By Tricia Goecks


ROCKFORD –“Do you want to build a snowman? It doesn’t have to be a snowman,” Anna sings in the Disney movie Frozen.

And at Sinnissippi Park, 27 teams assembled Jan. 14 – 17 to make snow sculptures in the 29th annual Illinois Snow Sculpting Competition. The field included 12 teams competing for the state title, 15 high school teams, and an exhibition piece from 2014 state champions Vikings in Black.

This year, there were fears that the competition would be cancelled due to a lack of snow.  Mother Nature cooperated by blanketing the area with two heavy snowstorms which were promptly followed by a deep freeze.

Snow cleared from the Chicago Rockford International Airport runways was trucked to Sinnissippi Park and placed into wooden forms which organizers slowly fill and stomp on the snow to pack the snow firmly and remove any air pockets. For the state competitors, the blocks of snow are 6’ x 6’ x 10’ high and weighs approximately 2.5 tons. For the high school competitors, the blocks of snow are 4’ x’4’ x 6’ high.

During the four day event, competitors use axes, machetes, water buckets, shovels, ice chisels and homemade fashioned tools to carve snow sculptures.  And in the case of the team from Belvidere North High School, a paint brush and cold water was used.

Belvidere North fielded a team by seniors Jesse Harris, Kelsey Heimer, Alicia Porter, and Justin Sepeda won the Linda K. White Spirit Award. The team was headed by art teacher Edith Obenchain. Jesse was the only returning member of the team.

The team displayed a tremendous amount of spirit when unseasonably warm weather caused the snow to be soft and unstable. The team’s sculpture, titled Frost Bite, featured a saber tooth tiger climbing up on a snow bank.

On the night before judging, the team was attaching a saber tooth to the jaws of its tiger. During the procedure, the top half of the jaw broke apart. In its collapse, it destroyed the bottom half of the jaw and left their sculpture without a face.

“They managed to take the pieces, mold them together and stick them on,” Obenchain explained. “We came back this morning and they got the teeth on. We crossed our fingers that it would not collapse.”

“It was really stressful trying to put that back on. We had the biggest problem with the teeth.  I tried making the teeth and every single one broke in half,” Alicia added. “I put myself on time out before I through a fit. I didn’t want to get angry with anyone.”

Kelsey completed the task of making the teeth.

The team was aided by the with the advice of professional snow sculptor Fred Gardner who is a member of the ISSC Advisory Committee and served as a mentor to the high school teams and lent tools to the young competitors.

“We had to use a paint brush to put cold water on it to make it sit and make it freeze and turn to ice,” Alicia described how the team resolved the problem of making the teeth in the challenging conditions. “We figured that icicles would work, but we couldn’t make it. We thought maybe if we turned it into ice.”

“They did a great job especially when something bad happened. Can they pull it together and focus? Can they rally together to fix it and make it work?” Obenchain asked. “And they did!”

The team was chosen in October and worked together to come up with a variety of design ideas. Each of the team members used clay to carve models as they practiced for the competition. “We bonded over this. Even though it was stressful, it was such an amazing time,” Alicia said.

The Belvidere North team already is planning on participating next year in the state competition.

Belvidere High School entered a team after a several year hiatus. Their entry Do you wanna build a snowman was made by Willem Kline, Brittany Schloskey, Jessica Schloskey, and Aneysia Scrader. The team was led by advisor Laura Davis. The Bucs’ entry featured Frozen characters Anna and Elsa sitting on opposite sides of a doorway and the snowman Olaf peering out to greet park visitors.

Members of the Belvidere team were unavailable on Saturday to participate in an interview.

State competition

Among the teams vying for the state title was the Frosted Flakes team. The team is made comprised of team members Bruce Quast, Steve Larson and Michael Rathbun. The trio work at Discovery Center and have participated in the competition for several years.

This year the team’s sculpture was titled The Space Between Us. “It has five columns for people to look at. If you look between the columns instead of at the columns you would see people instead of the columns,” Rathbun explained. ‘It is an optical illusion that you see at a lot of museums. We decided this year to make it out of snow.”

The biggest challenge was Frosted Flakes faced in the competition was moving snow. “We had to move the entire back half of each block to the end to make it longer. The block is 6 feet wide and it ended up being 11 ½ feet wide,” the Poplar Grove resident and associate director of Discovery Center explained. “We took it in really big blocks. They were 36 inches by 16 inches by 15. They were really heavy.”

It took all 3 of us to move it. We built them alternating Lego style.

On the final day of competition, the temperatures hovered around 40 degrees. “The warm weather wasn’t too bad until the final day when we were trying to put some final touches and the snow was really soft,” Rathbun said.

On Saturday when Sinnissippi Park was filled with visitors who came to view the sculptures, many of the sculptures were collapsing. The winner, Shot of Whiskey, Leave the bottle was made by Kilted Snow Weasels. Their intricate design of a 1800s style western bar featuring a cowboy and the bartender collapsed before the judging results were announced.

The morning of the competition, the team, comprised of Randy tackett, George Harnish and Grant Rundblade, stood with umbrellas to prevent the sun from melting their entry.

The Whippersnappers were forced to discontinue their work on their sculpture when a large fracture at the base made the sculpture at risk of collapse.

By Saturday night, many of the sculptures had collapsed and they were plowed under.

For anyone who did not have an opportunity to view the snow sculptures, the national competition will be held in Lake Geneva on Jan. 28 – Feb. 1 at Riviera Park.

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