These aren’t your kids’ stick-armed snowmen, people! This is art, as in Michelangelo with an ice pick, snow shovel, and whipsaw.
The marathon begins with fifteen teams chiseling and hacking at cottage-size, twenty-ton blocks of snow, packed into a solid consistency by the feet of volunteers the week before the contest; call it Breck’s rendition of Sonoma’s communal grape-stomping. And the sawing and carving continues around the clock for sixty-five hours. They come from all over the world—with a strong representation from frozen places like the Yukon and Quebec and Latvia, but also from tropical climes like Mexico—for the privilege of braving frostbite while etching out the most striking figure (an ice fisherman on a frozen lake, last year’s First Place), scene (a giant squid sinking a galleon, Calamari’s Revenge, 2012’s Kids’ Choice), or structure (the Mayan pyramid of Quetzalcoatl, Team Mexico) imaginable.
The resulting array of masterpieces evokes Medusa’s eerily beautiful statue garden from The Lightning Thief, or the Georgia-raised heroine of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Ice Palace strolling through the halls of a frozen castle at a winter carnival in the northern town of her betrothed: “It was magnificent, it was tremendous! To Sally Carrol it was the North offering sacrifice on some mighty altar to the gray pagan God of Snow.”
And the worship concludes in early February, when the snow encircling the sculpture garden is soaked with gasoline, a bonfire is lit, and the terrible serpents and mighty buttresses melt, tumble, and return to the earth, disappearing like an apparition.