For visitors to Annual Lake Geneva Winterfest From February 2 to 6, it was all about fun and games as they sampled food from local vendors, shopped downtown stores and enjoyed s’mores and bonfires.
“Some people who don’t ski or do winter sports don’t consider themselves winterers,” said Stephanie Klett, CEO of Visit Lake Geneva. “But this event is something fun to do in the winter for people who aren’t winterers.”
One of the most popular spots at the festival was the site for this year’s National Snow Sculpting Competition. Klett said the event has been held here in Wisconsin for nearly 30 years. There were 15 teams from all over the country, who spent the four days of the competition building and refining their sculptures.
“Basically, like a construction project”
Snow sculpting is much more intense than rolling snow into a few balls and stacking them to make a snowman, or even forming it into blocks to build a snow fort.
Joshua Jakubowski is the captain of the Wisconsin Sculptora Borealis team. The team’s sculptures took first place at a time This year and in 2021.
Jakubowski said the snow sculpting process begins with the Winterfest crew hauling snow from nearby ski slopes and pouring it into molds layer by layer. After each layer is added, people trample the snow with their feet.
“After the diapers are trampled and packed, the forms are removed and the blocks sit for a day or two,” Jakubowski said. “The blocks become like concrete if it’s cold enough. They’re super hard and super dense, which makes them really fun to dig.”
When the competition begins, teams stack blocks on top of each other and begin carving with chisels, saws, ice picks, shovels, and whatever else works to remove snow. But power tools are not allowed.
Jakubowski, who has been sculpting since 2016, described the process as “basically like you’re doing a construction project with a project management plan.”
When his team decides on a design, Jakubowski draws it or models it in clay, then refines the design with his teammates, father and son Michael and Robert Lechtenberg.
“Then we break it down into individual elements and plan how long it will take each to sculpt it,” Jakubowski said. “We also need to make contingency plans because if we fall behind on one thing, all of the next steps may not be completed. So we need to figure out what we can leave out, to make up for the time we could lose.”
Weather: The Fourth Teammate
But no matter how detailed the planning, Jakubowski said everything can change when “the fourth teammate” – the weather – is taken into consideration.
If the temperature is too high – 32 degrees or more – the snow becomes slushy and soft, which not only makes it difficult to carve, but is actually dangerous.
“At that time, the snow loses all its strength and can fall and hurt you,” Jakubowski said. “We know people who have had chunks of snow fall on their heads or knock them off their ladder. This is serious business.”
But, on the other hand, if it’s too cold, that also complicates things.
At a recent meet, Jakubowski said nighttime low temperatures were between 15 and 20 below.
“In these conditions you are very cold and bundled up, you can barely hold a chisel or a saw,” he said. “The snow is in perfect condition to carve, but it’s really hard on you.”
This year’s temperatures – with highs in the 20s and lows in the low single digits overnight – were perfect for carving. But it’s still cold, so carvers rely on coffee, hot chocolate, and the nearby warming center provided by Winterfest staff. Teams also dress warmly with ice fishing gear, warm boots and the most important garment, gloves – and lots of them.
“Your hands are the first thing that gets cold. The thing is, you’re going to start sweating and once that sweat gets into your gloves, if you take your gloves off, you come back and your gloves are a brick of ice,” said Jakubowski. . “If that happens, you just need to get a new pair, put some hand warmers on them, and you’ll be fine. Every time I go to Ace Hardware, I make sure to buy a new pair of gloves. snowblower. I have about 12 pairs now.”
“Sculptures are works of art”
While carving snow in the cold for four days is hard work, there are also fun traditions, socializing, and the opportunity to appreciate talented performers.
On the first day of the competition, carvers stack their blocks to the desired height, then begin carving sculptures into their approximate shapes. The following days are devoted to details and refinements.
Jakubowski said on Friday teams usually go all-nighter. Although he said he and his teammates try to get at least a few hours sleep on Friday, they enjoy some of the late-night traditions.
“The organizers will bring a very good pie,” Jakubowski said. “And all the teams will stop carving for an hour and sit around eating pie and telling stories.”
Although he describes Saturday morning as a “scrambling hour” where people “fly around like crazy, sanding, smoothing and making everything perfect”, he said those are the times when it’s the most fun to watch. and the times when he is most impressed by artistry. of his teammates and competitors. “The sculptures already look like works of art at this time, but in these last hours you look at them better and better before your eyes.”
This artistic appreciation is more than occasional. Klett pointed out that competitors vote to select the winning teams.
“These carvers are the best of the best, and they know better than anyone what to do when carving with snow,” Klett said. “And the camaraderie is really great. They’ll look at the carvings and see something they’ve never been able to do, and they know how awesome that is.”
A meaningful and relevant message
Klett said teams are judged on how well the final sculpture matches the original clay model and how well the team portrayed the artist’s statement that embodies the artistic vision of the sculpture.
Jakubowski and his teammates start thinking about this artistic vision and the message of their sculpture months before each competition.
Last year, their winning design, called “Inoculation”, aimed to triumph over COVID. Jakubowski described it as a COVID molecule, recognizable by its spike proteins. They gave the molecule a face that looked upwards with a startled reaction to the syringe, representing the vaccine, shoved into its forehead.
“Then there’s a tornado of fire around the base of the sculpture that turns into a phoenix,” Jakubowski said. “It depicts us overcoming this adversity.”
This year’s winning design is also relevant to the times we live in. Called “Deeper Connections”, it is a sculpture of a man and a woman with an abstract ribbon behind the head, which turns into a heart.
“The message is not to label someone right away as the opposite of you or label them right or wrong,” Jakubowski said. “You have to actually get to know the person, and that’s how you find out there’s a deeper connection there.”
Train the next generation of snow carvers
It may seem like there is too much work and too much time for amateurs to carve snow. But Jakobski said anyone can do it. He is working with his 10 and 12 year old sons to make their first snow sculpture.
“Right now I’m teaching them to draw in 3D to make the images look like they’re in space rather than a flat image,” Jakobowski said. “Then I’ll have them make a clay sculpture, and once they have it, we’ll go to the front yard to make a snow sculpture.”
For backyard snow sculpting, he recommends filling a large, clean garbage can with snow and tamping it down. Any type of snow is fine as long as there are no sticks, mud or other debris. After leaving the dustbin filled with snow overnight, the snow must be in good condition for carving, sawing and chiseling.
Amateur snow sculpting was also on display at Winterfest, where college kids from the Lake Geneva region made their own sculptures with instruction and guidance from Snow Babes, a team from Rockford, Illinois, who travel the country teaching to the younger generation how to carve snow. .
Ted Beauchaine, art teacher at Walworth Elementary School, said seventh and eighth grade art club students were given an hour-long demonstration by Snow Babes, after which they were taken to their blocks of snow and received tools and two hours to create their own sculptures.
The students, who have spent the past few weeks designing and sketching out their ideas, have created recognizable sculptures of SpongeBob Square Pants, a character from the video game “Among Us” and Pixar’s Wall-E, among other sculptures.
“We need to make sure the next generation knows how to do this and is excited to do it,” said Snow Babes’ Krista Gustafson. “Snow sculpting is such an unusual art form and there is only a limited time each year that you can do it. Our mission is to make sure it is enjoyed.”