptures are also chosen for the People’s Choice and Kids’ Choice Awards. These awards are selected by spectators who vote by making a $1 donation per vote. The money, of course, goes back to support this amazing event.

While visitors may view the sculptures anytime throughout the process, “Viewing Week” continues a week after the awards ceremony, weather-permitting. During this time, visitors can also check out the Thaw Lounge inside the Riverwalk Center, staffed by warm, friendly volunteers to answer questions and provide trivia on this spectacular event. A pictorial exhibit on display also explores 25 years of International Snow Sculpture Championship history. Don’t forget to take a poster, pin, or other memorabilia on the way out. One last stop not to miss is the Ice Village on the Riverwalk lawn. Displayed here in beautifully carved crystalline ice images are many of the sponsors and supporters of the event.

As I have already mentioned, it’s certainly all these wonderful volunteers from our community that make this event so amazing. I learned that so many of the “behind the scenes” aspects of this event were manned by volunteers including merchandise sales, technical assistants, dining help, and even the Peoples’ Choice attendants. And the sponsorships from local businesses in town speaks for itself. What a great way to give back to the community. Thank you Town of Breckenridge and thank you Summit County for putting on such an incredible event!

By Christy Darling

Freelance Writer

2016 Budweiser Snow Sculpture Championships At A Glance

Below are some of the sculptures represented at this year's Budweiser Snow Sculpture Championships held in Breckenridge, Colorado.

Photos Taken By Christy Daring

Freelance Writer

It all starts with a single block of snow . . .

2016 Artists' Choice Award: "Dia de Muertos" by Team USA Wisconsin

"The Widow Maker" by Team USA Breckenridge

"Lion and Butterfly" by Team Mongolia

"Love Wins" by Team Ukraine

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    • Diana Abrahamson profile image

      Diana Abrahamson 17 months ago from t Francis Bay

      Amazing snow sculpture...wonder how long it keeps it's form?

    • profile image

      Christy Darling 17 months ago

      Thank you, Diana, for the comment. It'a all weather dependent. :) From the time the artists begin sculpting to the week the sculptures are on display to the public is about 2 weeks. Typically, by the end of the two weeks, many of the sculptures have fallen, especially this winter since February has been unseasonably warm and we are in for an early Spring. Thanks to Mr. Groundhog. :)

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