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Don’t curse the snow; sculpt in it

By Eileen Ogintz

Tribune Content Agency

Grab a clean plastic garbage can. If you don’t have one handy, a big box will do. Now you’re ready for some fun in the snow!

Really. Fill them with snow, let the kids stomp the snow down and let it freeze overnight. Turn the cans upside down and presto – you’ve got a big block of snow.

Now you are ready to get creative and build a snow sculpture. Get out some cheese graters, putty knives, spoons and paint scrapers, suggests Jeff Olsen, a retired Wisconsin teacher, who has been one of Team Wisconsin’s carvers at the huge International Snow Sculpture Championship that recently got underway in Breckenridge, Colo.

Mountain resorts across the country offer an ever-growing array of off-the-slopes activities. There’s a new Tubbs Snowshoes Adventure Center at Woodstock Resort in Vermont, for example; an ice fort on top of Keystone Mountain in Colorado; the chance to visit a National Elk Refuge in Jackson Hole, Wyo.; an opportunity to soak in a hot spring in Steamboat Springs, Colo.; a zipline at a growing number of resorts from New Hampshire and Vermont to Big Sky, Mont.; and race down tubing hills like at Gorgoza Park in Park City, Utah, where the kids can try mini snowmobiles.

There is a variety of well-priced deals at resorts across the country that encourage you to get out on the slopes, including, of course, in Colorado.

But you can’t do many of these activities at home. That’s what’s so fun about chatting up the snow sculpture teams from around the world and – seeing their creations – where better for the kids – and you – to get inspired to build a sculpture either at home or near where you are vacationing in mountain country? “There’s no limit to what you can do!” said Olsen, who has been snow carving since he was a college student in the 1960s.

The carvers are all ages and all professions – teachers, marketers, white-water raft guides, store managers. You’ll find other snow- and ice-carving competitions like the Quebec Winter Carnival the first two weeks in February in Quebec City. (Check out the giant ice palace!) The Harbin International Ice and Snow Sculpture Festival in Harbin, China, lasts a month (until Thursday) and is one of the largest in the world in the bitterly cold “Ice City.” The St. Paul, Minn. Winter Carnival includes the Minnesota State Snow Sculpting Competition and the creation of a Snow Park out of giant blocks of snow on the Kidway of the Minnesota State Fairgrounds.

Breckenridge is celebrating the 25th anniversary of its ice-sculpting competition. It, of course, is one of Colorado’s quintessential mountain towns – just two hours west of Denver with its historic (the largest historic district in Colorado) and picturesque downtown that first boomed as a mining town in the second half of the 19th century. A huge mountain resort (more than 2,800 acres and five peaks) run by Vail Resorts with a first-rate ski school, the Breckenridge Outdoor Education Center, Breckenridge also offers programs for adults and kids with special challenges and even a Mountain Top Children’s Museum that offers a parents’ night out program with special arts and crafts and dinner.

Thousands come to see the sculptures – the carvers start with 12-foot-tall blocks of snow weighing two tons. In the course of just 65 hours, amazing creations emerge – everything from children tubing down a hill (team Breckenridge won the competition last year for only the second time in the past 24 years) to Ullr, the Norse god of snow to the dark side of the moon.

“This is so different than what you see in real life,” said a very impressed Lily Patrick, visiting from Fort Collins, Colo., during last year’s competition. “It’s amazing that you could make these out of snow,” added Camdyn Wather, 9, from Denver.

“In Breckenridge, we wake up to fresh snow and we’re excited,” said Keith Martin, the captain of team Breckenridge. The winning sculpture, he explained, was designed to make you smile thinking of all the fun you had as a kid playing in the snow.

Weather permitting you will be able to see the snow sculptures until next Sunday in the area around the Riverwalk Center. (Free public transportation is available throughout the town from morning until midnight.)

Certainly these giant sculptures take a lot of skill and tools – everything from a yardstick for measuring, chisels to chip hard snow, saws, trowels and cheese graters (useful to define the shapes).

But Tom Day, a local realtor and member of Team Breckenridge, wants kids to know that as fantastic as these creations are, building a snow sculpture doesn’t have to be that complicated. He recalls using a plastic garbage can to create a dolphin with his son – when he was just 3.

“Pick an animal shape, or a flower,” suggested Alex Dostie, a carver from Team Vermont. “Buy a small toy so you have a model.”

And then go at it. “It’s all about having fun in the snow,” said Keith Martin.