(Host) The upcoming Winter Olympics may be getting all of the attention when it comes to showcasing snowy outdoor talent. But the games won’t be the only event this month where Vermonters could shine. Today, the U-S National Snow Sculpting competition gets underway in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin. And, Vermont will be represented by a team of three competitive veterans. The team has never won, but they’ve come in second, twice, and they’re hoping this is their year to claim the top prize. VPR’s Sarah Ashworth visited two of the team members as they practiced for the big event.
(Sounds of sawing, chipping, working) (Ashworth) A week before the national competition, Michael Nedell and Brooke Monte are straddling a 3 foot tall mound of snow, working both ends of a two-man cross-cut saw.
(Sounds of sawing, chipping, working, continued)
(Ashworth) They’re in Nedell’s Burlington backyard. Earlier in the week, Nedell stuffed all the snow he could find into a large cylinder made out of thick plastic. And now they’re turning that snow into a cube, using their hodgepodge of tools.
(Monte) BITE 2-We use wallpaper scrapers, floor scrapers, and what’s this, a razor? That’s another wallpaper scraper (Nedell) We also use wood chisels, curly combs, that you comb horses with."
(Ashworth) Nedell and Monte will take those tools with them to nationals, where they’ll also be joined by the team’s third member, Adrian Tans. The team will face 15 other teams from mostly cold-weather states. On the first day of competition, they’ll attack a massive nine foot tall cylinder of packed man-made snow, and begin to turn it into a sculpture.
(Nedell) "One of the most difficult parts is you’ve only got a couple of days, and you’ve really got to set some sort of goal for yourself everyday. The first day we try to de-bulk and move, we have to move a couple tons of snow by hand, you can’t go chill out in the hot tub like you want to, on vacation. So, you have to stick to it, and I think most of the time the biggest competition is ourselves, just doing everything right, not making any mistakes."
(Ashworth) Vermont’s team qualified for the nationals because they don’t make many mistakes. They won last year’s Winterfest snow sculpting competition in Burlington for the seventh time in ten years. Their winning entry depicted a girl reaching for a star made out of ice.
But anything seems to go when it comes to snow sculpting. The team’s first ever entry a decade ago was a woman sitting on a giant tortoise drinking champagne. And, this year, after months of going back and forth, they settled upon an idea involving a fight between a monkey and a robot. Let’s let Monte explain:
(Monte)BITE4- "The robot is being all robot like, and he’s looking down at the monkey, and he has a ray gun pointing at the monkey, and the monkey is all monkey-like and he looks like he’s animated, and he’s shooting a banana gun at the robot, and so their rays are shooting right into each other, and where they meet is a blast and maybe we’ll even put some exciting writing in there that says blam or kaboom." (working sounds)
(Ashworth) As they work, Nedell and Monte are focusing on the robot’s cube-shaped head. They work from clay models, where one inch equals one foot.
"So, should we scrape this down? Yeah, I was just kind of trying to get the line of the jaw… where’s the line, right here? Yeah, sort of like that."
(Ashworth) Snow sculptures are surprisingly detailed. And when you see one, you often have to take a second look, and ask yourself, could that really be made only out of snow? The other thing that strikes you is their sheer size. In competitions, sculptures can be 12 feet tall and equally wide. Both Nedell and Monte have worked in other sculpting mediums and have art backgrounds. But, Nedell says snow has a lot of advantages.
(Nedell) "It’s clean, there’s no dust, not a lot of cleanup, pretty much shovel the snow away and then you go on, you know I’ve got sculptures around here of more permanent materials, and you always have to deal with them, or move them, or try to sell them or market them, with snow sculptures, you put your tools away, you take a picture, and walk off, and that’s it."
(Ashworth) By their very nature, snow sculptures aren’t meant to be permanent fixtures. And, for sculptors who put in hour after hour perfecting a certain edge or feature, it can be heartbreaking to watch the sun begin to soften its corners, and eventually turn it into a puddle. But in other ways the beauty of snow is that it’s a very forgiving medium, after all it’s just snow, says Nedell.
(Nedell) "Snow’s free, and you can go in your backyard and you really can make a refrigerator box full of snow and you’re not going to get too many changes to have a 4x4x8 foot tall piece of marble in your lives, but you could very well have a big cube of snow in your backyard next time it snows, so it’s a cheap way to get your sculpting chops up."
(Ashworth) The teams that have earned their sculpting chops come from snowy states like Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Idaho. And for the Vermont team, there’s one team from Wisconsin that’s become something of a nemesis.
(Nedell) "The Andrews brothers, they’ve won pretty much every time I’ve seen them in a competition. (Brooke) Every time they go they win (laugh) (Michael) So, we’re hoping that they’re not going to be there. (laugh)
(Ashworth) Word is they might not show this year. But whoever wins this year, won’t be taking home any big trophies or cash prizes. Just a jacket and of course, the bragging rights.
For VPR News, I’m Sarah Ashworth.