Jan 27, 2022 - Things to Do

What Team Colorado is creating at Breckenridge snow sculpture competition

Steve Mercia works on Team Colorado's snow sculpture. Photo courtesy of Rachel Lawlis
Steve Mercia, left, works on Team Colorado's snow sculpture Wednesday. Photo courtesy of Lauren Swanson

Steve Mercia pauses for a moment when asked what it takes to be a professional snow sculptor.

  • "It takes a special person," he says finally. "You get cold, you get wet. There has to be a passion."

What's happening: The 53-year-old Loveland construction worker is leading Team Colorado in this week's 31st annual International Snow Sculpture Championships in Breckenridge.

  • The nine teams — which travel from all over the globe — began carving Monday and will finish Friday. The public can view the sculptures through next Wednesday at 7pm.
  • Team Colorado's snow sculpture is inspired by an image Mercia saw online of an airplane bringing a fallen soldier back from war. The plane is firing a series of missiles that resemble guardian angels.

What he's saying: "Art is not just visual, it's mental. Some artists will challenge you to think."

How it works: Each four-person team receives a 25-ton block of snow that is 12 feet tall and 10 feet wide on each side.

  • In 94 hours, sometimes working through the night, the teams use a variety of tools, from small hand saws to vegetable peelers and chicken wire, to carve their creations. Power tools and supports are not allowed.
  • The trick is to realize that forces of nature — particularly the sun — are always the fifth teammate. "Snow is easy to use … snow can make slush and be put back together. It's a forgiving medium, but it's constantly changing and evolving as Mother Nature changes," Mercia explains.

Between the lines: The sculpting process begins well before the artists arrive.

  • Breckenridge Ski Resort makes snow and the town hauls it to the event site where it is loaded into concrete molds.
  • A team of volunteer "stompers" pack it down.

How to attend: The "grand illumination" starts at 6:30pm Friday after the awards ceremony and runs nightly.

What's next: Mercia is the reigning state champion, and the snow sculpting circuit — yes, it's a real thing — will take him to the U.S. National Championships in Wisconsin in early February.

This story first appeared in the Axios Denver newsletter, designed to help readers get smarter, faster on the most consequential news unfolding in their own backyard. Subscribe here.

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