‘We’re just having fun’: Snow sculptors brave the cold to chip, scrape and pack creations

‘We’re just having fun’: Snow sculptors brave the cold to chip, scrape and pack creations
World-Herald News Service

It may be a long night for Elkhorn’s newest snowmen — er — snow sculptors.

The first Nebraska Snow Sculpting Competition began at 10 a.m. Friday in Elkhorn, with both amateur and professional sculptors chipping, scraping and packing their ideas to life.

Each two- or three-person team applied for a spot in the competition and drew lots for their 4-by-4-by-8-foot snow blocks.

If they want, they have the option to work through the night’s most frigid hours to complete their creations by 10 a.m. Sunday.

The first-place finisher in the amateur contest earns the chance to represent Nebraska at the 2020 United States National Snow Sculpting Championship in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin.

It all started out as a fun way to brighten up the holidays and cold weather months for glass artist Tyler Curnes of Elkhorn’s Main Street Studios & Art Gallery.

He contacted professional snow sculptor Matt Seeley of west Omaha to conjure up a community event, and they thought, “Why not host a competition?”

Curnes reached out to community sponsors and donors until he raised $12,000 for the event.

Seeley picked up a couple of snow machines that were going for a great price after Chicago hosted its own sculpting competition.

Last week, the machines ran for about 40 hours straight, shooting snow 45 feet into the air to transform the empty, frozen field next to Main Street Studios at 2610 N. Main St., into a bustling, frozen snow pile. In some areas, the snow was piled nearly 2 feet deep.

The grounds also featured a piece created in January by a Vermont team, and exhibition teams from Illinois and Minnesota were also providing inspiration.

If the giant snow sculptures didn’t attract enough attention, the ice bar, roasting s’mores and man-made sledding hill were sure to do the trick.

Curnes said he expected to see about 1,000 people walk through the event Sunday, when the public is invited to tour the sculptures from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. He said the people attracted to the event have been great for the dozens of businesses lining Elkhorn’s Olde Towne area.

“It’s nice to know that I can go through the work and effort, and I can make an event that … supports not only me, but everyone down here,” Curnes said.

Seeley, who has been sculpting ice and snow for more than 20 years, said he just wants people to have the same kind of fun he does in cold weather. He didn’t participate in the competition, but his modern art ice sculpture drew stares and touches from many passers-by.

Seeley, an ephemeral artist — meaning he only creates things that don’t last, like chalk drawings and snow sculptures — said he just wants people to learn to appreciate the process of art, and not just the product.

“I’m trying to get that back to the average guy, gal or family to be able to take part in art. There’s no reason you can’t,” Seeley said.

For Ashley Eisert, the competition was the perfect, and maybe slightly odd, opportunity to participate in something as a family.

They split into two teams, with Eisert and her mom focusing their efforts on a giant Alaskan cruise-inspired whale bursting through the snow.

Though none of the family members has any experience sculpting snow, they learned a thing or two over the past month and a half from the classes Seeley hosted every Sunday afternoon.

As it turns out, big blocks of snow aren’t all that predictable, and Eisert and her mom had to deal with little air pockets hidden throughout their block.

“But we’re just having fun, keeping it flexible,” Eisert said Saturday. “If something happens, we’re just recreating it in a different way.”

For the people smiling, laughing and eating together, the event seemed to make the cold a little more bearable.

“They’re chatting and laughing,” Seeley said, “and I’m like, ‘See? It’s not so bad, is it?’ ”